I first learned of “emotional vampires” two years ago after being gifted a copy of Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry by Dr. Albert Bernstein. Though at first I rolled my eyes at the dramatic name, after reading the book I thought the term brilliantly described the types of people I will be discussing today. Dr. Bernstein coined the term after raising an interesting point that is often overlooked in society. An individual qualifies for an official mental illness diagnosis when they experience certain symptoms and act in ways that correspond to a disorder contained in the DSM. However, each individual’s health exists on a continuum, and can range from severe enough to require hospitalization to fairly normal, at least until subjected to enough stress. Emotion vampires (EV) are people who have traits associated with personality disorders, but do not necessarily have severe enough cases to warrant a diagnosis. (In Bernstein’s words, a mental disorder consists in driving oneself crazy. A personality disorder entails a person driving others crazy.) These are people who view the world differently than others. They want everyone’s undivided attention. They want love that demands nothing back. They are those friends who just love having fun and excitement, expecting others to clean up the mess and take care of anything difficult or boring. Or your boss who takes advantage of you, knowing well you have a hard time saying no.
There are five types of ‘vampires’ that are associated with a specific personality disorder: antisocial vampires, histrionic vampires, narcissistic vampires, obsessive-compulsive vampires, and paranoid vampires. Today I will discuss the common characteristics all EVs have, including a lack of maturity and social norms.
A lack of basic maturity is an easy way to identify emotional vampires. Bernstein argues that maturity and mental health are the same thing, and are made up of three components: First, the perception of control, or the notion that over time we learn from our mistakes and our choices get better. We develop a feeling that we have some sort of control over our fate that life’s not out to get us. Second, a sense of connection and commitment, such that human connection gives meaning to our lives. As we grow up, we come to understand some basic social rules such as people have the right to deny you, you are not on a superior plane than others, what’s fair is fair, to mention a few. We learn to develop empathy and trust. Without a sense of connection, all we have is ourselves and our needs, which is a very limited and empty place. Third and finally, the Pursuit of Challenge: in order to grow we must face our fears and do things that are sometimes difficult. EVs lack all three of these parts.
In addition to discussing some of the social rules most people in society abide by, Bernstein came up with social rules that emotional vampires follow:
My needs are more important than yours: A person may be a fantastic coworker and friend up until your needs come in conflict with theirs.
The rules apply to others, not me (entitlement): EVs realize how much easier life is when they are the only ones not following the rules other people follow.
It’s not my fault, ever: This references EVs significant lack of responsibility, and the perception that the world is out to get them.
I want it now: The persistent need for immediate gratification. If you cannot provide them with what they want, when they want it, they will come at you.
If I don’t get my way, I throw a tantrum: As a followup to the previous point, if they don’t get their way, misery will follow.
These are just a few of the basic characteristics all EVs share. To avoid being emotionally drained by them, being aware of their differences from the rest of society is important. Next week I will be discussing the five types of emotional vampires- antisocial vampires, histrionic vampires, narcissistic vampires, obsessive-compulsive vampires, and paranoid vampires- and how to protect yourself from them.
– Emile Beniflah