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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Friendship dynamics: coping with an 'energy vampire'

Updated: Jan 26

We all know the image of a vampire. A creepy creature, whose sole focus is to drain our energy in order to supplement their own.  These nocturnal creatures might look very different from our friends and family, flapping their wings and swooping above us.  But when I was asked to think about an 'energy vampire' for a piece in Yahoo News, I could instantly understand what this might look like in human form. Someone who feels an innate drive to suck the ‘energy’ from other people and demand attention, in order to give themselves a boost. Click here to read the article in Yahoo, and read on to hear what I had to say.

How can we recognise an 'energy vampire'? An ‘energy vampire’ can appear in lots of different forms.  The concept of the ‘Drama Triangle’ (popularised by Stephen Karpman) helps us to recognise three main stereotypes of ‘energy vampire’.  

The persecutor is someone who we might recognise as a bully.  Their words and actions are critical and mocking.  A persecutor manipulates other people, and tries to pull their strings.  

The victim is someone who consistently seeks and demands help from other people.  In a way that’s out of kilter with the normal ‘give and take’ of relationships.  That leaves us feeling exhausted and burdened by their demands, but full of guilt if we fail to deliver.  If you're interested in thinking more about the idea of the 'victim mentality', then click here to read my comments on this topic in Medical News Today.

And then there’s the rescuer.  If we take this on face value, it would be surprising to consider a ‘rescuer’ as an ‘energy vampire’.  After all, who doesn’t want to be rescued?  But a rescuer saps our energy by trying to take control and solve all our problems for us.  This leaves us feeling helpless, demotivated, and disempowered.  

So, how do you know if you’re in a friendship with an ‘energy vampire’.  The easiest way, is to think about how you feel when you’re with them, or after you’ve spent time together.  Do you feel energised, satisfied and content?  Or do you feel stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed or exhausted.  The caveat here, is that it’s important to acknowledge that we all need support from those around us.  And this will often come and go in our relationships.  Sometimes we’ll be asking for help, sometimes we’ll be offering it.  But the thing about an ‘energy vampire’ is that the transaction of energy consistently feels like a one-way street, which we are powerless to stop.  

Coping with an 'energy vampire'. If you’ve figured out that someone in your life is an ‘energy vampire’, it’s worth considering what you need to have in place in order to protect your own energy levels.  

1/ Practical boundaries.  Perhaps it’s about the amount of time that you spend with them or that you spend communicating with them.  

2/ Emotional boundaries.  We can’t always limit the amount of time we spend with an ‘energy vampire’, particularly if it’s a long-term entrenched friendship or a relative.  But we can think about how we protect our own confidence and self-esteem when we are with them.  

  • Practise saying no.  An ‘energy vampire’ often latches onto someone who struggles to say no.  Maybe you feel uncomfortable or guilty saying no.  Challenge yourself to start putting yourself first, and declining invitations to be sucked into the drama of an ‘energy vampire’.  

  • Affirmations.  These can be helpful if your ‘energy vampire’ gets under your skin and dents your confidence and self-esteem.  Consider some brief positive statements that you can stay to yourself to help you to bolster your confidence and limit the other person’s ability to damage it.  

  • Visualisations.  If your ‘energy vampire’ is prone to criticism, you can try visualising their words written on a piece of paper.  Screw them up and throw them into an imaginary bin.  

  • Staying calm.  If the ‘energy vampire’ in your life gets you angry, try calming breathing techniques (eg five-finger breathing) to help you to rise above the difficult feelings that they trigger.  

  • Understanding the root cause of your reaction.  If you experience someone as an ‘energy vampire’, it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes we play a role in being drawn into certain behaviours.  If we think about the ‘drama triangle’ idea of persecutors, rescuers and victims, think about what happens to you when you’re faced with one of these players.  Perhaps if someone has a victim mentality, you are drawn by an overwhelming urge to exhaust yourself by rescuing them.  Perhaps is someone feels like they’re ‘persecuting’ you, it leaves you spiralling into a place of helplessness and anxiety.  This isn’t about excusing unreasonable behaviour.  But it’s about being curious about why we respond in the way that we do.  If you notice yourself being regularly drawn into patterns of behaviour that sap your energy, consider exploring where these behaviours come from.  

Relationships are all about connection, and often this involves supporting each other in our time of need.  The distinction here is that when we are around an ‘energy vampire’, it leaves us feeling depleted.  Whereas when we are in a healthy friendship, we might sometimes feel tired, but we will also feel valued, hopeful, empowered, supportive and supported.  And we will know that if we needed help, our friend would be there to support us too.  Some of us might have a more natural tendency to push people away than others.  This is often determined by our ‘attachment style’, our default behaviours that are determined by our relationships with our earliest caregivers.  

This topic also reminded me of the concept of 'radiators and drains', and friendships that leave us emotionally exhausted. Click here to read my blog post on this topic, and click here to read my comments in Metro.

Keen to explore more?

I love working with people to help them to understand themselves.

If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch. Click here to contact me or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.

Friendship dynamics: coping with an 'energy vampire'

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