“Energy vampires” are people who drain your emotional energy, whether intentionally or not.
Feeling emotionally drained after talking with a friend, colleague, or family member? After spending time with them, do you always leave feeling anxious or irritable? You may be dealing with an energy vampire.
There are plenty of reasons why people develop energy-draining behaviors, such as mental health conditions, certain attachment types, and past trauma. Some people — including empaths — are more susceptible to being emotionally drained than others.
Once you’ve identified an energy vampire in your life, you can develop ways to protect yourself and your energy, such as setting boundaries and getting comfortable with saying no.
You may not know someone is an energy vampire when you first meet them, but you can tell whether you’ve been around an energy vampire if they consistently make you feel:
Initially, they may come across as extremely friendly — almost overly so. It can feel natural to want to bring them under your wing, especially if they come right out with a down-on-their-luck story.
This is a common approach for an energy vampire.
Jasmine Cobb, LCSW, a trauma therapist from Tyler, Texas, explains energy vampires are often codependent personalities. This means they gravitate toward others for need fulfillment and find it challenging to be self-sufficient.
“An energy vampire is someone who repeatedly takes — and lacks insight and awareness of how this contributes to interpersonal problems,” she says.
Nancy Irwin, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist from Los Angeles, says common signs of an energy vampire include:
- talking more about themselves than about you or anyone else
- having ongoing drama in their lives
- having a victim mentality
- demanding a lot of attention
Tina B. Tessina, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist from Long Beach, California, adds that other behaviors of an energy vampire include:
- wanting you to always be available on their terms
- expecting you to take responsibility for them
- using guilt to get you to do what they want
In a group setting
When an energy vampire enters a group dynamic, you may notice everyone goes quiet. Humor is squashed by seriousness. You may feel like they “kill the vibe.”
Other signs of an energy vampire in a group setting include:
- people walk away from group conversation that includes them
- they ask uncomfortably personal questions in front of everyone
- the conversation shifts toward their life
- they reject anyone’s solutions to their problems
- they talk over other people
- they insert themselves into conversations
- they ignore social cues and boundaries
- they latch on to one person in the group
- they diminish the problems of others
When an energy vampire is present, you may notice that everyone’s temper grows short, and even your mild-mannered friends become irritable or sarcastic.
Energy vampire vs. trauma dumping
Both energy vampires and people who “trauma dump” can overshare intimate emotions and experiences, leaving you feeling emotionally taxed.
Trauma dumping, however, may only be related to one traumatic experience and can be a subconscious expression that you’re ready and in need of support. It isn’t always accompanied by other energy-draining behaviors.
Energy vampires often have ongoing, exaggerated drama, though they may also have a history of trauma. They don’t tend to be interested in solutions as the drama helps them secure the attention and energy of those around them.
There’s no single personality that qualifies as an energy vampire. Many types of people can drain you mentally and emotionally for various reasons.
In addition to codependency, Cobb notes people who have developed insecure, avoidant, and anxious attachment styles during childhood may have natural inclinations toward energy vampire behaviors.
Irwin indicates psychotic conditions can feature traits related to attention-seeking and neediness, as can mania present in bipolar disorder.
Personality disorders might also contribute to a tendency to disregard the feelings and boundaries of others, she says, listing:
“Or it could just be a person who has unresolved trauma, abuse, or neglect and presents with a great deal of chaos, toxicity, and/or drama,” says Irwin.
If you’re an empath — someone who is exceptionally sensitive to the emotions of others — you may be susceptible to energy vampires.
“Your natural desire to help people in pain can make you susceptible. You have to learn to tell the difference between people who will accept your help and use it to heal; and people who just absorb it and don’t benefit from it,” cautions Tessina.
Your personal mental health may also may you more prone to energy drain.
“Without firm boundaries in place, you become more vulnerable to bending in a way that will be more favorable to the energy vampire,” says Cobb.
Encountering energy vampires doesn’t have to leave you feeling like you need a recovery nap. Here are some tips for protecting your energy.
Cobb recommends communicating assertively and directly.
For example, saying, “Let’s go back to my point about this topic so it doesn’t get missed,” is a respectful way to prevent an energy vampire from stealing the conversation.
Asking for space
You may have to ask for space if you cannot avoid the person.
Irwin recommends being kind but clear and suggests saying, “You have a huge personality/energy,
that just frankly sometimes overwhelms me. I don’t want to offend you, but I just need some space. I can’t keep up with you.”
Learning to say no
It can be challenging to say no, especially if you’re a people-pleaser.
“No” is a boundary, however, and energy vampires need boundaries to be maintained or they’ll walk over them.
If you’re uncomfortable going out to lunch with someone, it’s okay to say no. They may attempt to guilt you, but that can be a good reminder of why you’re saying no in the first place.
An energy vampire can be anyone who uses your positive energy to offset their negative energy, draining it from you through your patient listening, sympathy, and words of encouragement.
While there are many reasons why someone might be an energy drain when they’re around, you can protect yourself by keeping firm boundaries and communicating assertively.