Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

Who's the Emotional Vampire in Your Life?

Dr. Orloff - Sunday, January 16, 2011


Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s NY Times bestseller “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, 2011)

As a physician, I've found that the biggest energy drain on my patients is relationships. Some relationships are positive and mood elevating. Others can suck optimism and serenity right out of you. I call these draining people "emotional vampires." They do more than drain your physical energy. The malignant ones can make you believe you're unworthy and unlovable. Others inflict damage with smaller digs to make you feel bad about yourself. For instance, "Dear, I see you've put on a few pounds" or "You're overly sensitive!" Suddenly they've thrown you off-center by prodding areas of shaky self-worth.

To protect your energy it's important to combat draining people. The following strategies from my book "Emotional Freedom" will help you identify and combat emotional vampires from an empowered place.

Signs That You've Encountered an Emotional Vampire

  • Your eyelids are heavy -- you're ready for a nap
  • Your mood takes a nosedive
  • You want to binge on carbs or comfort foods
  • You feel anxious, depressed or negative
  • You feel put down

Types of Emotional Vampires

  1. The Narcissist
  2. Their motto is "Me first." Everything is all about them. They have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, hog attention and crave admiration. They're dangerous because they lack empathy and have a limited capacity for unconditional love. If you don't do things their way, they become punishing, withholding or cold.

    How to Protect Yourself: Keep your expectations realistic. These are emotionally limited people. Try not to fall in love with one or expect them to be selfless or love without strings attached. Never make your self-worth dependent on them or confide your deepest feelings to them. To successfully communicate, the hard truth is that you must show how something will be to their benefit. Though it's better not to have to contend with this tedious ego stroking, if the relationship is unavoidable this approach works.

  3. The Victim
  4. These vampires grate on you with their "poor-me" attitude. The world is always against them, the reason for their unhappiness. When you offer a solution to their problems they always say, "Yes, but..." You might end up screening your calls or purposely avoid them. As a friend, you may want to help but their tales of woe overwhelm you.

    How to Protect Yourself: Set kind but firm limits. Listen briefly and tell a friend or relative, "I love you but I can only listen for a few minutes unless you want to discuss solutions." With a coworker sympathize by saying, "I'll keep having good thoughts for things to work out." Then say, "I hope you understand, but I'm on deadline and must return to work." Then use "this isn't a good time" body language such as crossing your arms and breaking eye contact to help set these healthy limits.

  5. The Controller
  6. These people obsessively try to control you and dictate how you're supposed to be and feel. They have an opinion about everything. They'll control you by invalidating your emotions if they don't fit into their rulebook. They often start sentences with "You know what you need?" and then proceed to tell you. You end up feeling dominated, demeaned or put down.

    How to Protect Yourself: The secret to success is never try and control a controller. Be healthily assertive, but don't tell them what to do. You can say, "I value your advice but really need to work through this myself." Be confident but don't play the victim.

  7. The Constant Talker
  8. These people aren't interested in your feelings. They are only concerned with themselves. You wait for an opening to get a word in edgewise but it never comes. Or these people might physically move in so close they're practically breathing on you. You edge backwards, but they step closer.

    How to Protect Yourself: These people don't respond to nonverbal cues. You must speak up and interrupt, as hard as that is to do. Listen for a few minutes. Then politely say, "I hate to interrupt, but please excuse me I have to talk to these other people... or get to an appointment... or go to the bathroom." A much more constructive tactic than, "Keep quiet, you're driving me crazy!" If this is a family member, politely say, "I'd love if you allowed me some time to talk to so I can add to the conversation." If you say this neutrally, it can better be heard.

  9. The Drama Queen

These people have a flair for exaggerating small incidents into off-the-chart dramas. My patient Sarah was exhausted when she hired a new employee who was always late for work. One week he had the flu and "almost died." Next, his car was towed, again! After this employee left her office Sarah felt tired and used.

How to Protect Yourself: A drama queen doesn't get mileage out of equanimity. Stay calm. Take a few deep breaths. This will help you not get caught up in the histrionics. Set kind but firm limits. Say, for example, "You must be here on time to keep your job. I'm sorry for all your mishaps, but work comes first."

To improve your relationships and increase your energy level, I suggest taking an inventory of people who give you energy and those that drain you. Try to spend time with the loving, nurturing people, and learn to set limits with those who drain you. This will enhance the quality of your life.


Judith Orloff, MD is author of the national bestseller The Power of Surrender: Let Go and Energize Your Relationships, Success, and Well-Being. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and an intuitive healer. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths (highly sensitive people). An Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, she passionately believes that the future of medicine involves integrating all this wisdom to achieve emotional freedom and total wellness. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. Connect with Judith on Facebook and Twitter. To learn more about empaths and the power of intuition, as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

Janet commented on 15-Mar-2012 02:09 PM
Love your articles. Keep them coming. Thanks for sharing.
Eileen Patterson commented on 15-Oct-2012 02:28 PM
Just out of relationship with narcissist/ energy vampire. Question - if they WANT our energy so badly, why do they give you put-downs and make you sad instead of build you up so that there's plenty of energy always there for them to "suck out of you"? He got a lot more out of me when he made me happy so I never understood why he always said mean things that would make me sad and drive me away. Is my anger and hurt more of an energy feed than my happiness?
Anonymous commented on 02-Nov-2012 09:36 PM
My mother in law is the constant talker, the drama queen, and the victim! I have no idea how to deal with this because she is my in law! It is always just me or my husband who have problems with her even though her best friend of 20 years wrote her off. No one else says anything they enable the behavior, and I will not be an enabler! When I call her on a fact it is always "we'll I did not mean it that way" and the conversation is diverted to a completely different subject. It is always awkward and stresses me out! I am instantly frustrated now when I see her on the caller ID. I do not want to spend another 10 years this way. So, thank u for these suggestions!
Todd commented on 22-Nov-2012 04:44 AM
My wife has many of these traits, I got to get out!!
Sharon Parsons commented on 10-Feb-2013 07:27 AM
What if you have a husband of 40 years who is all of these together and more plus 2 children who have learnt from their father and no financial way to escape from this. I spend a lot of time in my room or out of the house on my own. I try not to complain just meditate so it changes my attitude but they are still here going round in circles with no future for them.
Anonymous commented on 29-Jan-2015 12:35 AM
what happened to unconditional love ? If we give it, it will come back to us. My mother is quite narcasisitc and I have many hard times horrible tramatic times with her. She is being nice I want to pull away she keeps calling. Why ? she gives me expensive clothes but 2nd hand ones when shes done with them. I feel she gives me clothes for her own satisfying of guilt of being horrible to me. How to I set boundaries so if she keeps calling and I want time away to heal myself? she has even threated and has done it before to call the police to come check on me if I don't answer her calls. its so horrible not being able to have a normal healthy conversation with my mother. The truth is she dosent have it in her to love me and I must protect myself from being hurt by her, because she is my mother she manipulates her way into calling me, I just said if I move I want to move on the beach she said well I want to too but it cost money. I said yes it does so you put it out there and make it happen , limiting me when I come up with my awesome plans for my life she has knocked the wind out of me, so I don't share my pearls with anyone who dosent appreaciate them.thank you

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