Request a demo
Back to Blog

5 ways to deal with the emotional vampires in your life

March 30, 2022 - 15 min read

emotional-vampires-person-sits-stressed-at-desk

Jump to section

What are emotional vampires?

5 types of emotional vampires

8 signs of an emotional vampire

How do you deal with an emotional vampire?

Is there a coworker that you tend to avoid, or someone that leaves you with an “icky” feeling after you spend time with them? Maybe you’ve noticed that a particular colleague makes you feel drained. Or you have a palpable feeling of dread every time you have to interact with a certain person. 

Monsters may not be real, but emotional vampires certainly are — and they can wreak havoc on your confidence, well-being, and productivity. Learn what emotional vampires are, how to spot one (both in and out of work), and how to deal with them. (No garlic needed, we promise).

What are emotional vampires?

In mythology, a vampire is a creature that survives by feeding on the blood of other living beings. They’re typically a type of undead creature, so they live forever, but they can’t survive long in sunlight. Chances are you won’t find many of them lingering around your workplace.

Energy vampires, on the other hand, thrive at work. That’s because many of us wrap our identities around what we do for a living. We bring our whole selves to our jobs and measure our self-worth against our accomplishments. An emotional vampire feeds on what we care most about.

They may not drink blood, but similar to their mythological counterparts, emotional vampires drain the well-being, vitality, and confidence of those around them. They suck away our energy and passion. They may not be immortal, but their criticisms and psychological damage can live on. Fortunately, turning a bright light on their behaviors is a great way of keeping them at bay.

New call-to-action

What do emotional vampires want?

Emotional vampires may or may not be aware of their behavior — but that doesn’t make their behavior any less toxic. Their desire to take the attention off of their own insecurities causes them to manipulate and emotionally abuse others.

By controlling the narrative to keep themselves firmly at the center (and preferably, in the victim’s seat) they ensure that they're never at fault. These people are experts at avoiding responsibility for their own actions and lives.

emotional-vampires-person-talks-at-a-colleague

Whether a person is doing this intentionally or not, the effects of emotional vampires can have an impact on your mental health. Here are five types of emotional vampires and how to spot them by what they say and do:

5 types of emotional vampires

Narcissists

Named for another mythological favorite, narcissists seem unable to talk about anything but themselves. Even if you are upset or going through something difficult, they can't take their attention off themselves long enough to empathize — or even hear you. 

This type can be especially hard when you're in a close personal relationship with them. We tend to rely on the people closest to us to help us through a crisis. Narcissists are too emotionally immature and self-centered to see when you need help.

“Are you done whining yet? I haven’t even told you what happened to me.”

“That’s nothing — at least you’re not dealing with what I’m dealing with.”

The drama lovers

Dramatic vampires are always in the midst of an emotional crisis. If something goes well in their life, they'll minimize it or find something about it to complain about. If something is going poorly, it's all you'll hear about for days, weeks, or even months. 

The setback doesn't have to be large — they can find a way to turn anything into a catastrophic story. If you spend enough time around a dramatic type of person, you might hear them tell the same story a dozen times. Long enough, and you might become a co-star in their drama.

“I guess I’m excited about the promotion, but I’ll just be in a higher tax bracket now.”

“How am I? What’s the last thing I told you? Things have gotten even worse.”

Victims  

Nothing is ever the victim's fault. In fact, even when you have “hard evidence,” they'll do some pretty impressive emotional and mental acrobatics to justify their behavior. These types of people are very sensitive to perceived criticism and will lash out if you try to point out what they could have done differently. 

Often, people with a victim mentality are more interested in sympathy than solutions. You’ll find that victims don’t take advice well and seem uninterested in problem-solving. They always have a reason why it won’t work, so they see little point in trying.

“Are you blaming me? If they had done their part, I would have finished on time!”

“I wish something like that would work, but my boss would never go for it.”

Controllers

If you're talking to someone who makes you feel like there's only one right answer, you're probably talking to a controlling person. These types of people can leave you feeling like you have to get their approval for everything you do. 

