Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry – By Albert J. Bernstein

I knew it even before I picked this book up from McGraw-Hill.  I am an emotional vampire!  Someone who has this tendency to drain the people around me dry, emotionally.  OK.  According to the author, since vampires metaphorically speaking don’t have reflection, they can’t tell if they are indeed an emotional vampire, even after reading this book.  So, in my case, I am either paranoid – unlikely – or lucky enough to recognize my shortfalls.  In the world of psychology, everything is on a continuum.  I hope I am on the milder end of it.

Back to the main purpose of Emotional Vampires.  It is to teach you how to deal with people who drain you dry in your daily life.  Out of eleven different personality disorders according to the manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the author has picked five: Antisocial, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Obsessive-Compulsive, and Paranoid.  They are more common and in 40 years as a psychologist and business consultant, the author has seen these five disorders constantly cause the most trouble for the most people.  At work, at home, or anywhere in between.

The purpose of this book is not to consider the morality of emotional vampires, but to teach you how to spot them in your life and give you some ideas about what to do when you find yourself under attack by the forces of darkness.

Emotional Vampires – while written with humor – is not an easy book to digest.  At least for me.  For the simple fact that if you can relate to the tactics against all five types of emotional vampires, you must be having quite a challenging day-to-day life having to face so many difficult people that drain you dry.  I can at most relate to one or two types of emotional vampires.  Moreover, I doubt all the five chapters of therapy and self-help for each vampire type would be applicable to you either.  Chances are, you may find none of the therapy tips personally relevant.  Or you may pass this book to someone whom you think has a degree of personality disorder and hope that he or she would improve.

Hence, my suggestion would be after reading the introductory chapters, jump to the part that is most relevant to you.  This book tends to describe a more severe end of the spectrum for each vampire type so as to be more encompassing.  Therefore, it can be quite depressing to read through everything at one go.

Emotional Vampires is packed with hands-on information.  It shows that the author has in-depth experience in this field.  Each section begins with a chapter describing what that particular type of vampire is.  Another chapter or two to drill down on the sub-types and how to protect yourself from them.  Next chapter on what to do when you have to live with an emotional vampire, be it as your spouse, your parent, your child, or etc.  In the event whereby through reading this book, you realize that you may be one, fear not.  There is a final chapter on therapy and self-help.

A book on psychology is often dry.  But not this one.  I have chuckled a fair bit while reading Emotional Vampires.  The following – my favorite – may have quoted out of context.  Nevertheless, it shows the lighter side of the materials.  In this excerpt, the author’s intend is to illustrate what a Daredevil is.

Women are socialized to recognize what needs to be done and to do it without being asked.  Lower-order creatures, like men, children, pets, and emotional vampires, cannot be trained to be this perceptive.  They must be given specific instructions.

If a woman sees a sock on the floor, she will pick it up and put it where it belongs.  If a man sees a sock on the floor, he will assume it is there for a reason and step on it.

Any stereotypical statement you might make about men applies to Antisocials, especially Daredevils.  They are masculinity made flesh.  As we will see shortly, Histrionics are the walking, talking personifications of feminine stereotypes.

It is difficult to summarize a practical guidebook that is so full of contents.  Instead, I am going to pick two case studies and share with you how Emotional Vampires benefits me.

Case Study #1: Bullies

I am blessed that my friends and families are not that crazy.  I don’t need to use any of the techniques I have learned to protect myself against them (in retrospect, I think I may want to pass this book to them so that they can protect themselves against me).  At work, it is a different story.  Once in a while, I come across someone who has this anger management issue.  They would yell at people in open office space.  Bang table, even swear at people.  It is impossible to please them.  Anger induces fear and that becomes their one and only modus operandi.  Because things get done when they bang table and scream at people, they continue doing so throughout their career.  If you have not met angry people at work, good for you.  For I have.

What to do about Bullies?  Yield or confront?  Either way, you’ll lose.

Bullies are angry people who have discovered, to their delight, that anger – which they would engage in anyway for its thrill value – also gets them power and control, at least in the short run.  In the long run, Bullies’ anger destroy them.  So what?  Knowing that the vampire who’s browbeating you right now will eventually get his or her comeuppance offers little comfort and no protection.

The hypnotic relationship between anger and fear has stood the test of time, and it will continue until you do something about it.  But what?

The key is to do the unexpected.

The first step is to ask for time to think.  Since Bullies are not normal people, they may want to try other ways to get you back into the battlefield, and not to go through a rational discussion.  There is a good chance that the confrontation may end right there (and you win).  If not, at least you have taken some time to plan the next course of action.

