11 ways to spot (and avoid) an emotional vampire, according to psychology

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Emotional vampires feed off the energy, positivity, and assistance of others, gradually draining and harming them. 

If you have people in your life who are draining and toxic for you, you may be wondering if they are an emotional vampire. 

After all: we all have areas we need to improve. So how can we distinguish between a flawed individual and a true energy vampire? 

Let’s take a look… 

1) They’re rabid attention hogs

Emotional vampires persistently seek attention no matter what the situation. 

This goes far beyond typical theater kid behavior or somebody who is a bit vain: 

They have a constant and excessive craving for attention and validation at all times and there is no subject or situation where they won’t make it about them. 

As psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff, MD explains:

“Everything is all about them. They have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, hog attention, and crave admiration. 

“They’re dangerous because they lack empathy and have a limited capacity for unconditional love.”

How to avoid this: don’t give them the attention they crave. Avoid getting too close to this person or sharing much of your life with them if possible. 

2) They love stirring up drama

Emotional vampires thrive on unnecessary drama and conflict, using it to affirm their identity and control over others. 

These people stir up drama wherever they go.

They are never satisfied and even the smallest detail becomes a huge and bitter argument or tirade.

“There is no way you haven’t met the drama llama. This person will make everything into the biggest deal ever,” notes life coach Jade Nyx.

“Everything will be a problem or a thing, even something completely unnecessary, like the fact someone didn’t see them in the street and wave back.”

How to avoid this: don’t feed into their drama. Refuse to engage at all, if possible. 

3) They play mind games

Mind games are a specialty of the emotional vampire, who takes advantage of people by playing with their thoughts and perceptions. 

They may try to make you jealous, take advantage of your friendship to get favors, and so on…

The list of manipulative mind games is long, but it always comes down to the emotional vampire leeching off you and giving nothing back. 

Ending this type of connection is difficult but crucial. 

As wellness author and psychological researcher Dr. Margie Warrell explains:

“You don’t always get a choice about whether to spend time with an energy taker but if you do, then give them a wide berth.”

4) They manipulate emotions

Emotional vampires manipulate emotions, exploiting them for personal benefit.

They will try all kinds of things to twist your emotions, including through tactics like emotional blackmail and constant complaining.

By getting you to feel bad for them, feel worried for their safety or feel like you’re their only hope, they try to turn you over to their dark side. 

Don’t fall for it. 

“Beneath their superficial often light, sometimes melancholy, but often there’s this light side, is this dark side. They can flip to that dark world very quickly,” notes clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Manly, Ph.D.

“They will take advantage of people who they see as susceptible.”

How to avoid this: don’t allow yourself to get emotionally roped in by this person. Do your best to ignore what they say and their tactics to get you upset or invested.

5) They often guilt trip and gaslight others

Emotional vampires guilt trip and gaslight, manipulating situations to control and make others doubt themselves. 

They will get you to believe that you’re the worst thing that ever happened to them, but then tell you that you’re their only hope only moments later. 

They take you on such a rollercoaster ride of insanity, but underneath it all is a deeply set victim mentality. 

“The world is always against them, the reason for their unhappiness,” notes Orloff

“When you offer a solution to their problems they always say, ‘Yes, but …’”

How to avoid this: Set firm limits on your interactions and discussions with the emotional vampire. Don’t respond to them if possible. Ignore their victim attempts. 

6) They saddle others with their baggage

Emotional vampires will go out of their way to make you feel like you’re responsible for fixing their life. 

They are experts at making others feel responsible for their mood, draining energy and leaving those around them feeling exhausted

The emotional vampire has no real “out of bounds” zone and will find people almost anywhere in his or her life to drag into their net and drain. 

As Manly observes:

“Emotional vampires don’t know any limits, so they will go after people in the work realm, parties, and social settings. 

Anything. 

Emotional vampires will often target people that they call friends.”

How to avoid this: Provide limited support and refer them to a therapist. Do not take on responsibility for their emotional well-being, it’s a battle you can’t win. 

7) They expect support but don’t give it

The emotional vampire is classically codependent, meaning they rely on others for their sense of well-being and mission in life. 

They take without giving in every sense, especially on the emotional level. 

You may console them all night with outstanding advice, only to find that a crisis you have two weeks later is met with indifference. 

The emotional vampire only has one interest: themself.

How to avoid this: Avoiding getting entangled or emotionally involved with someone who exhibits these traits. 

8) They use other people even if it hurts them

The emotional vampire makes everything about themselves, unable to empathize with others’ needs.

They will use you even if they know it hurts you:

They’ll borrow money and not return it. They’ll use up your work day complaining over the phone without appreciating it. They’ll use you any way possible. 

The sad thing is that being around an emotional vampire can cause you to withdraw, which is part of why it’s so important not to fall into their trap. 

As mental health consultant Jamie Cannon, MS, LPC notes:

“Once you have been exposed to a master manipulator, your trust in others will exponentially suffer. 

“Though that can be protective in some cases, it can also predispose you to unnecessary hurt and relationship challenges.”

How to avoid this: Don’t get into deals, contracts or arrangements with an emotional vampire. Be confident in yourself and your limits. 

9) They’re selectively caring based on compliance (‘splitters’)

Emotional vampires only care about others if it serves their agenda, and they tend to split the world (and people) into good vs. bad. 

Good means those who obey them and serve them, bad means those who resist. 

They are charming and seemingly caring about those who fall into their trap and turn their dark side on those who resist them. This role of being a “splitter” is very observable. 

“Splitters see things as either good or bad and have love/hate relationships,” explains Orloff.

“One minute, they idealize you; the next, you’re the enemy if you upset them.”

How to avoid this: Don’t even start down the pathway of seeking a close emotional relationship with an emotional vampire. It’s up to them to work on their own issues before expecting you to forge ties with them. 

10) They step over boundaries when it suits their interests

Emotional vampires disregard boundaries, intruding on personal space and emotions without concern for your well-being. 

They test how you respond and then move further if you don’t stop them. 

They will drain your time, energy, resources and emotions if you let them. It’s an addiction for them, often borne out of inner trauma or personality disorder. 

This is where it’s key for you to put your foot down and be “quite explicit in drawing a line in the sand about what you do or don’t want to talk about, or what behaviors you will or won’t accept,” advises Warrell.

11) They hate the success of others

Emotional vampires harbor jealousy and resentment towards others’ successes.

This means they don’t actually feel joy when you succeed, even if you’re their partner or close friend. 

This makes it extremely challenging to maintain relationships or conduct business with them, since they’re not actually looking for win-win solutions. 

Instead, they are judging and trying to “chip away at your self-worth because they are struggling with a lack of that themselves,” as Nyx notes:

How to avoid this: Don’t get into collaborative ventures or partnerships with an energy vampire. If you work with one, try to get transferred. 

Stopping an emotional vampire in their tracks

Dealing with an emotional vampire is challenging, especially if they are a coworker, family member, close friend or romantic partner.

Establishing clear boundaries, resisting emotional manipulation, and prioritizing self-care are essential. 

Minimizing the drama they create is key, and in severe cases, seeking external assistance may be necessary to ensure personal well-being and safety.

Don’t be afraid to cut ties and put yourself first. 

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