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23rd Feb 2024

What is an ’emotional vampire’ and how can we identify one?

Jody Coffey


Emotional vampires may be draining you without you realising

If you’ve ever found yourself walking away from a conversation feeling like your social battery has been drained, you might have an emotional vampire in your life.

Emotional vampires are a term used to describe a person who is essentially bleeding you dry of optimism and joy with every encounter.

There are different severities to them; some may leave you feeling mentally tired, while others may leave you feeling unworthy or bad about yourself.

They can exhibit behaviours that range from victimising to narcissistic, according to Psychology Today.

It can overwhelm and take a toll on an individual to be in the presence of any type of emotional vampire to varying degrees, depending on the draining behaviours they engage in.

The emotional vampire who doesn’t know when to stop talking

These people tend to be more interested in talking about themselves and less interested in asking about you.

If you find that conversations are one-sided and you can’t find an opening to speak, this is a sign of an emotional vampire.

Sometimes they may even come into your personal space and speak closely to your face, almost as a way of making sure they are being heard.

While it’s not exactly harmful, it can be overwhelming to be around and isn’t exactly a conversation that will boost your mood.

According to Judith Orloff, M.D., per Psychology Today, the only way to combat this is to be abrupt and interrupt, no matter how difficult you may find it.

Sometimes it’s just a lack of self-awareness, awkwardness, nerves, habit, or boredom that can cause a person to keep talking, and they may not mean any harm.

If you want the encounter to end, you can be polite and assertive at the same time; simply say, “I hate to interrupt, but… I need to get going, etc.”

If this person is someone you love, honesty is the best policy. Calmly and politely express your desire to be given space and time to speak during conversations without criticism or judgment.

This can sound like: “That’s really interesting, but I would also love it if I could add more to the conversation.”

The emotional vampire who is always a victim

If this emotional vampire is going through something, they make sure everyone knows it and feels it.

We all want to help out when we can, but these people will adopt a ‘poor me’ attitude, and oftentimes, nothing will be a solution.

It’s hard to see our loved ones feeling low, but if it’s constant, it can impact you too.

Moods are contagious, and if a person is always complaining about how everything is unfair, it can spread like a virus, leaving you deflated and unhappy after meetings with them.

You can still listen and be a friend but outline that you’re only willing to continue listening if they are open to adopting more solution-based thinking instead of focusing on problems.

Sympathising with an emotional vampire of this kind is helpful, but you should avoid letting them unload onto you, as it can impact your well-being too.

Again, sometimes it is just a lack of self-awareness and they may just need a nudge towards a more positive outlook.

This can sound like: “I’m really sorry you’re having a hard time. Would you like to discuss some solutions instead?”

Credit: Getty

The controlling emotional vampire

Being in the company of a person who has an opinion about everything, including the way you feel and act, is a clear sign of an emotional vampire.

This can be seen in actions like invalidating your feelings or telling you what you ‘need or ‘should’ do to be better by their standards, which is a major putdown and energy drainer.

It is demeaning behaviour that can lead a person to feel like they are unworthy or not good enough.

In some cases, a person may very well have your best interests at heart, but it never hurts to set boundaries.

You can listen to their advice, but you don’t have to take it, and you should consider telling them as much.

This can sound like: “Thanks for your advice/I appreciate your input, but I’m going to deal with this myself.”

The narcissistic emotional vampire

Similar to the over-talking emotional vampire, these people talk about themselves a lot.

Dissimilar to over-talking emotional vampires, narcissists lack empathy and don’t have much room for unconditional love.

The difference is that they may become icy, standoffish, or cruel if you don’t do things their way.

According to Orloff, you should not have high hopes when dealing with narcissistic emotional vampires.

If you are adamant about making friendship work with one, you must convince them that it’s in their best interest, not yours, which you’re mentally better off not doing.

Instead, consider cutting ties with this kind of person, as they are emotionally limited and, more often than not, transactional with their time and love.