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Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry
By Albert Bernstein
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Albert J. Bernstein
All rights reserved.
Children of the Night
Who Are These Emotional Vampires?
Vampires stalk you, even as we speak. On broad daylit streets, under the blue pulsations of your office fluorescents, and maybe even in the warm lights of home, they're out there, masquerading as regular people until their internal needs change them into predatory beasts.
It's not your blood they drain; it's your emotional energy.
Make no mistake, we aren't talking about everyday annoyances that swarm around you like bugs in a porch light, easily whisked away with affirmations and assertive I statements. These are authentic creatures of darkness. They have the power not only to aggravate you, but to hypnotize you, to cloud your mind with false promises until you are tangled in their spell. Emotional vampires draw you in, then drain you.
At first, emotional vampires look better than regular people. They're as bright, talented, and charming as a Romanian count. You like them; you trust them; you expect more from them than you do from other people. You expect more, you get less, and in the end you get taken. You invite them into your life, and seldom realize your mistake until they've disappeared into the night, leaving you drained dry with a pain in the neck, an empty wallet, or perhaps a broken heart. Even then, you wonder—is it them or is it me?
It's them. Emotional vampires.
Do you know them? Have you experienced their dark power in your life?
Have you met people who seemed so perfect at first, but later turned out to be a perfect mess? Have you been blinded by brilliant bursts of charm that switched on and off like a cheap neon sign? Have you heard promises whispered in the night that were forgotten before dawn?
Have you been drained dry?
Emotional vampires don't rise from coffins at night. They live down the street. They're the neighbors who are so warm and cordial to your face, but spread stories behind your back. Emotional vampires are on your softball team; they're star players until a call goes against them. Then, they throw tantrums that would embarrass a three-year-old.
Emotional vampires could be lurking within your family. Consider your brother-in-law, the genius who can't hold down a job. What about that vague, almost invisible aunt who takes care of everybody else until her strange and debilitating illnesses force you to take care of her? Do we even need to mention those loving, infuriating parents who are always telling you to please yourself, then expecting you to please them?
A vampire may even share your bed, a loving partner one minute and in the next, a cold, distant stranger.
ARE THEY REALLY VAMPIRES?
Though they act like creatures of darkness, there's nothing supernatural about emotional vampires. The melodramatic metaphor is nothing more than clinical psychology dressed up in a Halloween costume. Emotional vampires are people who have characteristics of what psychologists call personality disorders.
In graduate school, I learned this simple distinction: when people are driving themselves crazy, they have neuroses or psychoses. When they drive other people crazy, they have personality disorders. According to the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, a personality disorder is:
An enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual's culture. The pattern is manifested in two (or more) of the following areas:
1. Ways of perceiving and interpreting self, other people, and events.
2. Range, intensity, lability, and appropriateness of emotional response.
3. Interpersonal functioning.
4. Impulse control.
The manual describes diagnostic patterns of thoughts and behavior for eleven different personality disorders, of which we will consider the five that are most likely to cause you trouble in your daily life: Antisocial, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Obsessive-Compulsive, and Paranoid. I chose these five because they occur most frequently in the population, and, more often than the others, they may be present to a subclinical degree. Day to day, you are far more likely to meet people who are a little bit Narcissistic or Histrionic, say, than people who are slightly Borderline or Schizoid.
The main reason I chose these five is that each of the types discussed here, although pathological and draining, also has characteristics that people find very attractive. Over the course of more than 40 years as a psychologist and business consultant, I have seen that these five disorders consistently cause the most trouble for the most people, at home, at work, and everywhere in between.
The bulk of the emotional vampires discussed in this book are not severely disturbed enough to qualify for an official diagnosis of personality disorder, but the ways they think and act still correspond to the patterns described in the diagnostic manual. Think of the patterns as a catalog of the ways in which difficult people can be difficult, ranging from severe enough to be hospitalized to mild enough to behave normally until the person is subjected to significant stress. In the world of psychology, everything is on a continuum.
All the patterns derive from the fact that emotional vampires see the world differently than other people do. Their perceptions are distorted by their cravings for immature and unattainable goals. They want everybody's complete and exclusive attention. They expect perfect love that gives but never demands anything in return. They want lives filled with fun and excitement, and to have someone else take care of anything that's boring or difficult. Vampires look like adults on the outside, but inside, they're still babies.
Emotional vampires don't go around wearing capes and snapping at people with their fangs. Usually, the difficult people discussed in this book are indistinguishable, both physically and psychologically, from everybody else. Vampires' immature tendencies usually come out only in threatening situations. The rest of the time, emotional vampires act like normal, responsible adults. That said, I'll also point out that vampires tend to be threatened by things that don't bother ordinary people. If you use your own experience as a guide, you wouldn't expect anyone to have problems with crosses, garlic, or holy water. Just as real vampires cringe in the presence of those traditional banes, emotional vampires are inordinately threatened by common adult experiences, including boredom, uncertainty, accountability, and having to give as well as receive. In the rest of the first section, we will more fully discuss the ways of vampires, the subtle differences in their personalities that make them both dangerous and seductive.
The easiest way to classify emotional vampires is according to the personality disorders to which their thoughts and actions are most similar. Each vampire type is driven by a particular immature and impossible need that, to the vampire, is the most important thing in the world. Vampires themselves are usually not aware of the childish needs that drive them. That's all the more reason you should be.
Antisocial vampires are addicted to excitement. They're called antisocial, not because they don't like parties, but because they're heedless of social rules. These vampires love parties. They also love sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and anything else stimulating. They hate boredom worse than a stake through the heart. All they want out of life is a good time, a little action, and immediate gratification of their every desire.
Excerpted from Emotional Vampires by Albert Bernstein. Copyright © 2012 by Albert J. Bernstein. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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