25 August 2008 2 Comments
A search for a cookbook (I was looking for Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Puddings!) turned up something else completely. I picked up a book I bought years ago when I was in the midst of being drained. That book is Albert Bernstein’s Emotional Vampires, which offers advice on how to deal with people who drain you dry.
I don’t usually like self-help books but this one is an exception because it doesn’t assume something is wrong with the reader! Instead it offers practical advice on how to deal with the emotional vampires we may have to face at home, at work, and elsewhere in our daily lives. It’s not a ‘why’ book (as in, ‘Why do these people do what they do?’); indeed, Bernstein argues that sympathising with their plights, crises, childhood traumas, do not teach us how to deal with their behaviour. It is a ‘how do I deal with what’s here’ book, breaking down the most common types into five categories, each with further sub-categories. Bernstein has a website that posts the checklists and basic characterisation. They’re quite funny and worth a look — you’re bound to find someone you recognise in there.
Bernstein sums up Emotional Vamps as such:
… Emotional Vampires see the world differently than other people do. Their perceptions are distorted by their cravings for immature and unattainable goals. They want everybody’s complete and exclusive attention. They expect perfect love that gives but never demands anything in return. They want lives filled with fun and excitement, and to have someone else take care of anything that’s boring or difficult. Vampires look like adults on the outside, but inside, they’re still babies.
However, Emotional Vamps are also highly attractive, which is why they attract, enrapture, and finally ensnare, people in the first place. And clearly, they also fill a need for their victims, even momentarily.
The most common emotional vamps I encounter are the Histrionics and the Paranoid Vampires. Of all the types, I reckon these two types are the least likely to change their manipulative behaviour (or their minds), whatever you do. Bernstein offers various practical strategies of coping with each type. It is significant that for the Histrionic (especially the Passive-Aggressive one) and the Paranoid, there are none. In the case of the Passive-Aggressive Histrionic, you just have to praise them or walk away, because trying to reason with them reinforces for them their victimhood. In the case of the latter, you just have to walk away and not speak another word, because anything you say can be held (further) against you in their court of law! And in this court, you cannot even prove your innocence — you are guilty as long as the possibility of guilt has crossed their minds. Tough.
Predictably, these types fall right in the shadow projection of my rational, clear-minded self, which is why my aversion to them is so strong. They embody all that I reject in myself — neediness, and irrationality. On top of that, engaging an other without the right of reply is my worst nightmare. But I’m learning (slowly), I don’t really have to be ‘right’. Only sane. If I learn to embrace the parts of myself I reject, maybe I’ll finally stop offering a fresh pint to these creatures.
Image: Cover of the hardback version. For illustration purposes only.