From the Magazine

How to Break Free From ‘Energy Vampires’ and Other Negative People in Your Life

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Exhausted. Hurt. Disappointed. Frustrated. Not how you’d hope to feel after interacting with someone in your life, but certain people always leave you depleted and dreading the next late-night phone call, tense meeting or drama-filled outing.

“These are ‘energy vampires,’ or people who rely on your empathetic nature to get the attention that they thrive on,” explains Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Dodging Energy Vampires ($12.13, Amazon). She quickly adds that if you’re worried that you’re an energy vampire, it means you’re definitely not — a true person of this type wouldn’t care. “Energy vampires target empaths because they carry a lot of light from traits like compassion, loyalty, and a desire to be of service and make the world a better place.” And because you care so much about everyone around you, it’s tough to walk away — even from those who repeatedly cause you pain.

In fact, if an energy vampire is in your orbit, you’ve likely given them the benefit of the doubt or tried to understand where they’re coming from, but these efforts are only hurting you more, warns Dr. Northrup: “Think of your body as a battery with a powerful electrical signal coming from your big, compassionate heart,” she says. “Your battery is literally being drained over and over because these people do not change.”

The good news? Experts say it’s possible to be authentic to your kind nature and protect yourself from unnecessary drama. To start prioritizing your well-being, read on for easy ways to resist four common types of energy vampires.

To dodge a downer, try ‘gray rocking.’

You love your sister, but she’s always complaining about everything, from her health to her job to her friends. “This is different from someone who is depressed and reaching out for help,” says Dr. Northrup. “It’s a chronic pattern where you’re always there for them but they never change their behavior, never take your advice, and never lift a finger to improve their situation.”

The solution? “Just become like a gray rock,” advises Dr. Northrup: When she starts cataloging everything that’s wrong and disregards your attempts to comfort her, switch off your usual dynamism and be as dull and uninteresting as possible, keeping conversation to a minimum. “This can be very challenging at first,” admits Dr. Northrup, who acknowledges that it’s common to have a family member who is an energy vampire. “But you cannot help anybody from an empty tank.” When you stop putting in more energy than you’re getting back, you communicate your limits and avoid leaving these interactions feeling drained.

To escape a hater, issue a hard ‘no.’

You know who to call when you need to be taken down a few notches. “There are many reasons we keep people in our lives who tear us down or are competitive with us in a negative way,” says Susan Forward, Ph.D. “But it’s important to stop rationalizing that she’s only behaving that way because she’s stressed or upset.” If her behavior compromises your dignity, there are no excuses.

“Your heart will be pounding, your palms will be sweating, but next time she dishes it out, garner your courage and say, ‘It’s not okay to talk to me that way,’” encourages Forward. “Say, ‘I’ll give you a chance to change this behavior, but failing that, I’m going to have to do some separating from you for my well-being.’” 

Pay attention to how you talk to yourself too: “Negative self-talk like, I won’t have any friends if I end this relationship, keeps you from getting to a healthier place of I don’t need her approval.”

To bypass a trust breaker, stick to the surface.

A friend of yours always promises to help and never comes through, betraying confidences and bailing on plans — yet you keep giving her chances. “Many toxic people have perfected the art of seducing us into trusting them,” notes Forward. “When they start to show their true selves, you begin to blame yourself and twist yourself into a pretzel to try to make it okay.”

Though it’s tempting to appeal to this person and describe how they’ve hurt you, Forward suggests a safer response: “If you keep this person in your life, it’s best not to open up to them or share intimate details,” she explains. 

“Think of two people sitting together, drinking tea, discussing non-vulnerable topics: ‘I saw a wonderful movie the other night. I just read this great book.’” It may feel uncomfortable to stick to the surface, but it’s your best bet if you can’t completely avoid this person, Forward adds. “You never get into anything deep, so you’re not telling them anything they could use to disappoint you or break your trust.”

To stand up to a taker, state your needs this way.

Your neighbor only appears when she wants something: favors, advice, money, time. “These people have ‘malignant intuition,’” says Dr. Northrup. “They know exactly what you’re longing to hear.” That could be anything from ‘You’re such a great listener!’ to ‘You’re so sweet!’ “They pull you in with a sob story and you want to be of service, but then they’re never there for you in return.”

What to say when she’s got her hand out? “First, state a preferred future,” suggests Shasta Nelson, author and speaker. For example, you could say, “I want to feel like our relationship has equal give-and-take.” Then express what you need and invite her to problem-solve.” Try: “I don’t want to be put in this position anymore. What can we do to make our interactions more balanced?” Says Nelson, “I have found few people out there wanting to maliciously hurt others, so the challenge is stating what you need in a kind way.” 

After clearly communicating where you stand, the ball is in her court — you can’t control her response, but you can walk away with your heart still open, knowing you have your own back.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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