Friday, August 11, 2006

Emotional Vampires

I have been preoccupied with thinking about vampires. Ok, no, I don't mean the Halloween-esque Vampires. I don't mean the fictional creatures that suck your blood. I mean the sort of people that emotionally drain the life force out of others.

Years ago I watched a great Star Trek Next Generation episode ("Man of the People") wherein a character, who was a diplomat, strikes up a relationship with Deanna Troi. We learn through the episode that what keeps this diplomat so calm and peaceful is that he dumps all of his fears, anger, and bile onto his lovers. We see Deanna dramatically aged and ill; she will die if they do not separate the two of them.

The episode really resonated with me. I have served, multiple times, as the receptacle of negative emotions and felt wiped out, immobilized, and trapped. This happens when you direct all your attentions to a needy, insecure and shy partner who demands that you remain at his or her side and prop him or her up at all times. In these destructive relationships, I witnessed my own desire to be around others, to laugh, to be playful, and to explore simply vanish. My vampires drained me into a shadow of my former self. And, I am struck, as I now evaluate this retrospectively, how enhanced they were. While I was becoming unrecognizable to myself, my "lover" was never better. After playing this role one too many times, and feeling utterly trapped, I finally made a promise to myself to never be another vampire's victim again.

Unfortunately, I see others fall victim to this kind of personality all the time. I started thinking a lot about the characteristics of emotional vampires. They tend to seek out empathetic, caring, and self-sacrificing people. Their "marks" are more driven by pleasing others than taking care of themselves. The vampire quickly determines the insecurities of his or her mark: suffers from depression? low self-esteem? The idea here is that the vampires use these insecurities to keep their lover dependent or to manipulate them to do their bidding.

For example, let's say that our vampire hates being in big social events because her anxiety levels run too high. But, the vampire has chosen her new lover because he is at ease in social groups and makes others at ease. Opposites attract! But, our vampire nonetheless still hates social situations and so plays upon her new lover's desire to put others at ease and keep social situations running smoothly. How? By coaxing him into staying at home with her out of his desire to not make the social situation awkward (she will not integrate well with the group) and to keep his lover happy (she loves staying in and watching movies). This scenario tends to play itself out in different ways over and over again. After weeks and months of this, our formerly extroverted man has become a recluse. She doesn't need to change anything about herself--learn how to interact better with others or take risks. And, the more depressed and depleted her man becomes, the better. If he has less energy, he won't try to encourage her to try new things or change her life.

From the outside, friends of our trapped man wonder why he doesn't just leave? What's up? How can he be happy isolating himself from all that he loves? He doesn't. But, he also doesn't have the energy anymore to leave. Why? Because all of his insecurities are magnified by the masterful manipulations of the vampire. He thinks this is what he wants to do. He is too depressed to make a change. And, his friends start bailing on him one by one, only sealing his entrapment.

Vampires are scary.