I am a huge fan of the website The Rawness. His approaches to psychological issues – or inner game – are insightful and supremely helpful. I mention this because one of his posts turned me on to a book called Emotional Vampires by Dr. Albert Berstein.
The book is a quick and great read. It is clearly organized and well-written. However, the most important aspect of the book is his emphasis on practical solutions. Many books on psychology are either too superficial to be of any real use, or are too theory-heavy for any person not versed in psychology to interpret and implement.
The subtitle of the book sums up what sort of people he will be discussing and analyzing – “people who drain you dry.” This is important distinction to focus on people who drive other people up the wall, as opposed to driving themselves up the wall. People who make themselves crazy are usually referred to as having psychoses or neuroses, people who drive others crazy are usually referred to as having “personality disorders.”
People with personality disorders display a wide range of issues. Inability to deal with boredom, excessive adherence to formalized rules, and complete and utter lack of empathy for others, amazing displays of charisma followed by utter depression or reverting to being boring (anybody who read The Game would remember Mystery falling into this category), or simply the inability to handle their own emotions, so they befriend or romance others so they have captive audiences for their emotional rollercoasters.
Regardless, one the most important themes throughout the book is his insistence on explaining why these sorts of people are the way they are. He stresses empathy, because almost always, if they are draining you, it isn’t because of you – it is because of their internal conflicts. In order words, they are targeting you not because of you specifically, but because they need a victim to shore up their faltering psychology – like a vampire feeding on a person in order to slake their thirst for blood. You often see these disorders at full attention when the vampire is subjected to stress – their disorders are there to calm their nerves, even if that means pissing you off to no end. In sum – do not let them get to you.
These disorders often develop in childhood as a reaction to their needs not be met in a timely manner by parental figures.
Before I get into the types of vampires, let’s talk about the common methods that a vampire comes at you in real life. Often times, these sorts of people make a fantastic first-impression; they are charismatic, empathetic and completely focused on you – think a lesser Bill Clinton. They often are great at misdirection, identifying what you want as a person and a creation of an alternate reality in which to get what you want. Warning signs you are being preyed include level of “instant rapport,” departing from social convention, and creating a level of internal confusion in you. Like most of psychology, it isn’t a rote list of behaviors or actions you can check through, you have to develop your sense on this stuff. Remember, they ultimately want to drain you emotionally.
Let’s step through the broad categories of vampires he identifies: anti-social, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid. Let’s go through anti-social first.
This sounds exactly like its name to a 1950’s conservative: sex, drugs and rock and roll. These sorts of people are consumed by drugs, alcohol, sex and partying. The key observation about this disorder is the high insistence on new stimulation, impulsiveness and charm. These sorts of people are usually lovable – at least, superficially. He identifies anti-socials that purely just want thrills, and some that get thrills of dominating and exploiting other people. The purest forms of these people you don’t often encounter in the workplace, as their drug use and partying is prohibitive to holding down a full-time job. You probably knew them in high school and college.
Histronic vampires are supremely superficial. Obsessed with looks, “putting on a good show,” treating acquaintances like close friends, and generally levels of superficiality – obsession with pop culture, others social lives and all manner of nothing important. The author goes out his way to say that it is wrong to assume this is a feminine problem – he claims the 1950’s dads had these sorts of issues. What he gets wrong is that he assumes masculinity was/is a façade. It makes marketing sense for his book, as women would balk being stereotyped as having this disorder.
Like anti-socials, these are addictive disorders – but to approval. Often times, if they are not getting the attention this want, they will become a pill-popper or alcoholics. Not because purely because of the physical thrill, but because of the attention they will come socially.
There are two main categories of Histronic disorder: “ham-it-up” and passive aggressive. To be sure, both are feminine. You probably know men with this disorder – they are often the worst of omega and beta males. “Ham-it-up” love putting on a show and are excellent at creating worlds where they offer themselves up as the prize. They are often wont to use illness and personal tragedy as a theater to showcase themselves.
Passive-aggressive vampires are people who divide their personality into pure, loving and good impulses and everything” negative” into the other. They are completely oblivious to their anger, meanness, etc. A classic example is asking somebody (who is clearly upset) what is wrong. The angry person responds, “Nothing is wrong.” This situation escalates until the vampire accuses the victim of being way too angry. See the transmission? They push their anger onto you, so they don’t have to acknowledge their anger.
Next are narcissistic vampires. You know these types, grandiose, over the top and have a complete lack of regard for others. I have an intimate knowledge of these types, as my mother is one. In their life, there is no stopping; their self esteem rides on everything they do every day. They always have to win. However, these sorts of people become successful politicians (Bill Clinton), invent all sorts of stuff, explore the world, etc. In sum, often time these sorts of people who have made the world. They are often your favorite pro athletes – think Kobe Bryant. A key takeaway is the need for narcissistic supply – they need for your worship and devotion. Once they feel they have yours, you see their true side.
