Have you ever had a friend or family member who left you emotionally exhausted? Maybe they only called you when they needed to vent, or they were supportive one day and ultra-critical the next. Or perhaps they wore you down physically—to the point that you needed to clock some serious self-care time after hanging out with them.
If so, you’ve likely had a run in with what some experts call an “energy vampire.” This hungry-for-attention personality type is constantly looking for someone’s vitality to drain. And if you’re highly sensitive and tend to take on the emotions of others—AKA an empath—you’re a prime target.
“All humans radiate energy, but empaths radiate a particular type of compassionate and understanding energy that can act as a delicious life blood for energy vampires,” writes Christiane Northrup, MD, in her new book, Dodging Energy Vampires. “[Empaths] don’t know where they end and another begins.” They also have a strong desire to help—many work in healing professions—which leaves them susceptible to the calculated manipulations of energy vampires.
But how do you know if you’re an empath? According to Dr. Northrup, the most common signs are “unusual sensitivity to sound, to smells, to crowds, [and] to violence.” And when faced with a vampire, your body will likely let you know. (Dr. Northrup, herself an empath, recalls a time she was so negatively affected by an energy vampire’s presence that she had to run to the bathroom to vomit.)
While the most sure-fire way for empaths to protect themselves is to sever all ties, that isn’t always a feasible solution—perhaps your energy vampire is a coworker or a close family member. In those cases, Dr. Northrup recommends a three-step approach to seal up your own “energy leaks,” no garlic required.
Keep reading to learn how to protect yourself from people who drain your energy.
The energy vampire’s fuel—what Dr. Northrup calls the “narcissistic supply”—is the emotional boost they get from other people’s attention. By presenting the least-interesting version of yourself, they have nothing to draw upon. “The energy vampire will ignore you and go to someone else,” explains Dr. Northrup. And don’t worry about others not liking you for being dull or evasive. Your real friends will understand, Northrup says.
Learn to say no
Empaths have to fight the impulse to always be available, for self-preservation’s sake. But it’s easier said than done. “Saying ‘no’ immediately is a PhD-level skill,” says Dr. Northrup. “So what you do instead is you say, ‘Let me get back to you.’” That simple phrase will give you the time you need to decide whether you can (or should) be around that person, she says, and eventually help you get to “no.”
Confirm the vampire’s intention
Even after practicing your “let me get back to you” and your “sorry, but no,” you may still feel compelled to give in to an energy vampire’s wants or needs. But before you say “yes” to any favors, ask a trusted friend what they think. Chances are, they’ll see the situation for what it really is: the energy vampire’s opportunity to lay into you once again.
Above all else, says Dr. Northrup, remember that you’re not alone and your empathic qualities are a strength, not a weakness. “What happens with most empaths is that we think we’re crazy because we’ve never been validated,” she says. “Nothing is wrong with you.” You’re just someone who needs to take the phrase “good vibes only” extra seriously.
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