Newsletter #21 Energy Vampires

A discussion of Chrstiane Northrup’s new book
Dodging Energy Vampires
          Have you ever had an encounter with another person (no matter how brief) and felt inexplicably drained afterwards?  Of course you have. We all have. There is nothing you can quite put your finger on, but you are surprised to find that even a minor interaction with certain people may leave you exhausted and perhaps a little depressed for the rest of the day. Or longer.
          It is only recently that the psychiatric profession has begun to understand and name this phenomenon—-the common descriptor is “energy vampires”—-people who literally suck out your energy and leave you feeling empty.
          Recent research suggests that up to 20% of the population fit this classification (to some extent), so it may not be as rare as you might think. Worse, the nicer, kinder, compassionate and empathetic you are, the more likely it is that an energy vampire will be drawn to you, making you an unwitting target of their insatiable needs. And because you are kind, nice, compassionate and empathetic you may mistakenly open yourself up to this draining process over and over again, thinking that you can, eventually, fill them up and meet those needs. Spoiler alert: You can’t. But you can make yourself miserable trying.
          In her new and eye-opening book, Dodging Energy Vampires: An Empath’s Guide to Evading Relationships That Drain You and Restoring Your health and Power, Dr. Christiane Northrup points out that those of us who are natural empaths (common in the healing professions), have traits of “agreeableness, conscientiousness and self-direction. They are unusually optimistic, have a can-do attitude, have an excellent worth ethic, compassion, patience, and the ability to see the best in everything and everyone.” Sound like anyone you know?
          Alas, these very attributes make empaths sitting ducks for energy vampires, and, of greater concerns, make them unable to see these vampires for what they truly are, because of that inherent belief that there is good in everyone. Empaths believe that given enough love, everyone can be redeemed.
Lovely concept, but not so. Energy vampires do not want to be redeemed; they simply want to suck you dry and move on to the next “sucker”. In short, empaths radiate a particular type of compassionate and understanding energy that can act as delicious life blood for the vampire. To make matters worse, many (if not most) empaths have experienced personal traumas that often involve shame and guilt. Energy vampires are masters at nurturing this shame and guilt when they enter into relationship with an empath, which keeps the empath feeling “less than” at all times. Thus they forge a relationship in which the vampire’s needs are temporarily met (but never satisfied) but the empath’s needs are trivialized and denigrated constantly. Do you know any relationships like this? Or have you been in one (or more) yourself? Maybe now?
          The greatest stumbling block to overcome is to somehow help the empath, or victim, to realize that this is really happening. In their idealistic and optimistic view, surely no one could mean them harm? Or if they perceive that they are not being treated well, they are quick to excuse this behavior as the result of the vampire’s difficult childhood, or work stressors, or…..there is always an excuse but you get the point. Since the empath has been sucked dry, they often don’t have the energy to mobilize their thoughts to be able to take action, while being constantly told of his or her inadequacies—-they just get beaten down.  Nice recipe for a disastrous relationship.
          The psychiatric profession has rather recently begun to describe these behaviors, and Dr. Northrup tells us that “Labels for the behavioral patterns of vampires includes sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists, borderline personalities…..but all of the personality types can be grouped under the term Cluster B. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a publication of the American Psychiatric Association notes that Cluster B individuals are characterized by dogmatic, unruly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behaviors”. The ratio of sexes has been noted to be 4:1 males predominating over females. (Pun intended).
          Further, “What every energy vampire has in common is covert aggression and manipulation for personal gain. They are fighting for the upper hand. Period. End of story.”
          Well, this is all very interesting, but why am I writing a newsletter about this subject?  What does it have to do with health?
          Once an individual has entered into a relationship with an energy vampire, there is usually a profound effect upon that individual’s health. The effect on the victim is obvious: fatigue, cognitive impairment, headaches, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and many, many more debilitating symptoms. As to the vampires:
          Again, Dr. Northrup reminds us that it is well documented that anywhere from 25-30% of the patients in a primary care practice use their medical visits to get their emotional needs met. Many have little interest in getting well because they get so much attention during their doctor visits. As you may have guessed, many of these are energy vampires.
          If you are a health care provider, take note: they will suck you, and every member of your staff, dry. If you mistakenly believe that with enough caring and compassion, you can bring them around, please take these words to heart. Only once you have accepted this information as a reality can you begin to more readily identify these patients (these are the ones who leave you exhausted and confused after each visit and created havoc with your office staff).
          Once identified, you might consider doing something about it. With rare exceptions, you will not be able to help them, no matter how hard you try. If you keep trying, you are in trouble. Burnout waits just around the corner. It is hard enough to practice medicine without adding this unmanageable burden to your life.
          Dr. Northrup related many examples of how these vampires profoundly affected her life, and she wrote this book from her personal experience to help the rest of us understand what is happening to us and letting us come to our senses.
          I will do the same. The reason I know the truth of this information is that I, too, have been taken advantage of and drained, more times than I care to recount. I first began to understand this in the mid 1980s when I was the medical director for a regional, hospital-based pain clinic in Duluth, Minnesota. We had groups of 8 patients who we worked with intensely for a month at a time, and helped the majority of them to recover from their battles with chronic pain. However, every once in a while, we got a group of patients that did not “gel”. In fact, rather than the usual enthusiastic, upbeat groups that were a pleasure to work with, a group would turn on each other, then us. They were always bickering, finding fault, and non-compliant. This was baffling to me and my team of psychologists and physical therapists and we would debate for days, which patient we thought was the “bad apple” who was literally poisoning the group and our process. Whether they be personality disorders or narcissists, remember that a key quality is that they are covertly manipulative, and to our dismay, we sometimes had to dismiss several patients before we stumbled on the instigator. Once the instigator had left the group, things settled down immediately and we were able to continue our excellent work with those who were left.
          As time passed, I have learned to “feel” this form of chaotic, energy-draining energy at a distance. (I can even hear about a situation in which this is occurring as physicians consult with me and realize what is transpiring). As soon as I recognize this, I will find a way to leave, immediately, and avoid those individuals. Please understand that I spent years of my life trying to heal these folks, unsuccessfully……I just got drained.
          I realize that it may not make me sound compassionate as we delve into this difficult subject, but what Dr. Northrup and I want to share with you is that attempting to “help” an energy vampire never goes well. For my part (and Dr. Northrup’s) I always found up confused, feeling inadequate—“What did I do wrong?”—-“Why can’t I find a way to help this (apparently) suffering being.” “Am I just not smart enough, or compassionate enough, or..?”  Then, feeling worse as I would look my daily schedule and see their name and a feeling of dread would come over me.
          For you young health care providers out there, what I can share with you is that I have increasingly learned to sever my relationships with those individuals or “fire” them as patients. I can legitimately tell them that I do not have the skills and knowledge to help them, and dismiss them from my practice. (I do not refer them to a colleague, either, because I would not do that to a colleague). When I do remove them from my practice and my life (for those vampires who are neighbors, or acquaintances or “friends” or even relatives) there is an immediate feeling of lightness—a burden lifted—and my staff is always deeply grateful.
          A holistic physician that I worked with many years ago, Lev Linkner, MD, shared with me that his Christmas gift to his staff was to allow them to choose one patient who made their lives miserable and he would fire them. This is a model that might well be emulated, and not just at Holiday times.
          Dr. Northrup has done a fabulous service to patients and health care providers alike for this insightful and useful book. After describing the qualities of vampires and their victims—-those likely to be affected by them, she then goes into detail about how to use this information for healing yourself and your relationships.
          Since everyone has these energy-draining people in their lives, this book is for everyone and I strongly encourage you all to read it in its entirety.