There are two main types of narcissists – I refer to them as internal and external vampires. Internal narcissists are grandiose in their own minds; they don’t have real world accomplishments, not charismatic or anything. They would be some dude coming onto this board boasting of all his lays, while never having so much as whiffed the scent of pussy. The other type of narcissist is an external one. These guys and gals are the real deal. Usually charismatic, intelligent and often rich, these people are successful, socially and professionally. Remember, these sorts of people are their own harshest critics, they just project it onto you, so don’t take it personally.
Next up are obsessive compulsive personality disordered people. These people are usually great workers, very reliable and incredibly predictable. The downside? They have no concept of the idea of “the spirit of the law.” Rigid adherence to rules is their life. These sorts of people seem to be perpetually angry, which is true. Yet, the anger is subconscious. The two types – perfectionists and puritans – think their blind following of the rules will block out their aggressive impulses.
Perfectionists are the usual person you work with who thinks they work harder than everybody. The most annoying part is often they do. You can’t criticize them because they follow company policy to the letter or are the perfect conservative/liberal. They use the rules as a way of bullying, constantly criticizing and downing others. They often rise to middle management and get stuck there. Which means anybody beneath them is subject to their tyranny – they don’t criticize superiors. Puritans are your garden-variety religious or ideological person. They think the world punishes the virtuous and they are on high alert for offenses. Their response to perceived immorality is bullying – suppression of expression, outright cruelty and punishment.
The last is paranoid personality disorder. People who love conspiracy theories, who inordinately love philosophy, politics and intellectualism in general often have this disorder. In their mind, the whole world can be distilled into simple black and white theories. These sorts of people are people who produce bizarre manifestos, they are also the world’s greatest philosophers or intellectuals. Their personal problems manifest in personal relationships. Their inherent mistrust of the world is really their mistrust of themselves.
There are two main categories: visionaries or the jealous. Visionaries are the classic crack-pot theorists. 90% of the time, their ideas are bullshit. However, when they are right, they are right. Paranoid people are very perceptive, however most of the time they see things that simply do not exist. What draws people in is their complete confidence in their ideas. The jealous are people who cannot trust others. Every relationship will eventually become marred with accusations of not really caring about them, talking behind their back, or – if it’s sexual – cheating, running around or not really loving them. Very draining in the long run.
How To Deal With These People
Let’s break down the approaches of dealing with these sorts of vampires, as there are many common themes. First off, you must always be aware when dealing with these people; like I said initially, be wary of instant connections, hypnosis, control and creation of alternate realities. It really means just be self-aware, never be too comfortable. This is good advice in general. Unless you are hanging with your best friends, never let your guard down completely.
Second, you need to understand their personal history. You need to get outside opinions of somebody. If you can, ask a few disinterested people about them. Often times, your wariness will be verified. You need to watch personal actions, not words. While this is obvious advice, it gets forgotten in real life. I myself have found myself transgressing this rule. A common technique that runs through all these disorders is the possession of a silver tongue – they are smooth talkers. Don’t let them get to you; because once they do they will emotionally drain you.
Third, is you have to selective about what you deal with. You can’t fight every conflict with them, you have to be discerning about what you act on. Wait till you know you have them in a spot for you to easily call them out – but be specific about your goal. If you are looking to just score points or vent your frustration at them, you won’t help yourself. You need to be clear about what you want from them. Understand their psychology and approach them in effective ways. For example, with a narcissist, you need to pump their ego up a bit before criticizing them, know what you want from them, and tie your needs into theirs. They don’t care about your needs, but if you let them know they can help themselves by helping you, you may succeed.
Fourth, ignore any and all outbursts where they lose their temper. I would guess unless it is escalating into physicality, the general rule is to ignore tantrums. The moment you give in, they will start draining you. Some specific situations do require intervention, however.
Finally, understand your own personal restrictions or limits. Unless the person is a boss or a coworker, know when it is best to walk away for your own mental health. The closer a person is to you, the more work you might want to do to deal with them; if they aren’t really close, then maybe the best way forward to just bowing out.
In any event, I highly recommend reading this book. It has given me some great practical advice to deal with difficult people – most especially in the workplace. If you haven’t already, you will encounter some real difficult people to handle at your job. Unlike your social circle, where you may be able to keep interactions superficial, if you work a 9-5 with a problem person, you need real tactics to keep yourself grounded. Also, Emotional Vampires is good because it reminds you to not judge them – they are really just fighting themselves. No good comes of judging them or you adopting their personality traits. Often times, these people are great at seduction, climbing the corporate ladder or just fun to hang out with. Be aware of positives as well their limitations and you can successfully navigate the vampiritic waters.