In my medical practice, I've developed enormous respect for the art of relationships, what makes them work or fail. In all successful relationships, whether with family, friends, or co-workers it's vital that each person honestly examine his or her behavior and be willing to discuss it and change.
In this spirit, I find it useful to regularly assess how we're relating to others--specifically if our behavior may be draining. In my new book I discuss different types of draining people you may encounter who I call "emotional vampires." These include, for instance, the chronic talker, the narcissist, and the drama queen. (See my blog, "Who's the Emotional Vampire in Your Life?") But inevitably, we've all got a bit of vampire in us, especially when we're stressed. So, give yourself a break. It's admirable to admit, "I think I'm draining my spouse. What can I do?" You can't begin to make changes in your life without this type of honesty. The solution is to own up to where you may be draining--then change the behavior. As a psychiatrist, I believe it's those with real power who can step up first to surrender their ego, admit shortcomings, all in service of loving communication.
For instance, one of my patients, in computer graphics, kept hammering his wife with a poor-me attitude about how he always got stuck with boring projects at work. Instead of trying to improve the situation, he just kvetched. She started dreading those conversations, and diplomatically mentioned it to him. This motivated my patient to address the issue with his supervisor, which got him more stimulating assignments. Similarly, whenever I slip into vampire mode, I try to examine and alter my behavior or else discuss the particulars with a friend or a therapist so I can change. Don't hesitate to seek assistance when you're stumped.
To find out if you're behavior is draining take the Am I an Emotional Vampire Quiz (from Emotional Freedom)
Listed below are some common indications that you're becoming an emotional vampire. Mark "Yes" or "No" for each of the questions and give yourself one point for every "Yes" response.
Do people avoid you or glaze over during a conversation? Yes / No
Are you self-obsessed? Yes / No
Are you often negative? Yes / No
Do you gossip or bad-mouth people? Yes / No
Are you critical, and/or controlling? Yes / No
Are you a drama queen or king? Yes / No
Do you corner people and tell them your whole life story? Yes / No
Are you in an emotional black hole, but won't get help?Yes / No
Results of the Quiz:
Give each "yes" response one point and count up your score.
Your Score: 0
Congratulations! There are no signs that you are being an emotional vampire.
Your Score: 1
This behavior could be draining others. Start being mindful of when you do this and begin to shift the behavior. Then see if people are relieved.
Your Score: 2
These are warning signs that you may becoming emotionally draining to others. Ask yourself what is motivating you to engage is these draining behaviors and move forward to make positive changes.
You are showing some emotional vampire tendencies. It is time to compassionately examine your behaviors and begin to make a change. Do not beat yourself up. Be proud that you can be emotionally honest and want to be more positive.
You are showing moderate emotional vampire tendencies. Take a breath. Begin to tackle each behavior individually over time and take baby steps to change. For instance, if you tend to be self-obsessed you can begin to ask others about themselves. Celebrate every change you make to be supportive.
You are showing moderate-strong emotional vampire behaviors. You may ask your loved ones if they feel drained by a specific behavior--such as nagging or being critical. Then you can begin to be mindful of when you fall into it and start to change.
You are showing strong emotional vampire behaviors. You may ask your loved ones if they feel drained by a specific behavior--such as being negative but being unwilling to get help. Seriously consider their suggestions about how to improve your communication. Be compassionate with yourself all along the way.
You are showing strong to extremely strong emotional vampire behaviors. Be kind to yourself and set out to make small changes to improve one behavior at a time.
You have extremely strong emotional vampire behaviors that can be draining others in your life. Commend yourself for your honesty, but begin to understand what motivates you. Is it fear? Feeling less-than? Anger? Don't hesitate to ask for help--from friends who can offer honest feedback or a therapist. People around you will appreciate the positive changes you make.
The remedy for these draining behaviors is to start shifting your attitude. Journaling about this can help. Ask yourself, "Is there a particular trigger that creates the situation? If so, then how can you avoid the trigger? How can you become aware of when you fall into this attitude? Are there people you respect who could help you?" Now write out an action plan to shift these attitudes. Remember to be kind to yourself and begin with small changes - baby steps. Taking action can help solve the problem quickly as opposed to many emotional vampires who stay stuck in patterns for years. I promise: your relatives, friends, and coworkers will appreciate your efforts and your relationships will dramatically improve!
Judith Orloff MD is the author of the New York Times bestseller Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2011) upon which this article is based. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. Dr. Orloff synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition and energy medicine. An Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, she passionately believes that the future of medicine involves integrating all this wisdom to achieve emotional freedom and total wellness. For more inspirtation visit www.drjudithorloff.com.
Judith Orloff, M.D., is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and the author of Emotional Freedom.