Last updated 4 May, 2023

How to identify and deal with energy vampires

Much like the vampires of folklore – mythical creatures that feed off the life force of other living beings – ‘energy vampires’ are people in your personal or professional life who feed off your kindness and empathy. With a constant need for attention, these individuals typically take more than they give; and spending time with them leaves you feeling totally drained. Over time, you may also find yourself with a serious dent in your self-esteem, and feel chronically anxious or stressed. 

According to Dr Christiane Northrup, wellness expert and best-selling author of Dodging Energy Vampires, long-term exposure to energy vampires can also lead to physical health issues, including weight gain, adrenal fatigue and autoimmune disorders. 

The good news is that unlike Van Helsing and Buffy, you don’t need a wooden stake or superhuman powers to protect yourself. Instead, learning how to recognise an energy vampire, and how to navigate your relationship with them, will help you preserve your emotional energy.

What is emotional energy?

Simply put, ‘emotional energy’ is the energy we source from our emotions. It relates to how we feel about ourselves, our relationships, our work, and our lives in general. Positive feelings such as enthusiasm, joy and love boost our energy levels. 

It’s important to know what – or who – drains our emotional energy because when it’s depleted, our zest for life is dampened, we struggle to be fully engaged in our relationships, and our wellbeing suffers.

Entrepreneur and motivational speaker Chalene Johnson put it best when she said: “Positive energy is your priceless life force. Protect it. Don’t allow people to draw from your reserves; select friends who recharge your energy.”

Signs you’re dealing with an energy vampire

Unlike people whose presence makes you feel happy, inspired and revitalised, energy vampires can make you feel:

  • Guilty, guarded or chronically anxious

  • Taken advantage of

  • Trapped in their drama

  • Physically unwell when they’re around (e.g., you experience a tightening in your chest, get a headache or feel queasy)

  • Emotionally distressed after interactions (e.g., you feel overwhelmed, sad or upset)

  • Mentally drained and physically exhausted after conversations

How to identify energy vampires

They’re everywhere. They can be a close friend, your boss, the co-worker who corners you at the water fountain, a family member or your romantic partner. 

Energy vampires tend to be attracted to happy and empathetic people, feeding off their willingness to listen and be supportive and caring. They can be very charming, somewhat overbearing or downright obnoxious. While some are unaware of their energy-depleting behaviours, others intentionally set out to manipulate and control those around them for their own gain. 

Some common traits and behaviours of energy vampires: 

  • They have a big ego.

  • They tend to dominate conversations, hogging the limelight.

  • They show little interest in things that matter to you.

  • They thrive on drama and tend to exaggerate every little thing in their lives.

  • They often have a victim mentality.

  • They’re not accountable – someone or something else is always to blame when things go wrong.

  • They have a constant need for reassurance and acceptance.

  • They’re prone to jealousy, and often try to one-up you.

  • They love to ‘keep score’, and are good at guilt-tripping.

  • They can be a negative Nancy, whining and complaining.

  • They bring you down and undermine your self-esteem.

  • They give ultimatums – and in romantic relationships, threaten to leave you – when things don’t go their way. 

5 Ways to slay an energy vampire

If you recognise that you’re suffering from the presence of an energy vampire in your life, here’s what to do about it.

1. Say no. 

Just like their mythical counterparts, energy vampires have an insatiable thirst that drives them to seek out empaths. But, no matter how much you give, it will never be enough. They’ll always demand more time, more of your attention, more emotional support. 

To protect yourself from being sucked dry, you have to learn to say no. If you find it hard to do, work on developing your self-worth. Remind yourself that your wellbeing matters, and that putting yourself first doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ person. 

Practise being more assertive; be polite but firm in your interactions. For example, if they trap you in a one-sided conversation, say something along the lines of “I really only have five minutes…” and stick to your guns – make sure you leave or end the call when the time is up.

2. Go for grey.

It’s vital to be ‘neutral’ in your interactions with energy-zapping individuals so that they’ll find the experience unrewarding. The ‘grey rock method’ allows you to become emotionally unresponsive, boring and ultimately, in their eyes, unworthy of attention. The idea is that they’ll lose interest and move on to someone else.

To implement this technique, you need to keep any interactions brief. When you do interact, focus conversations on mundane topics, give one-word answers, and don’t take the bait if the person tries to get a rise out of you. Further disengage by keeping your expressions neutral and your answers vague. You can also show them that you’re disinterested by appearing distracted – for example, checking your phone or looking around while they’re talking – and using negative body language such as crossing your arms.

3. Just breathe. 

Despite your best efforts, you may still find yourself at the receiving end of statements such as “I would’ve completed the report but you didn’t send me the numbers in time”; “That reminds me, I have to tell you what happened to me!” or “It’s too bad you didn’t get the raise; I’ve had a hard day, so can you cook tonight?”. 

No wonder then that you’re starting to feel riled up, frustrated or upset! However, it’s important to stay in control of your emotions because energy vampires feed off your reactions. So, take a breath and make a conscious effort to stay calm! Research shows deep breathing has a powerful effect on how stressed we feel, and helps to counteract negative emotions that drain our energy.

4. Take care of you. 

Feeling drained? Prioritising self-care is essential to refill your tank. Pay attention to your wellbeing holistically – eat nutritious food to refuel your physical energy; get plenty of rest to recharge; and intentionally choose daily activities that bring you joy to boost positive emotional energy. 

Mindfulness meditation will help you focus on the present, giving you a break from negative external influences; reduce your stress levels; and release negative emotions, restoring inner calm. 

5. Seek professional help. 

It can be especially difficult and damaging when someone you respect, trust or love continuously drains your emotional energy, leaving you feeling unsupported, guilty, worthless, anxious and/or chronically stressed.

Forget the garlic. Professional support may well be your ‘secret weapon’ in learning how to deal with energy vampires. Working with a coach will help you develop your self-worth, build your confidence, and set healthy boundaries. They’ll also provide you with the tools and strategies you need to deal with overwhelm; overcome anxiety; beat chronic stress; and foster healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

Remember, while it can feel good to be ‘needed’, it’s important not to prioritise the needs of others to your own detriment. Instead, take care to acknowledge your own worth, practise self-love consistently, and stay firm in your resolve to honour your boundaries. 

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