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Emotional VampiresDealing with People Who Drain You Dry
By Albert J. Bernstein
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2001 Albert J. Bernstein
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChildren of the Night
Who are these Emotional Vampires?
There are lights again in Carfax Abbey. Rumor has it that the ruin has been purchased by an eccentric Eastern European nobleman. Strange creatures have been seen at night, moving silently through the fog. People find it hard to sleep for the howling of dogs and noises that sound like fluttering of bats' wings against window panes. In the city's finest homes, young women have been awakening from feverish dreams feeling drained and listless. Some have not awakened at all.
Something is dreadfully wrong, but the only explanation that fits the facts sounds like superstitious prattle in daylight. Vampires are a myth, aren't they? What place is there in the modern world for undead souls who walk at night to prey on the living?
The tall, dark man in evening clothes laughs. "Vampires? They are a fairy tale that old women tell to frighten the children." His eyes glow with inner light that draws you into their depths. "Allow me to introduce myself," he says. "I am Count Dracula."
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 work at your office; they're highly paid managerial types so involved in politics and petty intrigues that they don't have time to do their jobs. Emotional Vampires may even run your company; they're bosses who give lectures about empowerment and positive reinforcement, then threaten to fire people for the tiniest mistakes.
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 11 different personality disorders, of which we will consider the 5 most likely to cause you trouble in your daily life: Antisocial, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Obsessive-Compulsive, and Paranoid.
Each of these types, though pathological and draining, also has characteristics that people find very attractive. Over the course of almost 30 years as a psychologist and business consultant I have seen, time and time again, that these 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 that difficult people can be difficult, ranging from severe enough to be hospitalized, to mild enough to behave normally until 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.
Just as movie vampires cringe in the presence of crosses, garlic, or holy water, Emotional Vampires are inordinately threatened by common adult experiences, including boredom, uncertainty, accountability, and having to give as well as receive.
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.
Of all the vampires, Antisocials are the sexiest, the most exciting, and the most fun to be around. People take to them easily and quickly, and just as quickly get taken. Aside from momentary fun, these vampires don't have much to give back. Ah, but those moments! Like all the vampire types, Anti-socials present you with a dilemma: They're Ferraris in a world of Toyotas, built for speed and thrills. You're apt to be very disappointed if you expect them to be reliable.
"What's wrong, honey?" Vampire Adam asks.
Elise's jaw swings open on its own. "Adam, I cannot believe you'd ask me that. You think it's okay with me that you go around kissing other women right in front of my face?"
Adam puts an arm around Elise's shoulder and she knocks it off.
"Honey," Adam says, "it was a party and I was drunk. Anyway, it was just a little peck."
"A little peck that lasted five minutes?"
"Sweetheart, you know that didn't mean anything. You're the one I really love. The only one. Come on, darlin', trust me."
Without Antisocial vampires there would be no country and western music. If you think the only people susceptible to their charms are dewy-eyed romantics, you haven't seen them do a job interview or a sales pitch. Your best protection against these vampires is to recognize them before they turn on the charm. When you see them coming, hold on to your heart and hide your wallet until you've checked their references. What Antisocial vampires have done in the past is the best predictor of what they'll do in the future.
Histrionic vampires live for attention and approval. Looking good is their specialty. Everything else is an unimportant detail. Histrionics have what it takes to get hired into your business or your life, but be careful. Histrionic means dramatic. What you see is all a show, and definitely not what you get.
Vampires can't see their reflections in a mirror. Histrionics can't even see the mirror. They're experts at hiding their own motivations from themselves. They believe that they never do anything unacceptable, like making mistakes or having bad thoughts about anyone. They're just nice people who only want to help. If you question that, you're likely to suffer. It's amazing how much damage nice people can do.
Liz hurries to catch up with Vampire Gail in the hallway. "Gail, wait a minute. Do you have those projections I asked you to work up?"
"On the Lawton deal. You remember, we talked about them at the meeting last week, and I sent you an e-mail on Tuesday."
"I didn't get any e-mail."
Liz feels a cold prickle at the back of her neck. "Does that mean you don't have any projections on Lawton?"
"I thought Jeff was supposed to get me a breakdown on those changes in production costs. I was waiting to hear from him."
"Gail!" Liz hears panicky shrillness in her own voice. "I needed those projections yesterday. Go back to your office and get to work on them now."
"Okay," Gail says. "No problem."
Two hours later, Liz is at her desk, feverishly trying to put together a credible proposal with no hard numbers in it, when she gets a call from her boss. "Liz," he says, "I need to see you right away. One of your people just filed a verbal abuse complaint with HR."
