Make us your home page
Working | Psychology

Don't let emotional vampires drain you

Whether you're a decorator or a litigator, probably even if you're an alligator, there's someone around to tax your nerves and, through bullying or back-stabbing or micromanaging, drain your will to live.

Al Bernstein, a clinical psychologist in Portland, Ore., has a name for these types: emotional vampires. "They are everywhere," Bernstein said.

The good doctor first published Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry more than a decade ago. He has an updated version coming out soon and is working on a new book that focuses on workplace vampires, the living dead who haunt our days.

Behind many of these faux-fanged fools, Bern- stein said, there is likely some form of personality disorder. "You have to know how they act and how to protect yourself from them," he said. "The whole idea in dealing with emotional vampires is if you just respond emotionally to what they're doing, you're toast."

Here are common workplace vampires:

Antisocial vampires: The simplest and most dangerous kind, they fall into two categories: bullies and con artists. The bullies are always itching for a fight. And Bernstein said the con artists "create an alternate reality, like a stage hypnotist. They're good at figuring out what it is you want to hear; they'll make promises and lure you into doing exactly what they want because they seem so nice."

Histrionic vampires: These are often very peppy and positive, yet unwilling to listen to any form of criticism. "The kind of bosses who think attitude is everything," Bernstein said. "If you complain about anything, you have a bad attitude." They gravitate toward people who agree with them and shun those who speak their minds.

Narcissistic vampires: These can be people who never actually accomplish anything, yet are legends in their own minds, or actual superstars who do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. A quick example would be corporate leaders who make huge cuts in staff while granting themselves big bonuses. "The attitude is, 'It's okay for me to use other people because they're not as important as I am,' " Bernstein said.

Obsessive-compulsive vampires: These are the micromanagers and control freaks who drain us dry. They're driven by fear of making a mistake. The worst thing you can tell them is, "It's not a big deal." To them, everything is a big deal.

Once you identify a workplace vampire, learn how to drive a metaphorical stake through its heart.

"Everything these emotional vampires do follows a pattern," Bernstein said. "For example, when somebody is yelling at you, what they expect is that you'll either fight back or run away. What you need to do is recognize the pattern and step out of it, do the unexpected. Say, 'Give me a minute to stop and think.' It completely breaks the rhythm.

"To further step out of the pattern, ask questions that require the vampire to stop and think. Ask, 'What would you like me to do?' When you ask someone that, and they have to stop and think, you're a step closer to negotiation. You haven't done what's expected; they can't follow their pattern because you haven't followed it."

With a con artist, you first have to recognize and not buy into their cajoling. Ask yourself, "What does this person actually want from me?" And then make a rational decision whether you want to do the vampire's bidding.

With histrionics, sadly, you must learn to speak their language.

"When you ask a histrionic something, never imply that they're doing anything wrong," Bernstein said. "You want to get them thinking. The only way you can do that is by asking them questions that will lead in the direction you want to go. They've got to discover it for themselves."

Narcissists can never be trusted. Unless you have an agreement in writing, it's unlikely they'll ever do anything to help you unless it benefits them.

Obsessive-compulsive vampires just need lots of care and feeding.

"Do what it takes to reassure them," Bernstein said. "Take notes when they give you their incessant lectures. Give them more progress reports than they could possibly need. That will keep them thinking, 'Oh, he's taking this seriously, I don't need to worry about him. I'll go bother somebody else.'"

Don't let emotional vampires drain you 06/02/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 2, 2012 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours