Zapped? Don't let 'energy vampires' take a bite out of your day

The Sacramento Bee

By Cynthia Hubert

You know the type.

Whine, whine, whine. Complain, complain, complain. Drama upon drama upon drama.

A few minutes with him or her, and your stomach starts to hurt. You're ready for a couple of hits of Tylenol and a long nap.

Coincidence? Psychiatrist Judith Orloff thinks not. This person who is stealing your energy, she says, is an "energy vampire," and just about everybody knows one.

"They're everywhere," says Orloff, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA and author of the book "Positive Energy: 10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress & Fear Into Vibrance, Strength & Love" (Three Rivers Press, $14, 384 pages).

The "energy vampire" section of Orloff's book got loads of attention when it was released, including a mention in The Bee.

Energy vampires, like their bloodthirsty cousins, are dangerous, says Orloff. By sucking us dry of positive energy, she says, they can contribute to illnesses from chronic fatigue and depression to chest pain.

"I'm on a campaign to install 'energy vampire' into the zeitgeist of medical culture," Orloff declares in her book. "If you don't get a handle on how to cope with these life force leechers, they can become the bane of your existence."

Orloff, who identifies herself as both a physician and "medical intuitive," admits that some of her colleagues are skeptical, arguing that no proof exists that certain people's behavior can literally make others sick. The notion of energy vampires has been embraced, however, by many psychologists and nontraditional healers, including hypnotists, massage therapists and Reiki practitioners.

"Some old-timers just want to fix bones," Orloff says of her fellow medical doctors. "That's as far as they want to go. But here at UCLA and just about everywhere else, we are seeing more and more emphasis on the mind-and-body connection and integrative health. I see it as a new wave in health care."

Sacramento psychologist Debra Moore has seen the effects of energy vampires in her counseling practice.

"It's a bit of pop psychology in terms of language," she says, "but I do think that there are certain people who have a draining effect on those around them."

The key to dealing with these people, she says, is to consciously identify them and figure out ways to prevent them from dragging you down.

"It's not like you're powerless," she says.

In Chapter 9 of Orloff's book, she identifies nine different types of energy vampires, including the "sob sister," the "blamer," the "drama queen" and the "constant talker." She offers tips for dealing with each of them.

Consider the sob sister, which Orloff says is the most common, and perhaps most dangerous, category of energy vampire.

"We all know someone like this," says Orloff. "Everyone thinks she's benign, but she isn't."

The sob sister is a chronic complainer. "Whenever you talk to her, she's whining," Orloff says. "She loves a captive audience, casts herself as a victim. The world's always against her, to blame for her unhappiness." You might find yourself listening to her for hours, as she recounts every gruesome detail of her latest misadventure.

"She ends up renewed," Orloff says. "You're exhausted."

New York psychologist Karen Sherman, whose specialty is "relationships and lifestyle issues," says some vampires may actually have a form of mental illness. They may suffer from a personality disorder that gives them a very rigid way of looking at the world.

"It's hard to put boundaries on these people, and they are also difficult to work with therapeutically," she says. "Unfortunately, they do not recognize that they are making unfair demands on others and often get disappointed and hurt when they are not responded to. This puts a terrible pressure on having a relationship with them."

When faced with sob sisters, Orloff recommends limiting the time you spend discussing their gripes with them. Give them perhaps 10 minutes, and politely end the conversation when you start to feel uncomfortable. Be available, though, if they actually want to talk about solutions to their problems.

To cope with a drama queen, who has a flair for exaggerating minor incidents, "take a slow, deep breath and center yourself" the moment he or she starts revving up, Orloff advises. "Keep concentrating on your breath. Tell yourself you know what's happening and can handle it. You need to own that moment."

Cheryl Dellasega, a professor of humanities at Penn State University College of Medicine and a specialist in women's studies, says the phrase energy vampire is a new name for an old phenomenon.

"It's the high maintenance person, the drama queen, the toxic person, basically anyone who takes, takes, takes in a relationship," says Dellasega.

"I think it's absolutely true that there are people who are exhausting to be in a relationship with. We can get really enmeshed with them and not realize how damaging they are."

In her book, "Mean Girls Grown Up" (Wiley, $24.95, 256 pages), Dellasega describes a category of women she calls the "queen bees."

"A queen bee is a classic energy vampire," she says. "Her interest in a relationship is all about her, what she can gain from it and how she can make herself feel better at someone else's expense."

You have two options for avoiding the queen bee's sting, Dellasega says. You can either confront her and discuss your issues with her in hopes that she will change her ways or avoid her and see if spending less time with her makes you feel better.

Chelle Thomas of Citrus Heights didn't have to face that decision. A woman she describes as a candidate for "The Energy Vampire Hall of Fame" left the state recently, and Thomas breathed a sigh of relief.

Thomas said the vampire "snaked her way into our lives, building confidences and learning our weak points," Thomas recalls. "Then she struck!"

The vampire talked out of place and laughed at anyone who made a mistake, Thomas says. "I, being a sucker for the underdog, initially took her under my wing. Huge mistake!" Her "friend" made her feel stressed and tired.

"I started thinking, 'What am I doing that is exhausting me so much?' " Thomas says. "I realized it was her. I have since become better at setting boundaries around people like her."

That, says Orloff, is the essence of coping with the energy vampires of the world.

"Don't let them bring you down with them," she says. "Remember, no one can drain you if you don't cooperate."

Is she a drama queen, one of Dr. Judith Orloff's classic energy vampires?

She may be if she:

* Frequently starts sentences with, "Oh my God, you'll never guess what happened."

* Is sure she has a fatal disease if a brown spot appears on her skin.

* Is always making up or breaking up with her significant other.

* Accuses her husband of having an affair if he forgets to call her one night while traveling.

* Tells everyone she fears she's about to be fired if her boss doesn't instantly compliment her work.

Are you in the presence of an energy vampire?

Ask yourself these questions:

* Does my chest tighten every time a certain person enters the conversation?

* Do I run for the refrigerator and stuff myself after an interaction with this person?

* Do I need a nap after hanging up the phone with a certain someone?

* Do I feel attacked, criticized or blamed in a relationship?

* Is a certain person so needy or clingy that she seems to stick to me like flypaper?

- From Judith Orloff's book "Positive Energy."

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Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.


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