We all know an energy vampire — a friend who buffets us with tales of woe, a coworker who whines more than a lost puppy, an acquaintance who has to top everything we say or do. (You have a cold? She may have contracted a flesh-eating disease. You got a pat on the back from your boss? She got a major promotion.)
“Energy vampires attack our energy through their neediness or negativity,” says Judith Orloff, MD, author of Positive Energy10 Extraordinary Prescriptions for Transforming Fatigue, Stress, and Fear into Vibrance, Strength, and Love (Three Rivers Press, 2005). “Whenever you deal with an energy vampire, you’re left feeling frustrated and depleted.”
You don’t need to wear garlic around your neck to ward off the energy suckers in your life. You can defuse most energy vampires by playing to the five core needs that everyone has: appreciation, autonomy (the freedom to do what we want), status (the need to feel important), affiliation (an emotional connection to people), and role (the need to play a meaningful role), says Dan Shapiro, PhD, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project and author of Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate (Viking/Penguin, 2005),
A person whose core concerns aren’t being met can quickly suck the life out of you. For example, someone who feels unimportant (no status) may feel the need to one-up you, while someone who feels excluded (no affiliation) will suck up all your energy trying to get your attention. “You want to set your boundaries, but in a way that addresses their core concerns,” Shapiro says.
Here, we offer expert suggestions on how to use this and other techniques to help you deal with the most common energy vampires.
The Constant Talker
The Constant Talker is a chronically perky motor-mouth who’s not interested in your feelings and who always demands center stage. “It’s very negative for your health and well-being in the moment because they barrage you with words,” says Orloff. Protect your energy by staying neutral and defining your needs verbally. It can be difficult to do because we’re taught not to interrupt, but giving Constant Talkers nonverbal cues like crossing your arms or stepping backwards doesn’t work. They’re too caught up in their own babble. So if you’re cornered by a Constant Talker at a party, for example, you need to say politely but bluntly, “It was nice meeting you, but I have to go on to the next person.”
Shapiro’s run-in with a Constant Talker shows how attending to people’s core values can defuse an energy vampire. Shapiro was giving a lecture on international conflict, and one man kept raising his hand to interrupt with off-topic comments. “Instead of simply pushing him off, I said, ‘I’ll give you three minutes at the beginning of the next lecture to say whatever you want,’” he recalls. “So he got up there, talked for three minutes — then he had had his pedestal, so he walked out.”
The Sob Sister
The Sob Sister always has something to whine about–her throat hurts, her boss hates her, the convenience store clerk shorted her fifty cents–and she uses every opportunity to tell you about it. “Sob Sisters love an audience and cast themselves as victims,” says Orloff. “When you offer a solution, they say, ‘Yes, but…’” The trick to warding off this vampire is to be kind, but to limit the time you spend discussing the Sob Sister’s gripe, Orloff advises. “You have to say, ‘”I’m interested in your problem, but I can talk for only five minutes unless you want to talk about solutions,’” she says.
The Naysayer is always the first one to tell you who you are not and what you can’t do instead of supporting who you are and what you can do. Jan Yanehiro, co-author of This Is Not the Life I Ordered: 50 Ways to Keep Your Head Above Water When Life Keeps Dragging You Down (Conari Press, 2007), started out in the radio industry in 1972 as a secretary, and she dreamed of being an on-air reporter. “I remember one of the guys saying within my earshot, ‘We don’t want to hear a woman’s voice on the air,’” she recalls. “I said nothing back. I just kind of shriveled up.”
Yanehiro didn’t let the Naysayers’ negativity affect her; in fact, the cruel comment fired her up. “I had to find it within my core, my determination, my stubborn belief, that I could be on the air,” Yanehiro says. “I doubled my practice efforts, bribed the studio engineer with donuts to let me practice in the sound studio, and found the most liberal, most benevolent male in the station and asked him to critique my practice tapes.” Yanehiro later became the co-host of Evening Magazine, a nightly TV program in San Francisco, and is now the host of Everyday Angels on Comcast Cable TV and the Executive Producer of Pacific Fusion TV.
Naysayers don’t always mean to be negative; sometimes they’re trying to protect you, or they’re afraid of what will happen to them if you reach your dreams. The key is to acknowledge their concern and tell them what you would like from them. “We have to put up our hands and say, ‘Thank you for your concern, but I would really love you to think positive for me,’” says Yanehiro. “Debbie Fields founded a cookie empire by refusing to listen to those who told her she was crazy to start a cookie store.”
The Blamer, of course, blames other people for everything that goes wrong in his life. “The Blamer has a sneaky way of making you feel guilty for not getting things right,” says Orloff. “They sometimes even resort to verbal abuse.” You can enforce boundaries by setting firm but kind limits. Orloff suggests telling the person, “My feelings get hurt when you blame or criticize me. Please don’t do it. We must treat each other with mutual respect.” Repeat this boundary-setting exercise as often as you need to, and if possible keep your distance from the offender until he stops blaming you.
When something good happens to you, something better happens to her; when something bad happens to you, something worse happens to her. You just can’t win with the One-Upper. “The problem is that everything you say, they one-up to feel higher in status, and that hooks you in,” says Shapiro. His advice is to refuse to compete over status. “Listen, appreciate their perspective, acknowledge their areas of high status, and move on,” Shapiro suggests.
The Fixer Upper
The Fixer Upper requires constant repairs, says Orloff — and he thinks you’re just the person to make those repairs. Unlike the Sob Sister, the Fixer Upper truly does want his problems fixed, but unfortunately those problems are endless. Don’t encourage this energy vampire by playing amateur psychologist: “You have to realize that others must take responsibility for their own lives,” says Orloff. “It’s none of your business to fix anyone. Disengage yourself from the fixer-fixee agreement, but do it with compassion. Orloff suggests saying to the Fixer Upper, “I care about you but I think it’s important that you get help from a qualified person. I can only talk for five minutes about problems but I’m available to share on other levels.”
The Unintentional Sappers
Sometimes energy vampires aren’t coworkers or strangers at parties — they’re our friends, spouses, and children. People we love can often drain us the most. “Life’s demands add up and you’re often barraged by these people when you’re tired,” says Orloff. The solution is to protect your energy by letting others know when you need time to yourself. For example, if your spouse starts complaining about his boss as soon as you walk in the door, tell him that you need ten minutes to decompress when you get home — then head to the bedroom to listen to your favorite soothing music for a few minutes.
So toss the garlic and the holy water: Understanding people’s core needs, setting boundaries, and respecting yourself and others will keep these and other energy vampires at bay.
Have you ever dealt with an energy vampire? Let us know how you dealt with it in the Comments below!