Psychic vampires – those in our lives who can to eerily drain us of energy, merely by their presence. For me it’s that person who seems to appear out of nowhere beside my desk (or in my in-box) and proceeds to unload, uninvited and largely unfiltered:
“I needed to let you know this was going on…”
“Something needs to be done…”
In these situations, I find myself looking up from my (clearly more important) work. I half listen, and I get irritated. As they talk I realise that this is not a major deal. But I’m impatient and before I know it, out it comes:
“Leave it with me.”
I don’t want them to leave me with their problems. I simply want them to leave. And so I take the easy route to making that happen. But I’m left feeling resentful about the intrusion, and then, if I leave it long enough, guilty that I didn’t handle it better or show more empathy or understanding.
In my coaching, I’ve realised this pattern is a really typical one. Most of us have that one person whose burdens we would actually chose to take on over actually dealing with that individual personally for more than a minute or two. The feelings of negativity escalate, and the avoidance behaviour on our parts gets worse. Just the very thought of this person brings us down.
I met with a client today who was experiencing exactly this kind of situation. As she spoke I wondered what else might be going on when we succumb to a pattern we know, rationally, is not good for either of us.
Because yes, taking on the other person’s issues allow us to deflect the real issues and get someone we find unpleasant and draining out of our space. It’s a quick (but short-term, and ultimately damaging) fix for your immediate concerns. But what are the latent payoffs for those of us who are perhaps too quick to take on someone else’s problems?
A few things I’ve observed:
We often swing between feelings of guilt and resentment, and between the roles of rescuer and victim.
We feel sympathy and guilt about this person (who is really struggling with their personal life right now). They’re really just a victim.
But resentment kicks in as we perceive that this person is manipulating others, who is always expecting others to sort things out for her, “especially me.” You’re the victim.
By playing this game, we get to sidestep where real accountability lies and the role we’re playing in cultivating this entire parent/child dynamic.
In a couple of situations, I’ve seen one way in which a ‘vampire’ is actually deflected is when the manager plays the ‘you think you have it hard’ card, and out-victims-the-victim by listing all their own work woes.
Again, not a very sustainable or healthy way to tackle the situation, but also one that is perhaps uncomfortably familiar to some of us.
And because of this, we’re often absorbed in an emotional response we struggle to detach from and name. We fail to step outside and notice what’s going on (“Hang on. I seem to be playing parent here…”)
We mindlessly (not mindfully) go with the familiar pattern of behaviour that we know will give us swift results. And this also gives us the illusion of control when we are struggling with an vulnerable emotions over a situation we fear we might become difficult.
And of course, in all of this:
- We’re cultivating the very behaviour of those individuals that we see as draining us
- We’re playing an active (if unintended) role in undermining an individual’s confidence by taking away their power (even though they willingly give it) instead of handing it back to them.
- We’re not being ‘adult’ and recognising our own accountability in this whole mess (and recognising where you are accountable is not the same as wallowing in feelings of shame or ‘I’m a terrible person’ or taking on the burden of full responsibility. This is likely to only perpetuate the problem).
In short, whenever we are labelling someone a ‘psychic vampire’ or similar and exhibiting all of the above, we are, in all likelihood, indulging in some bloodsucking behaviours ourselves.
Next time we’re tempted to label someone as ‘draining’ or willingly take on someone’s problems, we need to make sure we’re not getting caught up in a drama that is actually of our own making, and that we’re not getting a latent payoff in doing so – whether that be to avoid tackling a difficult situation, or to give ourselves the illusion of control.