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The first day I met with my new therapist, in her small office which reeked of frankincense and was decorated with lots of bright colors and affirming quotes, she asked me a bunch of questions about my life history and then showed me different pictures of sea shells and asked me to select one I did like and another I didn’t. From those details, she then gave me a homework assignment: read Dr. Northrop’s Dodging Energy Vampires: An Empath’s Guide to Evading Relationships that Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power.
I chose this therapist because, despite her obvious new-aginess which grates against my cynical attitude, she came well-recommended from someone I respect. I’d agreed with myself before I went that I’d follow her suggestions because why the hell not? I doubted anything she’d recommend would hurt me, so despite how ridiculous the book title seemed, that meant I was going to read it.
As to be expected by its recommender, the book is new-agey. Lots of references to past lives, for example (cue my eye roll). But I persevered through it because I knew I might learn something I need.
I found the book resonated a lot more with me than I’d expected it to, partly because I’ve been around the “energy vampires” nearly my entire life.
The premise of the book is that some of us are deeply sensitive empaths. We are apt to stay too long in relationships in which we over-give and under-receive. We believe in the good of everyone, and we are therefore preyed upon by “energy vampires,” people who are so self-centered that they purposefully manipulate other people to get what they want by:
- being aggressive (passively or actively) to get their own way
- blaming others for their own hurtful actions
- laying on guilt trips
- lying to portray themselves always in the best light
- never providing a straight answer
- fighting to have the upperhand
We’ve all encountered people like these. We’ve been birthed by them. We’ve dated and married them. We’ve been friends with them. We’ve worked for or with them. The biggest clue is that every time we’re around them, we leave exhausted, and often we are confused why we’re so exhausted.
These energy vampires are often charming, charismatic, supportive, and complimentary, prone to love-bombing you in the beginning or periodically to regain a hold over you. But it’s all to hook you, which is obvious once the love-bombing ceases and then they start criticizing you or demanding that you help them instead.
My mother is the archetypal energy vampire. My successes in life were despite her, not because of her, yet she still tried to take credit for them. When I graduated from a prestigious private liberal arts college Cum Laude, she told me at my graduation party that it was because she’d given me a necklace. As if all of the hard work I’d put in over four years actually meant nothing because she’d given me a necklace.
When my first full-length poetry collection was published last year, she raved to all of her friends on her social media accounts about her daughter’s success, but then she told me I shouldn’t have a book release party because it was too “selfish.” Celebrating my own success is selfish?!?
I’ve dated and married men like these. My ex-husband was a master at this. He could take responsibility for nothing, always flipping it back on me and painting himself a victim. By the end of that relationship, I felt like the bad guy, the crazy one, when he’d been hiding a drug addiction for over nine years and embezzled money from his employer. People who knew exactly what he’d done forgave him nearly immediately and shamed me for divorcing him. “He’s such a good guy!” they told me (I think our definition of “good” might be different…). But that’s the power of energy vampires. They’re so charming. So charismatic. They could do no wrong, right? (WRONG.)
One of my ex-boyfriends was also one. He was gregarious and affable, sending me flowers and writing me sweet notes in the beginning, but then he wouldn’t allow me to be alone, literally coming in wherever I was and refusing to allow me any time to myself to work. He knew I wanted to write and needed space for that, but he refused to let me have it. He also started criticizing my writing, telling me always it could be “better” and that maybe I should think about just writing poetry. When I wanted to go to a writers’ retreat, he then told me I shouldn’t go because I didn’t need it. My writing could be better, but now that I had an opportunity to improve it, I didn’t need it? How did that make sense? In the end, it was obvious that his needs and desires were more important to him than mine, and I always got the short end of the stick.
Depending on the “level” of the vampire, you have to set boundaries, employ clever tactics, or cut them off completely (end the relationship and/or quit the job.). I cut my mother off completely. I can’t cut things off with my ex-husband since we share children together, but I have very strict boundaries.
Here are things you can do to limit the impact of the energy vampires in your own life:
- Learn how to say no (When they ask you to give up something to their benefit, just say no. Don’t apologize. Don’t give excuses. Just say no.).
- Don’t take things personally (they aren’t going to like when you start setting boundaries. They might, in fact, get meaner. Just know it’s not about you. It’s about you taking care of the most important person in your life: yourself.).
- Limit activities together (Maybe they are great when you go to the movies together or if you sit for a short board meeting. Whatever it is, work to avoid any extra time together.)
- Act like you need help (vampires don’t want to help you, and they’ll likely run away if you don’t seem like someone they can leech energy off of).
Also be aware that people-pleasing is a defect we often develop by being around people who consistently ignore our needs. Read about how to address this particular issue here:
“I’m a Liar” and Other Truths About People-Pleasing
People-pleasing, as a term, sounds so nice, like something we’d all want to do, but it’s extremely damaging to our…
Lastly, you need to work on fortifying yourself through improving your own self-esteem and self-confidence. I wouldn’t have let other people shortchange my own successes for their own benefit if I didn’t want or need validation from people outside of myself.
I’ve done a lot of work around shoring up my own self-esteem, and Dr. Northrup provides many tools in her book. I particularly like this affirmation she suggests saying out loud to yourself daily:
“I pledge allegiance to myself and to my Soul for which I stand. I honor my goodness, my gifts, and my talents. I commit to remaining loyal to myself from this moment forward for all of my days.”
Since limiting the power energy vampires have over my own life, I’ve been able to achieve so much more. My writing has taken off here and other places. I’ve said “yes” to opportunities I would have previously said “no” to because I was too worried about what the energy vampire in my life would think or because I felt like I didn’t “deserve” it.
It’s all been good so far, and all I have is my very new-agey therapist and her very new-agey book recommendation to thank for it!