They leave you feeling drained after every conversation. They want your nonstop attention and the conversation is always about them. They may be charming, charismatic and the life-of-the-party personality. They also may cheat. They may lie. And it’s probably someone else’s fault when something goes wrong.
These are some (but certainly not all) of the traits you might run across in someone who is an “energy vampire.”
An energy vampire is somebody who literally zaps your energy dry.
“An energy vampire is somebody who literally zaps your energy dry,” Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist on the University of California-Los Angeles Psychiatric Clinical Faculty, tells NBC News BETTER.
There are different types and they fall on a spectrum, she adds. There’s the narcissistic drama queen friend who’s always dealing with one crisis or another. There’s the manipulative coworker who doesn’t care who she steps on to get ahead. And there’s the downright psychopathic criminal.
What energy vampires all have in common is they “feed on” (or manipulate) people who will give them air space and open ears.
Unsurprisingly those most often targeted are the sensitive, compassionate, always-see-the-good-in-people types of people, Orloff says. (She’s also author of a book on the topic, "The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People".)
Energy vampire isn’t a clinical term or diagnosis currently. But Christiane Northrup, MD, author of the recent book "Dodging Energy Vampires," explains that energy vampire characteristics do tend to map to “cluster B” personality disorders — the ones where people tend to have dramatic, overly emotional or erratic thinking or behavior — which are fairly common, she says. (Northrup spent 25 years practicing obstetrics and gynecology and now focuses on being an advocate for women’s health and wellness.)
Cluster B includes people with antisocial, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, and each of those is a clinical diagnosis with measurable specific traits spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the diagnostic playbook psychologists use to identify mental health disorders.
“There’s no chemical imbalance in the brain or anything like that,” she adds. But individuals either lack or have a somewhat misguided conscience or moral compass, she says.
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According to Northrup, energy vampires also include the extreme end of the spectrum of these personality disorders, namely psychopaths and sociopaths. They are often talented, but manipulative, too. They feed on your good, loving and compassionate energy, and they have no qualms about doing so, she says. They make you feel guilty, as if you’re never giving enough.
Who is and who’s not an energy vampire?
While psychopaths, according to Northrup’s definition, are one type of energy vampire, they’re certainly not the most common ones you might come across. Think of any names that came to mind as you read the first part of this article. That’s a good way to start identifying the energy vampires in your life, Northrup says.
Not everyone with narcissistic traits or who enjoys being the life of the party is necessarily an energy vampire, she adds. There are some who recognize what they’re doing if you call them out on it and stop. Energy vampires (those who could be diagnosed with a character disorder), however, are addicted to that kind of behavior and the attention they get from it.
Generally they’re self-centered people and they’re somewhat manipulative, Northrup says. “On some level they all know what they’re doing and they do it because it works.”
The non-energy vampires of the world give them the benefit of the doubt that they really do need your love, compassion and good chi, Northrup adds, “because we think they think like we do.” And that’s why energy vampires are so dangerous, she says.