Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

Are You An Emotional Vampire? Don’t Worry We All Can Be Sometimes

Judith Orloff - Monday, October 24, 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)

In my medical practice, I’ve developed enormous respect for the art of relationships, what makes them work or fail. In all successful relationships, whether with family, friends, or co-workers it’s vital that each person honestly examine his or her behavior and be willing to discuss it and change.

In this spirit, I find it useful to regularly assess how we’re relating to others--specifically if our behavior may be draining. In my book “Emotional Freedom” I discuss different types of draining people you may encounter who I call “emotional vampires.” These include, for instance, the chronic talker, the narcissist, and the drama queen. (See my blog, “Who's the Emotional Vampire in Your Life?”) But inevitably, we’ve all got a bit of vampire in us, especially when we’re stressed. So, give yourself a break. It’s admirable to admit, “I think I’m draining my spouse. What can I do?” You can’t begin to make changes in your life without this type of honesty. The solution is to own up to where you may be draining--then change the behavior. As a psychiatrist, I believe it’s those with real power who can step up first to surrender their ego, admit shortcomings, all in service of loving communication.

For instance, one of my patients, in computer graphics, kept hammering his wife with a poor-me attitude about how he always got stuck with boring projects at work. Instead of trying to improve the situation, he just kvetched. She started dreading those conversations, and diplomatically mentioned it to him. This motivated my patient to address the issue with his supervisor, which got him more stimulating assignments. Similarly, whenever I slip into vampire mode, I try to examine and alter my behavior or else discuss the particulars with a friend or a therapist so I can change. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance when you’re stumped.

To find out if you’re behavior is draining take the Am I an Emotional Vampire Quiz (from Emotional Freedom )

Listed below are some common indications that you’re becoming an emotional vampire. Mark “Yes” or “No” for each of the questions and give yourself one point for every “Yes” response.

  • Do people avoid you or glaze over during a conversation? Yes / No
  • Are you self-obsessed? Yes / No
  • Are you often negative? Yes / No
  • Do you gossip or bad-mouth people? Yes / No
  • Are you critical, and/or controlling? Yes / No
  • Are you a drama queen or king? Yes / No
  • Do you corner people and tell them your whole life story? Yes / No
  • Are you in an emotional black hole, but won’t get help? Yes / No
  • Results of the Quiz:
    Give each “yes” response one point and count up your score.

    Your Score: 0
    Congratulations! There are no signs that you are being an emotional vampire.

    Your Score: 1
    This behavior could be draining others. Start being mindful of when you do this and begin to shift the behavior. Then see if people are relieved.

    Your Score: 2
    These are warning signs that you may becoming emotionally draining to others. Ask yourself what is motivating you to engage is these draining behaviors and move forward to make positive changes.

    Your Score: 3
    You are showing some emotional vampire tendencies. It is time to compassionately examine your behaviors and begin to make a change. Do not beat yourself up. Be proud that you can be emotionally honest and want to be more positive.

    Your Score: 4
    You are showing moderate emotional vampire tendencies. Take a breath. Begin to tackle each behavior individually over time and take baby steps to change. For instance, if you tend to be self-obsessed you can begin to ask others about themselves. Celebrate every change you make to be supportive.

    Your Score: 5
    You are showing moderate-strong emotional vampire behaviors. You may ask your loved ones if they feel drained by a specific behavior--such as nagging or being critical. Then you can begin to be mindful of when you fall into it and start to change.

    Your Score: 6
    You are showing strong emotional vampire behaviors. You may ask your loved ones if they feel drained by a specific behavior--such as being negative but being unwilling to get help. Seriously consider their suggestions about how to improve your communication. Be compassionate with yourself all along the way.

    Your Score: 7
    You are showing strong to extremely strong emotional vampire behaviors. Be kind to yourself and set out to make small changes to improve one behavior at a time.

    Your Score: 8
    You have extremely strong emotional vampire behaviors that can be draining others in your life. Commend yourself for your honesty, but begin to understand what motivates you. Is it fear? Feeling less-than? Anger? Don't hesitate to ask for help--from friends who can offer honest feedback or a therapist. People around you will appreciate the positive changes you make.

    The remedy for these draining behaviors is to start shifting your attitude. Journaling about this can help. Ask yourself, “Is there a particular trigger that creates the situation? If so, then how can you avoid the trigger? How can you become aware of when you fall into this attitude? Are there people you respect who could help you?” Now write out an action plan to shift these attitudes. Remember to be kind to yourself and begin with small changes – baby steps. Taking action can help solve the problem quickly as opposed to many emotional vampires who stay stuck in patterns for years. I promise: your relatives, friends, and coworkers will appreciate your efforts and your relationships will dramatically improve!

    Click on link to watch video on How to Spot Energy Vampires


    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.

