We’ve all heard the term “emotional vampire,” but what does it really mean? I consider “emotional vampire” to be a colloquial term for toxic people who deprive us of our energy, our sense of emotional safety and our ability to engage in self-care. Being around an emotional vampire can cause us to feel depressed, anxious, frightened, confused and in pain. It can affect our productivity, our ability to focus and our overall mental, physical and emotional well-being.
This term is commonly used to describe narcissists and sociopaths who psychologically bleed us dry. It can also be applied to garden-variety toxic people who are self-centered and self-absorbed. Whatever point at the spectrum the emotional vampire falls upon, however, he or she can take a toll on your mental health.
Empaths and highly sensitive people might be especially susceptible to being around these types because emotional vampires are drawn to our warmth, our compassion and our bright energy. Emotional vampires feast on these qualities to satiate themselves while leaving you feeling sick and drained.
There are seven signs you should watch out for if you believe you might be dealing with an emotional vampire.
1. They deplete you physically and emotionally so you’re unable to care for yourself or be productive.
Being around a toxic person is like being weighed down by heavy black tar. It can affect you on both a psychological and physiological level. You feel immobilized. Your whole body can react: maybe your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, and you get an aching sense of something not being right in your gut or heart. You might experience pain or physical ailments that come out of nowhere.
Psychologically, you feel a diminished sense of agency and an increased sense of hopelessness. You’re unable to react constructively because this toxic person’s excessive entitlement, lack of empathy and blatant disregard for your emotions seeps into every interaction you have with them. They drain your energy so that you’re no longer able to put your full focus on the things that truly matter.
Their goal is to distract you with their manipulative tactics so that you’re no longer serving your highest good – instead, you’re catering to their ego, exclusively serving them and their needs.
2. When you’re no longer in their presence, you might still feel affected by them.
You find yourself ruminating over strange things they said or cruel things they did to you. You’re likely to feel emotionally exhausted by their antics, their attempts to start drama or their flagrant disrespect of your basic needs and rights. You find yourself questioning your own reality and being plagued with a persistent sense of self-doubt.
Severe anxiety is common for empaths who’ve been “touched” by the impact of an emotional vampire. Depression is often inevitable side effect of being surrounded by emotional vampires for long periods of time.
3. You start to feel energetic after you are away from them for a few days or a few weeks, however long it takes you to fully “detox” from them.
When you’ve removed yourself from the toxic person and have had time to psychologically “reset,” you feel much lighter, happier and more productive. It’s almost as if a great weight has been lifted and you’re now able to move forward into greater clarity and renewed strength. However, if you ever do interact with them again, you might find yourself once more swept away by their crazymaking chaos.
4. Even a simple conversation with them over something that should have a simple solution leaves you feeling disoriented and confused.
You find yourself explaining basic human decency, fairness, and equity to them over and over. They refuse to give you straight answers and they refuse to honor you as a person who deserves consideration and respect. They project their toxic traits onto you, they become overly defensive about their uncalled for behavior, and they are indifferent to the pain you may be experiencing due to their neglect or abuse.
5. They’re like a needle to a balloon and their parasitic nature can make you feel like you’re becoming toxic, too.
Emotional vampires feed off of your positive energy while leaving you malnourished. When you’re feeling joyful, self-assured and confident, they try to come around to “deflate” you with put-downs, criticism or an underhanded tactic to sabotage or undermine you.
Interestingly, just as mythical vampires can “bite” their victims and turn them into vampires, I find that the longer you’re around an emotional vampire, the more you start to pick up on some of their toxic habits and emotional states.
For victims who’ve been terrorized by narcissists, we call this getting “narcissistic fleas.” It’s a temporary state of taking on some of the toxic traits you’ve been exposed to. That’s why it’s so important to get as far away as you possibly can, especially if you’re an empath who internalizes the emotions of others like a sponge. The last thing you need is to become so toxic yourself in response to these types that you forget where the predator begins and you end.
6. There is no such thing as reciprocity with them; you are here to fulfill their needs while they neglect yours.
Emotional vampires are one-sided. That means whenever you’re excessively giving to them (as empaths are likely to do), they’re rejoicing in taking from you. Their conversations will usually center them and feature them as the one and only person who is important. They make decisions that affect you without ever considering how you would feel about them. They micromanage and control you to make themselves feel superior and powerful. They are the end-all, be-all of everything.
7. They put you down and take pleasure in sabotaging you.
Emotional vampires on the higher end of the narcissistic spectrum tend to be pathologically envious of their victims. When they see that you’re thriving and successful, it sparks jealousy in them. They want your resources for themselves and they covet whatever you have. Rather than celebrating your success, they attempt to diminish it, undermine it or subtly detract from it in whatever way they can.
They can go so far as to create elaborate schemes or resorting to petty ploys to do this. Whether that means praising someone else, comparing you in a demeaning manner to others, or attempting to “hide” you and make you less visible to those who may value you, they’re always out to make a name for themselves and one-up anyone who threatens to take the spotlight away from them.
What To Do When You’ve Been Bitten
If you’ve been the victim of an emotional vampire, it’s important that you take a reprieve from this person’s toxicity and cut off as much contact as you can with them. Sometimes, the only way to end this type of parasitic connection is by going No Contact. Cutting the cord is at times essential to paving the path back to emotional freedom.
Don’t try to reason with emotional vampires more than you already have; it won’t work. Instead, use your mental resources for self-care – meditate, do yoga, go for a run, reconnect with nature, seek the warm and gentle comfort of a validating support network. Exercise your agency and reclaim your power by pursuing goals, dreams and friendships independent of this person. Use any and all resources that can help you to detox from this unhealthy person and to move forward from the narcissist’s toxic bite.