Have you ever had a friend whom, every time you spend time with them, afterward you feel like you need a long hot bath and a three-day nap? It’s not that this person is hateful or belittling, there is just… something about their energy that has a depletive effect on you.
And it’s disconcerting, because aren’t friendships supposed to restore and uplift? You may even feel guilty for feeling this way about your friend, because you know they’re not a bad person. You may wonder if the drained feeling you’re always left with after seeing them has more to do with you than them, that maybe you’re just more introverted than you thought.
Or maybe you’re dealing with an emotional vampire. “Emotional vampire” obviously isn’t a clinical term, but we all know or have known someone like this—someone who has an uncanny ability to sap the energy right out of us.
So, what does an emotional vampire look like?
Emotional vampires are often gregarious, funny, friendly, and open. They talk a lot. They will probably ask tons of questions about you and seem very interested in you… at first. Except…
1. They want all the attention.
Unlike your friends who keep the dialogue volleying back and forth between the two of you, an emotional vampire does almost all the taking—in fact, you get the sense that rather than listening, they’re mostly waiting for you to stop talking so they can interject with a story about themselves. Conversations are incredibly one-sided. An emotional vampire wants to be the one talking, and they want everyone else to listen.
You may come away from an outing with your emotional vampire friend and remember tons of things you wanted to say but “for some reason” didn’t get a chance to say them. It’s because you never got a chance to speak. This is the hallmark of the energy vampire—needing to be the center of attention to a degree that disregards everyone else.
2. They are always in the middle of a crisis.
Now, I do have a few friends for whom I’m like, Damn, can’t they ever catch a break? Because, for real, it seems like the universe is just shitting all over them and won’t leave them the hell alone. We’re not talking about those people.
The emotional vampire complains about little things—what most would consider “first world problems”—and somehow manages to turn them into massive crises. Their husband’s application to the exclusive golf club got denied—Can you believe the nerve??—or the “incompetent cable guy” wired everything completely wrong and now the WiFi doesn’t reach to the farthest corner of their house and their kid has to play Fortnite right in the family room, Ugh, why can’t one thing go right this month? You want to be supportive, but you’re having a hella hard time mustering up sympathy.
3. They don’t know when to let something go.
All those first-world problems? The emotional vampire will harp on them for weeks, if not months. They may end relationships over what you feel are insignificant misunderstandings. If you disagree about something, they will pester and debate with you until you give in just to get them to drop it. They may stay mad at their spouse for impressive lengths of time. They often have a hard time seeing another person’s point of view because they are too wrapped up in their own, and that prevents them from being able to simply agree to disagree.
4. They have low self-esteem and need constant reassurance.
Combined with the other traits, the endless need for reassurance can add a layer of energy-suck that will truly, deeply exhaust you. To be clear, this does not refer to friends suffering from anxiety or depression who need a lift. Those are legitimate clinical illnesses that need and deserve support from friends. The emotional vampire’s need for reassurance is not private and hopeless—it is performative and demanding. They may actually have low self-esteem, which many of us can relate to, but their need for ego-soothing far exceeds that of your other friends. Emotional vampires need so much reassuring that you don’t have room to express your own insecurities.
5. They rarely accept fault.
Just as they manage to turn every small speedbump into a massive crisis, the emotional vampire assumes that none of their problems are a result of their own missteps. That crappy WiFi connection was really a result of your emotional vampire friend insisting the cable guy install the router in the office in the farthest corner of the house even though he advised against it. Now that the cable guy’s been proven right, the emotional vampire refuses to acknowledge she’s the one at fault.
6. They lack self-awareness.
For someone who spends so much time talking about themselves and their problems, emotional vampires often have an incredible lack of self-awareness. They are likely totally oblivious that their non-stop talking about themselves means they forgot to ask how you were doing. They bemoan the little problems in their life so much that they have no idea how good they actually have it. They are so wrapped up in their own thoughts that they don’t have the ability to step back and see themselves from a third-person perspective.
So, what do you do about a friend who is an emotional vampire?
Boundaries, boundaries, and more boundaries—and that’s if you decide to maintain the relationship at all. Sometimes a person can be so emotionally draining that you have to let go of the friendship to protect your own mental health. But what if your friend who is an emotional vampire has other great qualities that you really enjoy? Maybe they’re absolutely hilarious, or they’re generous and enjoy helping people.
Boundaries. They’re talking too much? Interrupt. Be clear and tell them it’s your turn to talk, they’ve totally Bogarted the conversation. Keep it lighthearted to take the sting out. If your friend is really just having a problem with self-awareness but is otherwise a decent human being, and if they care about your friendship, they’ll laugh and let you talk. If they don’t, they’re not a friend anyway, and you can move on—you’ve lost nothing.
Or you may just need extra space when it comes to this friend. Maybe you enjoy hanging out with them, but you can only tolerate small doses with a good stretch of time between visits. If it’s more of a Holy-crap-I’m-exhausted-after-hanging-out-with-this-person-even-though-I-like-them type situation, and they’re not being emotionally abusive or using you, there’s nothing that says you can’t maintain the friendship with some added distance.
In other words, if you want to maintain a friendship with an emotionally draining person, you just have to be strong enough to stand up to them when they attempt to steamroll over you.