Next is to think about what you want to have happened.  Bullies won’t back down and admit that you’re right.  Would you want to be right or to effectively handle the situation?  Discard any possible outcomes that forces Bully to back down.  They won’t work.

The next step is my favorite: Get the Bully to stop yelling.  It is actually easier than it seems.  First, you should keep your voice soft.  Don’t oblige them by yelling back.  One trick is to say, “Please speak more slowly.  I’d like to understand.”  Reducing the speed will reduce the volume.  No one can yell slowly.  If you are on the phone, there is this ‘uh-huh’ rule.  We usually say ‘uh-huh’ when the other person is catching a breath.  When speaking with a Bully on the phone, stop your ‘uh-huh’.  After a while, the Bully will pause and ask, “Are you there?”  This interrupts the yelling.

Remember, whatever you do, don’t explain.  It is a form of fighting back or running away that fuels the Bullies.  Instead, ask, “What would you like me to do?”  This forces Bullies to stop and think because more often than not, clouded by all the angry emotion, they have no clue what you should do.

The last two tips are (1) don’t take criticism personally and (2) learn from criticism.  These tips aim to make you a better person and deal with the situation with a calm and rational mind.  There is a good chance that by looking from Bully’s perspective, a new solution may emerge.

Case Study #2: Obsessive-Compulsive

In the beginning of this entry, I have confessed that I am an emotional vampire.  I have gone through the checklist in the book and have scored pretty high.  Those who are close to me in real life or in the online gaming world should have no problem observing this aspect of mine.  Over the years, I am fortunate to have met great mentors and loving families who help me mature.  Have I done enough?  How useful is the therapy part of this book?  We are going to find out.

Obsessive-Compulsives see their existence as a battle against the forces of chaos.  Their weapons are hard work, adherence to rules, scrupulous attention to detail, and the capacity to delay gratification into the next life if need be.

Without Obsessive-Compulsives to do the unpleasant and painstaking tasks that make the world go, nations would fall, businesses would grind to a halt, and households would collapse into utter confusion […] Obsessive-Compulsives want to create a secure world by making everybody Obsessive-Compulsive.  Only then can they be safe from themselves.

1. Always Know Your Top Priority – Checked

The author wrote that I should think about what I’d like to have carved on my tombstone, and work toward that.  The other details will take care of themselves.  Coincidentally, the one most life changing book I have read is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  One of the habits is to begin with an end in mind that uses the same technique.  It is the one habit that I remember the most from that book and I use it from time to time.

2. Judge Not.  Lest Ye Be Judged – Checked

During my younger day as a manager, my supervisor – a great mentor – one day summoned me into his room.  He knew that I was a meticulous person and a competent professional.  His only criticism was on my management style.  The way that I always saw the negative attributes in people.  So he said to me, “Exploit others’ strengths, not weaknesses.”

After that day, I seek to recognize good things on people before the negative stuffs.  It helps, a lot.

3. Goof Off – Checked

The books says, I should spend a little time every day just sitting and doing nothing.  Learn to relax.  I knew those moments of I idly waiting for my wife to get off work everyday are in fact doing good to me.

Note to myself: The next time I go for a walk after lunch, stop playing with my phone.

4. Specify Products and Don’t Meddle in Process – Checked

It is true.  People with my kind of unique personality often get lost in the process.  We are famous for not seeing forests because of all the trees.  Once upon a time, my mentor said to me, “Manage the outcomes, not the process”.  That was also the defining moment when I switched out of micro-management style and have a much better life thereafter.

5. Criticize Only on Thursdays

And for the rest of the week, praise others for the things they have done right.  Only criticize on Thursdays, including the things I do.

I suppose I could pay more attention to my inner thought.  Perhaps instead of commenting while driving that “he should signal” or “he shouldn’t speed so excessively”, I should observe the better drivers on the road and say, “look, he gives way” or “look, he signals”.

6. Publicly Acknowledge at Least One Mistake per Day

And two on Thursdays.

You mean I have to admit that I am wrong?!  My friends must be laughing when reading this because I seldom do so.  Maybe I shall put an effort on this.  This seems so … hard.  But I’ll try.

Conclusion

Emotional Vampires was originally published in 2002.  Due to popular demand, the author has released a revised and expanded second edition.  This book is packed with useful tips on how to deal with people who drain you dry.  It is useful to me.  I highly recommend this book for those who wish to live a happier life.  We cannot avoid emotional vampires.  It is best to protect ourselves against them.  And if we can become a better person or help others in becoming one after reading this book, that would be a bonus.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 2 edition (May 25, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0071790950
ISBN-13: 978-0071790956

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