It’s that time again – time for little ghouls and goblins, superheroes and princesses to swarm into the neighborhood and charm you into giving them some candy. You may even see a miniature Count Dracula looking like he’s checking out your jugular vein.
Halloween and trick or treating is all in good fun, but I’m wondering if some time in your life you’ve known a warm-blooded vampire – an Emotional Vampire, that is. You might recognize them as someone you’re afraid to ask, “How are you?” because you suspect they’ll overflow with more gory details than you want to know.
You’ll know you are dealing with an Emotional Vampire because the relationship isn’t characterized by a healthy give and take. After spending time with the EV, you don’t feel uplifted and energized. Instead, you come away feeling drained and emotionally exhausted. In most cases, they are not deliberately sucking the life out of you; they’re just people who feel overwhelmed by their own problems and emotions, and don’t know how to get them under control.
Emotional vampires need help organizing their thoughts, putting things into perspective and taking action to actually solve some of their problems. As a friend, it is best to respectfully speak the truth, even if they are uncomfortable hearing it and you’re uncomfortable expressing it.
It is important to show you care by maintaining eye contact and acknowledging their feelings, but at the same time, you want to avoid getting caught up in the tangled web of emotion. It can be frustrating to try to think of something helpful to say when someone is pouring out their seemingly never-ending, never-addressed problems. It may help you, as the listener, to have a few phrases handy that you can adapt as needed.
“I am available for about fifteen minutes, so I am willing to listen until it’s time for me to go.”
“That sounds really hard to cope with. What have you tried to deal with the issue more effectively?”
“I’m sorry you are hurting. Is there some specific way I can help?”
If you want to provide some tangible help, think carefully about what you are – and are not – willing to do. For example, if someone’s problem is financial in nature, it’s up to you to decide if it’s wise to help them out with a gift of cash, provide them with practical ideas for addressing their need, or simply offer an empathetic ear. Don’t promise anything that you can’t deliver and don’t commit to something that will cause you to resent your Vampire in the future.
As a friend, don’t just let your Emotional Vampire drain you. Set boundaries on how much time you can give them, speak the truth and look for opportunities to encourage and support positive growth in their lives. Sometimes the best thing you can do is acknowledge that their problems are too big to handle without professional help. It is okay to tell an Emotional Vampire, “I care about you, but I am not qualified to advise you about this problem. I would prefer that you discuss this issue with someone who can be of real help to you.”
Loving relationships may include times of sacrifice and giving until it hurts, but you don’t have to passively allow an Emotional Vampire to suck the life out of your relationship.
How have you handled Emotional Vampires in your life? Can you think of any other phrases that will help create healthy boundaries in a relationship with an Emotional Vampire? Let us hear from you!
We hope you enjoy a safe and happy Halloween!
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Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.