One of my ex-boyfriends sent me flowers and handwritten notes about how much he loved my writing at the beginning of our relationship. I was thrilled to be with a partner who seemed to support me and my goals so much.
“You should be a full-time writer,” he told me.
“I want to be!”
“Let’s help make that happen!” he said.
I set up a special writing space in both of our homes so I’d always have a place to work no matter where I’d slept.
But then the issues started. Whenever I’d flip open my laptop and start writing, he’d come in and start talking to me. He often had a seemingly well-meaning excuse, but sometimes he’d just come in to tell me something he’d read on Facebook. Day after day, very few words made it onto a page.
I finally got a rough draft done and let him read it.
“This could really be better,” he told me.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Why are you writing nonfiction? I like your poetry so much more. You should just write poetry.”
I was hurt. I’d really been enjoying writing non-fiction and felt like it was a better fit for me.
Then I looked into attending a writers’ retreat with a focus on nonfiction.
“You don’t need to go,” he told me.
“You told me my nonfiction could be better! I could work on it at this retreat,” I said.
He just shrugged. “I don’t think you need it.”
My writing “could be better,” but now that I had an opportunity to improve it, I didn’t need it? How did that make sense?
My motivation to pursue writing started to wane. I kept sitting my butt in my chair, but I’d just spend that time scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. Then whenever that ex-boyfriend would come interrupt me, I’d use it as an excuse to be “done.”
It would take me a while longer to realize that his needs and desires were more important to him than mine, and I always got the short end of the stick. What I would later come to call people like this ex-boyfriend and others like him would be “energy vampires.”
Years ago, I read Dr. Northrop’s Dodging Energy Vampires: An Empath’s Guide to Evading Relationships that Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power. It’d been a recommendation from a very new-age therapist I was seeing at the time.
The book, like its recommender, is new-age. Lots of references to past lives, for example, but I found that the book resonated a lot more with me than I’d expected it to, partly because I’d been around these “energy vampires” nearly my entire life.
The premise of the book is that some of us are deeply sensitive empaths. We are apt to stay too long in relationships in which we over-give and under-receive. For anyone that has done some work around codependency, this isn’t all that different.
Empaths believe in the good of everyone, and we are therefore preyed upon by “energy vampires,” people who are so self-centered that they purposefully manipulate other people to get what they want by:
- being aggressive (passively or actively) to get their own way
- blaming others for their own hurtful actions
- laying on guilt trips
- lying to portray themselves always in the best light
- never providing a straight answer
- fighting to have the upperhand
We’ve all encountered people like these. We’ve been birthed by them. We’ve dated and married them. We’ve been friends with them. We’ve worked for or with them. The biggest clue is that every time we’re around them, we leave exhausted, and often we are confused why we’re so exhausted.
“Energy vampires” are often charming, charismatic, supportive, and complimentary, prone to love-bombing you in the beginning or periodically to regain a hold over you (sounds a bit like a narcissist too, right?). But it’s all to hook you, which is obvious once the love-bombing ceases and then they start criticizing you or demanding that you help them instead.
If you’ve ever watched the FX show What We Do in the Shadows, you’ve seen one version in action:
My mother is the archetypal “energy vampire.” My successes in life were despite her, not because of her, yet she still tried to take credit for them. When I graduated from a prestigious private liberal arts college cum laude, she told me at my graduation party that it was because she’d given me a necklace, as if all of the hard work I’d put in over four years actually meant nothing because she’d given me a necklace.
When my first full-length poetry collection was published, she raved to all of her friends on her social media accounts about her daughter’s success, but then she told me I shouldn’t have a book release party because it was too “selfish.” Celebrating my own success is selfish?!?
Depending on the “level” of the vampire, you have to set boundaries, employ clever tactics, or cut them off completely (end the relationship and/or quit the job.). I had the freedom to be able to leave, so I did: I broke up with that boyfriend, and I cut my mother off completely.
Here are things you can do to limit the impact of the “energy vampires” in your own life:
Learn how to say no.
When they ask you to give up something to their benefit, just say no. Don’t apologize. Don’t give excuses. Just say no.
Don’t take things personally.
They aren’t going to like it when you start setting boundaries. They might, in fact, get meaner. Just know it’s not about you. It’s about you taking care of the most important person in your life: yourself.
Limit activities together.
Maybe they are great when you go to the movies together or if you sit for a short board meeting. Whatever it is, work to avoid any extra time together.
Act like you need help.
Energy vampires don’t want to help you, and they’ll likely run away if you don’t seem like someone they can leech energy off of.
Work on fortifying yourself.
You wouldn’t have let other people shortchange your successes for their own benefit if you didn’t want or need validation from people outside of yourself.
Say affirmations. Do positive things for yourself. I also particularly liked this affirmation Dr. Northrup suggests saying out loud to yourself daily:
“I pledge allegiance to myself and to my Soul for which I stand. I honor my goodness, my gifts, and my talents. I commit to remaining loyal to myself from this moment forward for all of my days.”
It’s been a few years now since I’ve had any “energy vampires” in my life, and I’ve been surprised with how much I’ve achieved in that short amount of time. My writing has taken off here and other places. I’ve said “yes” to opportunities I would have previously said “no” to because I was too worried about what other people in my life would think or because I felt like I didn’t “deserve” it.
While this is packaged in a slightly different way than the normal codependency model, the message is relatively the same: practice boundaries and work on you.
Previously published on medium
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