Draculas of everyday life

Energy vampires suck you dry and leave you depleted -- and not just on Halloween

Published October 30, 2000 4:30PM (EST)

On Halloween, our dark sides rise from their hidden corners, and ghosts, demons and witches roam the nighttime streets. Fortunately, these unsavory creatures disappear before sunrise. All, that is, except a particular kind of Dracula -- the energy vampire who wanders about every day of the year, fearing neither bright sunlight nor crucifixes.

Energy vampires do not drink blood. They do not favor gloomy windswept castles or sucking orgies in misty graveyards under the full moon. These are individuals who imbibe other people's life force as if their own depended on it. With their plump cheeks and brightly colored clothes, they pass easily as ordinary folks. Odds are that you will not even notice when they strike. But you will notice the lingering effects: lassitude, depression and the loss of your emotional spark.

These are the ones who want too much of you and have devised elaborate strategies for obtaining it. It could be the nonstop talker who drains your spirit on a date, the friend who calls you to share another chapter in her endless saga of misfortune, the good-looking stranger who corners you at a party. You know the ones -- after spending time with them, you feel as though someone has hit your dimmer switch. You assume it's stress or fatigue, and as you desperately gulp down that double latte, you reproach yourself for not getting enough sleep. But sleep is not the issue -- an energy vampire is draining your psychic battery dry.

Though they usually have no awareness of what they are doing, energy vampires are crafty and relentless creatures. They seek you out, court you and pursue you; they will snare you with blatant, titillating lies to get what they want. They come in four distinct types: Talkers, Poor Me's, Shadows and Diggers. While all share an insatiable hunger for others' life force, they have different modes of operation.

The first kind, the Talkers, are actually the most benign. They will tire you out and steal your time, but they do not go after your soul. Often striking and dramatic in appearance, they seem to have gathered more than their share of impressive deeds and adventures. But they need your energy to make their own come alive. You are the mirror that reflects what they have experienced. Your presence verifies the Talker's existence like an echo confirms a sound.

Since they only want to hear themselves, they don't actually interact with you and they never ask questions. If you find your eyes glazing over when your friend tells you about a close encounter with piranhas -- or the 10th close encounter with piranhas -- you are probably playing host to this type of energy vampire. You will attempt to escape by drifting away. But the part of yourself you let go is the piece snatched by the Talker.

You have seen these energy vampires at work: At a restaurant table, the man leans forward as he talks nonstop, the woman arching her back ever so slightly, a smile pasted on her face while her spirit is somewhere far away. As a small gesture of compensation for the welcome energy infusion, the Talker will usually pick up the check.

Poor Me's are easiest to spot because they wear their neediness like signature accessories. They appear diminished somehow, with a droopy posture, perhaps, or a concave aura. They wallow in their belief that life has beaten them up. They may not look like predators, but be aware: They hypnotize you with their helplessness and trap you into staging guilt-motivated rescue attempts.

But these efforts are futile; no amount of sympathy or gesture of compassion can, in the end, alleviate the pain with which they identify so deeply. They may be attentive as you outline sources of support and avenues for change, but they will not pursue your suggestions. It is your energy that props them up, not the prospect of change.

Shadows have an altogether original appearance and strategy. Often quite flashy, they lure you with attention, flattery and praise. These energy vampires invade your aura in a desperate attempt to inhabit it themselves. In a group setting, Shadows like to spin webs among participants, collecting loyalties with gossip and praise. When they do not get what they are after -- which they never do -- they crucify you.

Like parasites, Shadows live vicariously; they draw sustenance from your enthusiasm, your ideas, your creativity. They accomplish this by delving into your private life with countless questions. I was flattered at first when a new acquaintance showed great interest in my writing, emulated my style of dress and copied my hairstyle. But when she started befriending my friends, alarm bells rang in my head. Before long, her presence felt as stifling as someone's hot breath in a crowded elevator. I had to shake her off.

Diggers are the most devastating type of energy vampire. Their bite sinks deeper than that of Talkers, Poor Me's and Shadows, and the symptoms are harder to treat. Diggers work at the soul level. They siphon your energy by filling you up with their private darkness. Like Shadows, they will bait you with questions and charm you by paying rapt attention to your revelations. Then they push deeply into you and, once inside, they tap into your insecurities to sow doubt and dissatisfaction.

This is the "friend" who asks you about your new job or lover. Her empathy encourages you to reveal your concerns, but once she has found the weak spot in your story, she will work that until it overwhelms everything else. Mysteriously, you come away from the conversation feeling less: less happy, less certain, less loved. And the Digger has absorbed all that you have surrendered.

Like Count Dracula in Bram Stoker's tale, the energy vampire cannot be satiated by anyone. And so the task of feeding themselves, which leaves others depleted and diminished, becomes a never-ending labor. Need in itself, of course, is not a bad thing. Reciprocal exchange of energy and love is what friendships and partnerships are built on.

But energy vampires never reciprocate. Contact with them is more like a psychic assault than an exchange. Because they have no awareness of what they are doing, they feel no guilt or remorse. It is up to the victim to stop the psychic Dracula.

If you find yourself surrounded by energy vampires, beware -- you may need them as much as they need you. If you always put friends' desires before your own, rescue acquaintances from drowning in their melancholia or fall strangely ill after the departure of demanding houseguests, you may be an unconscious target of an energy vampire. Like the sleepwalking victims of Stoker's Count Dracula, you need to wake up.

You cannot defeat energy vampires with rosaries or necklaces made of garlic. But you can follow the basic lesson taught in self-defense courses: Cultivate awareness. Recognize their presence when they appear in your circle. And then avoid them. Because energy vampires are real. They may not wear black capes and bare their fangs on Halloween. But they are truly scary -- every season of the year.

By Christine Schoefer

Christine Schoefer is the mother of three die-hard female Harry Potter fans. She is also a German-American freelancer whose writing has appeared in the Nation, the L.A. Times, Utne Reader, the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications in the U.S. as well as in Germany

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Halloween Vampires