In the world of Histrionic vampires nothing is ever quite as it seems. The important thing to understand is that their behavior is directed more toward fooling themselves than toward fooling you. If you try to get them to admit what they're really doing, you'll always end up looking far worse than they do. Instead, you can protect yourself by taking advantage of their acting ability and devising a less destructive role for them to play. The chapters on Histrionic vampires will show you how. With a little creativity, you may be able to avoid being helped to death.
Have you ever noticed that people with big egos tend to be small everywhere else? What Narcissistic vampires want is to live out their grandiose fantasies of being the smartest, most talented, and all-around best people in the world. It's not so much that they think of themselves as better than other people as they don't think of other people at all.
Narcissistic vampires are legends in their own minds. Surely, you don't expect them to live by the rules of mere mortals.
Vampire Lewis Hunter III, the CEO, speaking to his management team: "I don't like to call it downsizing," he says. "It's more like right sizing. There can be no question in anybody's mind that our overhead is simply unacceptable for these market conditions." He pauses to let the implications of his words sink in. "It is with heavy heart, then, that I'm forced to announce that each of you will have to submit a budget that reflects a 25 percent reduction from present spending levels. There is no other viable choice. In the spirit of teamwork, I think it's only fair that the adjustments be spread evenly, throughout all the departments."
What Vampire Lew's managers don't know is that earlier in the day, Lew asked the board for a raise for his efforts in leading the company through what he called "the times that try men's souls." Lew got the raise. His salary increase will cancel out about 10 percent of the reductions.
Narcissistic vampires present a difficult dilemma. Though there is plenty of narcissism without greatness, there is no greatness without narcissism. Without these vampires there wouldn't be anyone with the chutzpah to lead.
Regardless of what they say, Narcissistic vampires seldom do anything that isn't self-serving. As long as you can tie your interests in with theirs, they'll think you're almost as great as they are.
Obsessive-Compulsives are addicted to safety, which they believe they can achieve through scrupulous attention to detail and complete control over everything. You know who they are: anal-retentive people who can't see the forest because of the excessive number of superfluous, overabundant, and redundant trees. What you may not know is that all that attention to detail is designed to keep the Antisocial vampire inside safely contained.
Without Obsessive-Compulsives none of the world's difficult and thankless tasks would ever get done, nothing would ever work the way it should, and none of us would do our homework, ever. For good or ill, Obsessive-Compulsives are the only people watching to see that the rest of us don't go too far astray. We may not always like them, but we need them.
For Obsessive-Compulsive vampires, the most important conflicts are internal. They take no joy in hurting others, but they will hurt you if your actions threaten their sense of control. To Obsessive-Compulsives, surprises—even pleasant ones—feel like an ice cold spray of holy water. They don't mean to retaliate, but they do feel compelled to state their opinion.
"Tah dah!" Kevin says, as Vampire Sarah walks through the front door.
"After all these months, I finally painted the living room!"
He waits a minute for Sarah to react, but she says nothing.
"Well, what do you think?"
"It's wonderful. But ..."
"It's just that, well, I didn't think we had decided on a color yet."
The second-longest wait in the world is for Obsessive-Compulsives to make a decision. The longest wait is for them to speak even a single word of praise.
In common parlance, paranoid means thinking people are after you. On the face of it, it's hard to imagine that there could be anything attractive about delusions of persecution. The lure of Paranoids is not their fears, but what lies behind them. Paranoia is really a supernatural simplicity of thought that enables these vampires to see things that others can't. Their goal is to know the Truth and banish all ambiguity from their lives.
Paranoid vampires live by concrete rules that they believe are carved in stone. They expect everybody else to live by these rules as well. They're always on the lookout for evidence of deviation, and they usually find it. Think of them as the police officers of the vampire world. You feel safe and secure in their certainty. Until you become a suspect.
Vampire Jamal strolls into the kitchen wiping his hands on a paper towel. "I
just changed your oil and I noticed that your gas tank was almost empty." Theresa shrugs. "So?"
"I just filled it up on Saturday."
"Well, duh. I've been driving the car all week."
Jamal throws away the paper towel. "You know," he says, "it's kind of funny. I don't ever remember you using a whole tank of gas in a week. Your car gets, what, 35 miles to the gallon? So that's about 450 miles."
Theresa smiles and shrugs. "Busy week, I guess."
Jamal looks directly into Theresa's eyes. "Where did you go?"
The only thing Paranoid vampires can't see is that it's their own behavior that makes other people go after them.
Paranoid vampires see below the surface of things to hidden meanings and deeper realities. Most great moralists, visionaries, and theorists (and any therapists worth their salt) have a touch of the paranoid, or else they would merely accept everything at face value. Unfortunately, paranoia makes no distinction between theories of unseen forces in physics and those of unrecognized aliens trying to take over the world. The same motivation that led to the great religious truths of the ages leads also to burning heretics at the stake.
Excerpted from Emotional Vampires by Albert J. Bernstein Copyright © 2001 by Albert J. Bernstein. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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