    Tammy Small commented on 25-Oct-2011 12:41 PM
    I remember reading a version of this piece many years back by you- and it spoke just as loudly then as now! As a school counselor - and "ear" for many adults, I am always sruggling how to communicate to people to step away from debilitating complaining
    - toward empowered solution. Had to click on this reminder today as a way to nudge people back to their greatness intention - building relatiionship and increasing transformational awareness. Thanks!
    Anonymous commented on 25-Oct-2011 01:02 PM
    What a great checklist! It should probably be hung in the staff lounge of many businesses. Unfortunately, I think many of us have one or two of these to work on, but now we have some food for thought. Thanks!
    Brain Green commented on 25-Oct-2011 01:29 PM
    Hi. Many years ago, after a relationship broke up, I wrote about it. What came out in the writing was that she was an emotional vampire. I was so filled with self doubt at the time I was not sure this was real. A friend said,"I could never understand why
    you were with her, she is a tarantula." More a praying mantis in retrospect. In the following year or so two books on sexual/emotional vampirism by Psychotherapists were published, which validated my observations in detail. I think it is important to distinguish
    this from neediness, however severe, which may overlap. True emotional vampirism is a way of being, an addiction to feeding on others energy as a way of life. Working with some street level individuals I have encountered other parasites, such as ticks and
    leeches. Again as a way of being and way of life, not a temporary aberration. Best, hypnohotshot.
    Bob Kimble commented on 25-Oct-2011 04:43 PM
    I have not dated in years after going through a divorce. It seems every woman is a blood sucking, emotional draining PITAss. I'm beginning to think is it worth it because I'm content with my dogs and visiting my children. If I didn't have to deal with
    the drama garbage things might be different. I find this drama to be worthless and I am intolerate of pettiness. Is it the age of the women, all the worthless baggage they carry around? I suppose I'm a bit set in my ways and I am aware of that but can change.
    Is there anything out there but drama queens?
    Ian Cameron commented on 25-Oct-2011 09:57 PM
    I am self obsessed!!! There I said it, confession done. I have a chronic illness and am always trying to listen to my intuition to get well. I am getting well but at present I cannot lose myself in converstaion or a good book. Hopefully I will soon because
    losing oneself in life is freedom. I write a lot and in those periods I do lose myself. I'm always looking for the next therapy that may work. Dear God, help me get healthy and let me relax more in the moment more, Amen.
    An unnamed source commented on 27-Oct-2011 12:06 PM
    I used to attend 12 step groups for ACOA and Codpendents and this discussion and topic prompted me to recall a saying I first encountered there. "When you point the finger at someone to blame them remember there are three fingers pointing back at you!"
    As someone who has spent a lifetime growing out of narcissism and parentage by two people with similar challenges, I try to recall this saying whenever I encounter an emotional vampire so I can look at both sides and react lovingly. Sometimes it works and
    sometimes not. I've got along way to go.........
    don smith M.D. commented on 27-Oct-2011 02:13 PM
    In response to the inquiry 'are there only drama queens out there' I do feel there is something to be said for our own internal emotional state, and what we can sometimes bring into our lives...I think that if you look at experiences both good and bad
    as lessons that we learn from ...then you learn exactly what it is you don't want if you are involved with an emotionally draining, self aggrandizing drama queen; and hopefully we learn something better about ourselves so that we can change whatever behaviors,
    or other elements in our lives that draw these types of persons into our lives...My suggestion having been through it myself is first true forgiveness for that person and what they may have put you through, and secondly being able to let it go and move foward...there
    is some truth to the star wars cliche fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the darkside....by remaining preoccupied with all the negative 'vibes' and emotional baggage from a painful and/or destructive relationship we invariably draw to
    us that which we seek to avoid, or become the very thing we fear...by moving on and staying positive you're saying thanks for that lesson it sucked but i've learned from it im going on to better and more positive things in my life, and that it/you have no
    control over me anymore....I really believe that which we put out(thought patterns, beliefs) is what we draw into our lives...so stay, be, live positive, let the past go and you will meet a nice woman on the positive side that's right for you ...and stop attracting
    accolytes of the dark side..
    Rebecca Mary Clarkson commented on 04-Nov-2011 11:32 AM
    I find the whole emotional vampire dynamic fascinating. I'm going to be brave and fess up to the fact I score 7 out of 8 in your quiz. Before I read Emotional Freedom, it was something I had long suspected about myself, but never imagined that a psychiatrist
    would identify the phenomena. I suppose one goes along with the spiritual expanation and thinks of it as a defect of the soul. What I realise now is that it is more of a systemic 'disorder' of the body/mind/spirit. Being bipolar and highly intelligent I always
    assumed that it was kind of natural prejudice against my illness and the intellectual demands I placed on people which alienated them from me. I now realise how taxing my company can actually be as a consequence of my refusal to deal with certain emotional
    issues! Thanks Dr. judith!
    Karen commented on 06-Nov-2011 07:34 PM
    Dr. Orloff - great quiz! Know thyself...If we are not aware of our "vampire" behaviors then we would not know what to correct. Intuitively (if we listen) then we know and or feel something is OFF....Thanks you for bringing some added awareness to my day
    :) Much Love, Karen
    MPC commented on 07-Nov-2011 02:15 PM
    I was married to an emotional vampire for 26 years. It was around the 17th year of the marriage that I got help for myself to improve my self esteem and awareness, and since that time never looked back and keep moving forward (and help others). I know
    these people think so little of themselves deep within that they have to "grandize" everything - and I do mean everything (mostly negative things). I will no longer tolerate or be victim of such a person. I can be kind, but do not have to put up with their
    stuff. They suck any positive air out of the room. I wouldn't want to be in their skin and I have learned, as well, any tendencies of my own weakness for vampire behavior. Thank you for this article!
    Thomas commented on 18-Nov-2011 07:13 PM
    I had a friend who I had break up with because just being around her for at least 15 minutes was draining the life out of me. I did set boundaries with her and she constantly violated them. I had to say no more. She is in a place at the bottle of a dark
    hole and I am looking down from the edge and I do not want to go there. It gets to point where I do not have the mental or emotional stability to follow her there without me losing my mind. She needs more that I can offer.
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    DRS commented on 10-Mar-2015 10:35 PM
    This article has been an eye opener for me.I have a number of energy vampires in my life but it never occurred to me that I ,myself could have picked up their behavior and practice it in my relationship with others. Thank you doctor for this timely insight.

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