There is only so much that you can control in life. You can control what you choose to say to others, you can control how you present yourself in most cases (we see you chronic pain and depression survivors) and you can control what you put out into the world. What you cannot control is how people perceive and react to you.
It’s easy to let things like this eat you up, but it is important to learn to push that negativity out of your life to the best of your abilities. While it’s nearly impossible to push out the effects of systematic issues like racism, ableism, sexism and so forth, you can control who you let into your life on a personal level.
Find the psychic vampire and slay their ass!
Okay, so, maaaybe don’t go all Buffy with a wooden stake, but it’s time you take stock of how these people are affecting your life and figure out how to mitigate the impact. We’re not talking about the mythological psychic vampire who actively feeds off of the life force of others in order to live eternally, but it’s not that far off. These people feed off of the time, energy and efforts of others and give nothing back. They come in many different forms, so it is important to be able to identify them and the effects that they have on you.
Huge personalities, entitlement, lack of empathy and withholding are the hallmarks of a narcissistic personality. When people talk about psychic vampires, this is usually the first type that comes to mind.
This is not to say that everyone with this diagnosed personality disorder is to be distrusted or unloved — their struggle is just as real as anyone else. Those with NPD suffer from egos so incredibly fragile that the slightest hint of criticism sends them over the edge. They are incredibly emotionally injured people who do not have a clue how injured they actually are, because most of that damage has happened at a young age through an abusive relationship with their mother, father or another primary parental figure.
Narcissists navigate the world with a sense of entitlement: the world is lucky to have them, so anyone in their life better give them exactly what they want. This makes being a friend or lover to one incredibly difficult, because their response to the slightest push back is to withhold warmth or leverage anything else that they provide for you in order to get the submission and praise which they demand.
It’s easy to fall in love with a charming personality, but incredibly difficult to be in a relationship with a narcissist. Those with textbook NPD are unable to experience empathy. Luckily, full-on NPD is very uncommon and there are only about 200,000 cases diagnosed yearly in the U.S. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is most commonly diagnosed within male-identified people ages 19 to 40 and can be treated with aggressive therapy, multiple times weekly.
Co-Narcissist can also be a problematic force in your life. They crave the drama of relationships with narcissists so much that they cannot or choose not to have romantic relationships with any other type of person. Not everyone who is in a relationship with a narcissist is an inverted or co-narcissist — only the folks that absolutely cannot be in relationships with any other people.
These people are deeply co-dependent and will cling in unhealthy ways. Like narcissists, they may threaten extreme behaviors and do whatever they must to remain in the relationship, regardless of what pain and abuse are inflicted upon them.
Why mention this type? Well, sadly, these unhealthy relationships will always come first. The incredibly toxic behaviors of their partners will often overshadow your friendships and other relationships with these people and their often dangerous relationship dynamic may become part of your relationship with this person. It isn’t impossible to have a healthy friendship with these people, but you do need to know these things before opening up your heart and life to them. Set limits for yourself and them, and give them more of yourself as they prove they can be trusted.
The Drama Queen/King/Monarch
Drama queens can be fun, but at the end of the day, it’s exhausting to be around them. As a reformed drama queen, I can attest to the fact that it is as exhausting to be one — I speak from a firm but empathetic space. The queen finds themselves in a different kind of trouble nearly every damn day and it’s usually the result of their own bad decisions. They want to process everything about their lives with you, but rarely ask you how your day is or are there when you need to do the same. These behaviors can be linked to personality disorders, but not always.
Often, this personality type acts out when it is either not being paid attention to or, as often happens in the more masculine manifestation, feels as though they are not being respected. “This person was probably invalidated throughout their childhood, or probably hasn’t been heard or cared for or had a support system,” says Tali Shokek, a psychologist in Towson, Maryland. “People could say, ‘She has a histrionic personality; she’s borderline,’ whatever,” Shokek says. “The fact of the matter is, the underlying thing is probably post-traumatic stress disorder, and possibly depression and anxiety.”
To keep intense personalities like this in your life, draw strong boundaries. Let them know that you want to listen to them and help them because you are their friend, but that you cannot do that without reciprocity. If they keep disrespecting that stipulation and refuse to show you the support and empathy that you need and deserve, stop giving them your time and energy. Stop responding to the panicked text in the middle of the night or picking up the phone. Make yourself unavailable, but don’t just ghost. Tell them that when they can start prioritizing your emotions and mental health in the same way that you prioritize their feelings, you can start making time for them once more.
“You have to set limits in how you’re going to be treated,” Dr. Robert Fraum, an NYC-based psychologist, says. “You can’t permit a person to indulge in uncontrolled rage reactions or jealousy. It can’t be all about them.”
I may be about to lose some of you here, but stay with me. I am not talking about those with deep PTSD issues who truly have been victimized and tormented. The Victim is someone who refuses to accept any agency in their decisions and the consequences of them. This person refuses any fault at all times, and in their eyes is only a victim of circumstances.
Constant victim-playing is an act of abuse and manipulation. The creation of victimhood is also used as a way of seeking attention and a coping strategy — if it’s not your fault, then you are not responsible for the consequences and do not have to do the soul-searching and inner work to own those actions and growth. Growth and responsibility are uncomfortable and The Victim wants nothing to do with it.
It’s common for abusers to engage in victim-playing, which is a form of gaslighting, in order to draw the true victim in and discredit them. These expert manipulators use this tactic to get pity or sympathy, to evoke compassion in order to get something they want. Kind people can’t stand to watch others suffer or be in pain, so The Victim plays to their empathy to get whatever they want from that person. The Victim may also be an alcoholic or addict that is seeking someone to enable or rescue them. When called out on it, the response is usually something like “Look how hard I’ve tried!”
“To break the hold of the negative complex, and to escape the passivity of victimhood, requires taking responsibility for one’s own desires and long-term actions,” says Pauline Young-Eisendrath in Women and Desire.
The Controller exerts a strong influence on everyone around them. They do not want their loved ones to move beyond their own station in life, as it makes them feel that they are being left behind.
They may boss you around, check in on you constantly or manipulate you in other ways. They might push you into dieting or eating behaviors, consumption of substances and alcohol, assert their preferences over your grooming and style and assert their beliefs so strongly that you cannot voice your own and have to pretend to adopt theirs. If it is a platonic relationship, they might hate your partner and try to force you to break up with them.
This moody brooding type is likely to also have explosive anger. Their friends and loved ones must tip-toe around them in order to not stir this anger, but may have great difficulty doing so. Unfortunately, The Controller often does not tell you what they want, but expects you to read their mind and their moods. They may blow up if you express a different opinion than theirs, even in jest, as it feels like an affront to their authority.
The Controller, like The Narcissist (often one and the same), will build you up to break you down. They often shower you with compliments and praise, and a lot of the time it is completely inaccurate, as often seen with controlling parents. A controlling partner may put you down to make you feel inadequate, and then tell you how lucky you are to have them. The controlling friend may tease with a mean-hearted undertone and then tell you how you are their best friend. They constantly talk about how the rest of the world is awful or evil, without any regard to the fact that they are, indeed, part of that world.
Trust your gut.
If a person makes you feel bad when you are around them, separate yourself from them. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel better when they are not around?
- Do I become physically tired after being around this person?
- Does my relationship with this person hurt the relationships that I have with other people?
- How does this person treat people other than me?
- Do I feel good about myself and my life when I am with this person?
- Is my life more complicated in a negative way because of this person?
- What do I truly get from this relationship?
Sometimes a Venn diagram helps, or simply a list of pros and cons. When the negative outweighs the positive, it’s time to detox that negative person from your life.