Clinically known as cluster B personality types on the DSM model, it is estimated that one out of every 4 or 5 people can be classified as energy vampires. I have had the interesting experience of having been raised by them and married to one and so I have excellent tools and resources to help you navigate these relationships in your life. However you label them, this post will help you reclaim your sanity and energy from those family members, friends, or coworkers who zap your energy.
I have two goals of this post. First to explain what an energy vampire is and second to give you tools to protect yourself and your energy.
What are Energy Vampires
Clinically they are classified as having a cluster B personality disorder which includes borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder. But what does that mean? What does that feel like in a relationship?
You’ll know if you’re in a relationship with an energy vampire if you feel drained and confused after speaking with them. You know the people: when you get off the phone with them you need a nap or feel dirty. When they come into your house or space, your shoulders drop and you feel like a heavy boulder just landed on your chest. You know you’re in a relationship with an energy vampire if that person is consistently critical, codependent, and has lots of rules for how you should act.
If they keep score or keep track of your past mistakes, it’s likely you’re dealing with a cluster B. One of the most troubling things is the way they do what is called “splitting”, by preying on your self-esteem and making these rules because they need to protect you, you start to believe in them over you. Dr. Cristiane Northrop wrote a great book called “Energy Vampires: An Empaths Guide to Evading Relationships that Drain You and Restoring your Health and Power” and in it she says, you know you’re dealing with a cluster B if you feel like you should be taking notes after talking with them. These types of people change the story a lot to confuse you. When you feel the need to take notes or wonder whether you should be recording your conversations, that’s a sign you’re dealing with one of these people
You’re Not Crazy
When I was starting to think about leaving my 19-year marriage, my parents advised me to stop therapy and to stop listening to podcasts. They told me it was making me crazy. My ex forbade me from seeing my friends and from buying self help books. The effect of being raised in thinking there was something wrong with me and that I didn’t know what was best for me, was that I felt a bit crazy. You’re not. Look up the word gaslighting or splitting for more behavior characteristics of this type of person. You are not crazy. You are sane. Studies have been shown that people who are involved in relationships with cluster B are usually incredibly intelligent, high-achieving women with what she calls super traits. You are anything but crazy. If you have a fault it is that you have hope. Maybe you are too optimistic. What we do is see the red flags of these personality types and think “I can change him” or “that won’t happen to me”. No way warriors. Trust me when I say, you can’t change them! At this time there is no treatment for cluster B personality disorders.
My main message to you is two fold: You’re not crazy and don’t try to get an official diagnosis for this other person. It’s not necessary. If any of the above rang true, for the love of YOU, trust yourself this once to know what you’re dealing with and try some of the strategies I’m going to mention. Getting a diagnosis is not necessary and trust me, incredibly rare. These people are masters of deception. When I tell people I’m estranged from my parents or divorced from my ex their first reaction is almost always complete surprise. Along the lines of “Them? They’re so nice?” Their second response is then usually to back away slowly looking at me as if I must then be the crazy one because to believe that it would be my perfect ex or parents is ludicrous.
If you’ve had this experience, please reach out! I know how icky it feels to see that response as it reinforces a lot of the crazy-making programming you’re trying to get away from, that there must be something wrong with me. They see the outside version of my dad or ex and think: that person? They’re so …Nope. What they are are masters of deception. Even in therapy. You’re rarely going to get an accurate diagnosis. I won’t say never but what’s your intent? Divorce courts in the US don’t do anything with a cluster B diagnosis and, we’ve already said there’s no treatment. Save your energy dear one. Your power lies in recognizing the traits and then taking action to conserve your energy.
You get to take back control of your life for you and if you’re a mom, for your kids.
Three Simple Tools and Strategies
That said, they are simple not easy. Why? They will react when you try them. They will try to steal your energy back. Your negative or positive reaction to their behavior is what feeds them, they use your energy to feed themselves. What you are trying to do is take away that feed. That’s why they’re called energy vampires. They feed and feed and feed.
1. Grey Rock:
Think of a grey rock. Dull. Boring. Walk right by it. In interactions with this type of person, you want to become a grey rock. If they criticize you, shrug your shoulders. If they tell you your decision is dumb, ignore them. Normal social rules don’t apply. You do not need to be kind. They feed on your kindness. Likewise, you don’t need to be rude. They feed on your rudeness too because they see they got you to react. You get to be a grey rock. Boring. Dull.
