Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Vampire Sightings in Chatham County?

                         Vampire Sightings in Chatham County?

With Halloween coming I'm taking the opportunity to write about vampires. Teenage girls are swooning over sexy vampires in the movies. You may be wondering about vampires and devilish forces causing all the devastation happening around us. Or, planning for Halloween costumes, you may be purchasing vampire teeth. Beware!

You know I write about stress, but why would I be writing about vampires? Well, I'm writing about emotional vampires and October is the perfect month. The Stress Monster just loves emotional vampires! They can drain your physical and psychic energy, sucking optimism, vitality and serenity from you, often in the guise of friend, family member, co-worker or neighbor. They often "go for the jugular" and "drain you dry," hitting your sore spots and pushing your buttons. They do seek out kind and considerate people who make easy targets for manipulation. Fortunately, I don't know of any who actually drain your blood!

When you read about emotional vampires, you will often find them characterized with a label such as "the drama queen" or "the victim." I prefer to avoid stereotyping labels when possible. Furthermore, you will find a lot of overlap between these categories.  I'll mention some of the characteristics of people who act like emotional vampires. Most are difficult to deal with and tend to pass the blame; you may be left feeling that the problem is due to your inadequacy and not to the characteristics of the other person.  You will feel upset and unsettled in your relationship but, accepting the blame, you will be afraid of being impolite or offending them.

What are other characteristics of people who tend to function like emotional vampires? Most are very narcissistic and self-centered, demanding attention for themselves but showing little or no reciprocity, lacking compassion toward others.  Many are extremely needy, portraying themselves as victims of the world, perhaps wallowing in self-pity, asking you to provide solutions to their problems. Others are extremely critical and judgmental, putting other people down and then including you in the criticism when you don't meet their needs. Controlling is another vampire characteristic. They often have dominating personalities with strong negative opinions about everything, eventually including you. They will tell you what is best for you and invalidate you when you do not live by their rules. You will find that these individuals will often be constant talkers, dominating the conversation and sometimes your physical space, ignoring your opinions or needs even if you get the chance to express them. Some are histrionic, always complaining about problems that befall them, exaggerating them into tragic dramas. They may need to be the center of the universe with their intense emotions and outbursts. They are often relationship "takers" looking for "givers." A word of caution. You may find some of these characteristics in people you know whose problems are not extensive enough to be characterized as vampires.

With those characteristics, why would anyone give them the time of day?  These individuals may appear attractive and ingratiating, flattering you when you meet their needs and persistent in seeking your attention. You may not be aware of their negative characteristics until it appears too late: you're in the clutches of a relationship with a "vampire." Then you feel too drained or intimidated to stand up to them. Furthermore, you may actually feel sorry for them as you become aware of their real human needs and problems.

Let's not stereotype anyone. "So called" emotional vampires are often very unhappy people who have learned these behaviors as ways to survive in an unfriendly world.  Even if they are judgmental, you don't have to be judgmental about them. I never want to suggest that anyone should be hostile or hurtful to another person. Instead, approach the problem with loving compassion for yourself as well as the other person.

What is the solution? Knowledge is power. Become aware of the problems in your relationship and the energy that is being drained from you.  You can maintain compassion for them as another human being while still taking ALL necessary steps to protect yourself. You must be in charge of your portion of the time, space and other characteristics of your interactions; you should set kind but firm limits. You will want to be aware of your emotional "buttons;" when pushed, you must maintain your cool and your integrity. Never let your self worth be dependent upon these individuals. Avoid giving advice, for their requests are often a trap. If you intend to be helpful by referring them to reading material, authorities or therapists, understand that they will be reluctant to follow your advice. Realize that all relationships need to be balanced 50-50 between giving and receiving. These individuals will usually want to receive more than 50% but may learn to settle when you are strong in your resolve. Taking these points into consideration, you will have an option to continue contact with these individuals as long as you are obtaining enough enjoyment and benefit from your interactions.

So now you can enjoy your Halloween without the Stress Monster sneaking up on you!