“Jo – oh -oh!” oh good lord here we go my inner voices mutters as I hear the client graft a couple of extra and unnecessary syllables, Scooby Doo style, onto my sufficiently syllabled name. “Can you just…….?”
I feel her metaphorical teeth sink in as the energy-care-attention suck begins once more. This is an emotional vampire at work: crossing boundaries, coercive, manipulating, neediness slathered in niceness. She’s twisting the power dynamic of me-as-trip leader to her-as-client to weaponise the customer service imperative and ensure my attention rests solely with her. She’s tried and failed to feed off the others in our small group recognising she has little leverage beyond the cursory civilities of social norms. On the face of it her questions and asks of my time are minor and reasonable – stacked up they reveal a relentless need for attention and indulgence. Feed me, feed me! She’s vacuuming up my soul!
Emotional vampires are everywhere! In the bar, in meetings, in coffee breaks between meetings, in friend circles, in our managers and leaders, and, of course, in us.
So what can we do if an emotional vampire starts circling?
Let’s borrow from the vampire slayers of supernatural fiction. Whilst we are not aiming to slay vampires, we do want to slay vampirish behaviours. What do Van Helsing, Buffy, Cruz et al. use? One trick is to bring the vampire into the sunshine – to shed some light, bring their undercover behaviours into the open, re-establish boundaries and name the behaviours as we encounter them (in Transactional Analysis terms this means responding to their Child with Adult). For example: ‘I’m sorry, this isn’t the time for a conversation about X’; ‘You seem to be directing a lot of your attention to me at the moment. Why is that?’ ‘I’d like to talk with other people in this group, so let’s pause this conversation now please.’
A second tactic is the wooden stake through the heart, violent, but sometimes necessary in times of mortal threat. This is the ‘Please stop doing what you’re doing’ moment.
Vampire slaying is harder if the vampiring is coming from your boss, especially a ‘nice’ boss where endless demands that often overstep roles are wrapped in the insidious coercion of ‘could you just…’. The same tactics apply, but we need to be even braver and clearer and more firmly anchored against our own emotional consumption.
Finally, and perhaps hardest of all, what if we’re becoming the emotional vampire? Grab a mirror, look directly at yourself, name what’s going on….. and watch that vampire disappear.