2. Defense Free:
This is one of the hardest things for me to do but one of the most effective. Do not defend yourself or your actions. Don’t explain. What would be your point? They will not see your point of view. They will not understand. Worse, defending yourself steals your energy. It’s a sign for them that you’re not a grey rock. That they still have a hold on you. That you care in some way about what they think. It gives them back their power. One of the hardest but best things I did was to let my parents and ex free to think what they want of me. The sad truth is that this type of person can only see things from their point of view and won’t suddenly say “Oh you’re right Susie”. No. I spent over 30 years trying to convince these people that there wasn’t something wrong with me; that I wasn’t self-centered and awful; that I wasn’t mean spirited and selfish. They never changed their mind. Who did? Me. Trust me warriors. Save your energy and lay your defenses down. Stop explaining. Stop trying to get them to see it your way. Set them free.
Sometimes you do need to interact with this type of person, whether it’s a coworker or a family member. In this case, BIFF is your tool. BIFF stands for: Brief, Informative, Formal, Firm. It is the opposite of defending, excuse making, or wordiness. The more concise and informative the better. Here are some examples of emails or texts written in this way:
- Mom, my family and I are not hosting Thanksgiving this year.
- Dad, I will not be coming to your house for your birthday celebration this weekend.
- Frank, I am making summer vacation plans. Please tell me by Sunday at noon if you have a preference as to which month I take the kids out of town.
- Sarah, here is the brief you requested. If you want any edits done, please let me know by noon on Thursday.
Whether you’re writing to a parent, an ex, or a coworker, you can save a lot of your energy by being brief, informative, formal and firm. Give the details not the excuses.
4. Broken Record:
Along these lines, sometimes you may be in a situation where you choose to speak in person to this person. While I don’t recommend it, as they’re masters at twisting your words, it absolutely can be done with mindful intention involving these three pieces: First, ask yourself: What is the point of having a conversation with this person? What is your intent? Second, pre-rehearse one phrase or message to deliver. Third, imagine how the conversation is likely to go (keeping in mind the type of person you’re dealing with).
Take the example of telling your mom or mother in law that you won’t be hosting Thanksgiving this year.
- Get clear on your intent. Your intent is to tell your mom you won’t be hosting Thanksgiving this year. It’s not to get her to agree that it’s a good decision or to explain your reasons why you won’t be hosting. Your intent is to convey the information. To tell her.
- Pre-rehearse your concise, brief message (I like doing this in front of a mirror) “Mom, we’ve decided not to host Thanksgiving this year.” This is your broken record phrase.
- Pre-prepare Your BodyThink of what she may say and how she may react. This prepares your body and brain and allows you to be a broken record. Imagine what she says in response to you. Imagine you repeating your phrase “we’ve decided not to host Thanksgiving this year”. Imagine her response. Imagine you being a broken record: “As I said, we won’t be hosting thanksgiving this year”. This third piece is important because what us optimists tend to do is think “this time will be different” or to think of the best possible response that has never happened and has no chance of happening.
Give up the dream that your mom is going to say: “Okay Susie, that sounds like you’ve made a decision on what is best for you and your family”. Lower those expectations warrior! Expect her to act as she usually does. As Maya Angelou said:
When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.
Expect her to maybe play the victim and say something like: “Oh my goodness, what about me? How will I get by all alone? How will I manage?” Or maybe she’ll get angry “Wow, there you go again, only thinking of yourself and your family. I knew it. It’s just like your father says: you’re an ungrateful selfish thing. Geez. After everything I’ve done for you, you are going to cut me out like this. Wait until your father hears.” That’s okay warriors. My job is to repeat my message: Yep, we’ve decided not to host this year”. Over and over. Grey rock. NO defenses!
Ready, Set, Action
Okay, dear warriors, that is it. I honestly can’t believe I haven’t yet shared these tools with you or made a post about my experience with energy vampires. I probably needed to do more healing first. With that in mind, I send you love today if you are in this sort of relationship or if you recognize some of these patterns in past relationships of your life. With a request to reach out and get professional help. If we don’t heal from our past wounds we pass this trauma down to our children or to others in our relationship circles.
If you’re not in this sort of relationship but know someone who is, please be the best kind of friend there is and don’t “should” on them. Don’t tell them they “should” reach out to their mom because she’s their mom. Please don’t tell them that they “should” be more patient or that they “should” stay in contact with someone because they’re family or for any other type of reason. These relationships are deeply wounding to our emotional health and, as I unfortunately discovered, our physical health as well. You matter to me, dear warrior. This is not an easy topic to discuss but I stand before you as someone who has found peace. It is possible and I would love to guide you on this journey or hook you up with someone who can. You deserve to feel loved and cherished. Not scared and crazy.
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