These energy vampires can be domineering or subtle in their manipulations. After talking to someone who is controlling, you often feel like you’re second-guessing yourself.

“I wouldn’t submit that as it is — but hey, you probably know something I don’t.”

“You really should have talked to me about that first.”

Talkers  

Excessively talkative people may dominate the conversation with their own opinions and views. If you do get a chance to speak up, they quickly dismiss you so that they can get back to what they were saying. 

These people are always thinking about what they'll say while you're talking. If you call them out on it, they can often recite what you said but miss the nuance of it. Talkers find a way to spin everything back to their original point. They can't deal with silence.

“That reminds me — I have to tell you about what happened to me.”

“You’re always interrupting me. You clearly don’t listen to anyone but yourself.”

emotional-vampires-person-avoids-responsibility-in-conversation

8 signs of an emotional vampire

If you wait for an energy vampire to identify itself, you’ll be waiting a long time. Here are some toxic behaviors that emotional vampires commonly display:

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a way of making you doubt your own sanity, perception of reality, or instincts. Whether conscious or unconscious, a gaslighter can make you feel like you don't know what you're talking about and even make you doubt your own memory.

2. Passive-aggressive behavior

People who are passive-aggressive will rarely ask for what they want. Instead, they try to manipulate you into doing what they want you to do. They will often hold you accountable for not meeting their expectations, even if they were never communicated.

3. No accountability

Emotional vampires rarely take responsibility for their actions. If you point out a mistake they've made or an action they took that hurt you, they’ll often find a way to blame it on you — or, at least, anyone but themselves.

4. Guilt

Guilt is a favorite weapon of emotional vampires. Once they make you feel guilty or like you have to apologize, they often use that opening as a way out of taking any responsibility.

5. All-or-nothing thinking

Lots of people tend toward all-or-nothing thinking patterns. It’s a common feature of mood disorders like anxiety and depression. That alone doesn't make them emotional vampires. However, it can become toxic when people apply their all-or-nothing thoughts to others. They may describe people as either good or bad, hard-working or lazy, smart or stupid. At best, this is reductive — at worst, it’s damaging.

6. Makes inappropriate or personal comments

Emotional vampires frequently get too close too fast. Sometimes, this is a tactic to uncover sensitive or personal information that can be used to manipulate you. Asking personal questions can also subtly shift power away from you by putting you on your guard.

7. “All about me” syndrome 

Toxic people often display self-centered or egocentric behavior. There's no use in trying to tell them about something that happened to you. They're wholly uninterested unless it has something to do with them. And they'll find a way to connect everything back to themselves.

8. Your own feelings

By far one of the most important indicators of an emotional vampire is how you feel after you interact with them — especially for an extended amount of time. If you feel emotionally exhausted, depressed, insecure, or wish that you had never said anything at all, that person is probably an emotional vampire.

How do you deal with an emotional vampire?

We all have to learn to deal with people that we'd rather not deal with — and that’s especially true at work. Even if we don’t enjoy their presence, we still have to learn to collaborate, communicate, and maintain the psychological safety of our workplaces. 

While we can't control when and how emotional vampires show up, we can limit the impact that they have on us. Developing strategies to deal with toxic people and their behaviors in your life can help you feel more in control. You'll be less stressed, have more energy, and develop resilience along with strategies to handle their behavior.

Here are five steps you can take to deal with an emotional vampire:

1. Set clear boundaries

Emotional vampires love to live in the grey space. The less that they’re clear about, the more they can get away with. Hold them accountable for their actions. Set clear boundaries for their behavior with you and your expectations of them. 

For example, if you're dealing with someone who is chronically late, get the time that you're supposed to meet them in writing. Make it clear that if they're not there after 15 minutes, you're leaving — and follow through if they’re late. Setting boundaries helps you limit the negative impact of their behavior on you. When the consequences of their behavior begin to affect them instead, they'll be motivated to change.

2. Stick to the facts

Emotional vampires are called emotional vampires for a reason. They love to manipulate you through your feelings. Stick to the facts when dealing with these people. Instead of telling them how they made you feel, give them examples of specific behaviors that need to change. 

For example, if you have a victim on your hands, you can say “I'm sorry that you're dealing with this, but I can’t (insert boundary here).” If it’s happening at work, talk to a manager or encourage them to take their concerns to HR.

3. Practice mindfulness

One of the best ways to limit the impact of emotional vampires is to develop self-awareness of how their behaviors affect you. Practicing mindfulness can help you become aware of which emotional strings they're pulling to manipulate you and why it affects you. Mindfulness practices can help you avoid being triggered or pulled into a blame game. 

4. Talk to a therapist or coach

Emotional vampires — especially when they’re family members or loved ones — can do some real damage to our mental health. When someone you trust or love makes you feel put down, it hurts your self-esteem, self-trust, and drains your emotional energy. Relationships with energy vampires are often codependent and stressful.

Working with a professional can be helpful when it comes to setting boundaries and taking an objective look at the relationship. This kind of work can help you identify patterns, improve low self-esteem, and sort out your emotional reactions. 

Sometimes, toxic traits are a sign of a personality disorder or a precursor to emotional and mental abuse. Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose personality and mood disorders. 

If your interactions with a coworker or loved one are making you feel worthless, depressed, or causing you to self-harm, call 800-273-8255 right away. They're always available and answer every call.

5. Interact virtually (or not at all)

Can’t get away from them, at work or otherwise? Keep them at a distance. While you may not have control over where they work or how they’re related to you, you can have some control over how you interact with them. Drawing a line in where you interact — or if you even meet with them in the first place — can restore a little of your emotional freedom. Protecting your mental health is a good reason to turn a meeting into an email.

Final thoughts

As human beings, we’re hardwired for connection. It’s not in our nature to want to cut off relationships or dismiss the pain of others. But we can only help other people when we’re not depleted ourselves — and we certainly shouldn’t do it at our own expense.

Learning to recognize red flags in your relationships and prioritizing your own self-care are your most important weapons when dealing with emotional vampires.

inner-work-day-logo-plus-link-to-post-event-site-to-access-recordings

Published March 30, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

Read Next

Well-being
16 min read | February 11, 2021

What is emotional well-being? 8 ways to improve your mental health

Emotional well-being can impact everything from your outlook on life, relationships, and health. Learn what it is, and practical ways to achieve it. Read More
Well-being
23 min read | September 8, 2021

How to achieve and improve emotional health

In this article, we'll give a complete breakdown of what emotional health is, why it's so important, and look at some emotional health examples. Read More
Well-being
18 min read | June 1, 2021

22 ways to treat and navigate emotional exhaustion

Learn 22 ways to treat and navigate emotional exhaustion. These methods help us detect it and overcome it with time management, social support, and emotional regulation. Read More
Well-being
13 min read | May 25, 2021

4 ways to improve emotional intelligence within your team

Emotional intelligence is among the strongest predictors of success. But why is it so important, and how do you develop emotional intelligence? Read More
Professional Development
16 min read | July 28, 2021

How to develop emotional regulation skills to become a better manager

Emotional regulation is key for leading teams and building relationships. Learn how to develop the emotional regulation skills to become a better manager. Read More
Well-being
18 min read | December 1, 2021

Is your brain tired? Here are 6 ways to treat mental fatigue

Discover more about mental fatigue, the emotional and physical symptoms that can accompany it, and six tips to help you cope better with mental fatigue. Read More
Well-being
12 min read | July 8, 2022

How to improve your emotional intelligence to improve your life

Developing greater emotional intelligence can change your life for the better. Learn what emotional intelligence is and tips for how increase yours. Read More
Well-being
14 min read | March 16, 2022

Feeling stuck? 6 tips to overcome restlessness

Restlessness has a variety of causes and can manifest physically or emotionally. Here are 6 ways to overcome restlessness and help you feel more settled. Read More
Well-being
14 min read | November 25, 2022

Connect with your emotions: How to improve emotional maturity

Let’s learn how to improve emotional maturity. We’ll start by diving into what it means to be emotionally mature, and learning what immaturity looks like. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.