They're all around us: People who suck all the positive energy out of us to fuel their relentless hunger for negativity, leaving us drained, exhausted, and unhappy. Whatever you call them—energy vampires, energy suckers, or just unhappy, negative people—they can wreak havoc on your life if you don't have effective strategies to deal with them.
Energy vampires are often personality-disordered people who tend to be:
- Intrusive, showing poor boundaries.
- Overly dramatic, making mountains out of molehills.
- Overly critical, finding fault with just about everyone and everything in their lives.
- Chronic complainers, rarely finding anything to their liking or meeting their satisfaction.
- Argumentative, having trouble agreeing with others, even on things that seem insignificant or inconsequential.
- Relentlessly demanding and persistent, being unable to take no for an answer.
- Constantly negative, always seeing the glass half empty.
- Unable to accept responsibility, blaming everyone but themselves for their actions and problems.
There is no reason to allow their problems to become yours. Here are three steps to help you deal with people who drain you:
- Know one when you see one.
The negative nature of energy vampires is not always readily apparent when you first meet them. At first, their quirkiness may intrigue you, their gossip and stories may leave you wanting to hear more, their dramatic flair may entertain you, or their hard luck stories may suck you in. Soon, however, you begin to realize something is wrong. Don't ignore those feelings. Pay close attention to your instincts and your physical reactions after your encounters. If you find yourself experiencing muscle tension, loss of energy, headaches, irritability, sadness, mental confusion, or negativity, you likely have an energy vampire in your life.
- Limit your contact.
Once you've identified such people, limit the amount of time you spend with them. If you can't detach completely, as in the case of family members or coworkers, set firm limits. For example, for those who are intrusive or overly dramatic and end up consuming a lot of your time with their tales of woe or displays of theatrics, you should start off conversations with something like, "I only have a few minutes before I have to [fill in the blank]..." Once that time is up, politely disengage.
- Don't get pulled in.
No matter how much you might like to think or hope you will be able to fix their problems, you won't. Chronically negative people will either resist your interventions or create new crises in their lives for you to "fix." The truth is that in cases of personality-disordered people even the best therapists have difficulty effectuating change. In short, their problems are beyond your ability to "fix." Your best strategy is to protect yourself by setting clear and firm limits. For example, for those who are very needy or insecure and constantly want your guidance, resist offering solutions. Instead, say something like, "I'm confident that you'll be able to find the right answer on your own," and excuse yourself. You don't have to be rude—you can be firm in a kind and empathic way.
In the times we live in, energy, especially the positive kind, is a precious commodity. It's not something you should willingly give up to the negative power of those who would steal your energy. Instead, keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with positive people who leave you feeling upbeat and energized. In the words of Helen Keller, "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow."
© 2012 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved
Follow Dr. Bourg Carter on Facebook and Twitter.Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).