Have you ever met a psychic vampire? They are the people who always leave you feeling drained, who want your time and attention incessantly, but offer nothing in return. I’m an empath, and a softie, and when I was younger this made me especially delicious, and vulnerable, to such folk. I’m older now, and I’ve learnt how to protect myself better. Maybe reading this can help you too.
My most notable encounter with an energy feeder happened about fifteen years ago. For the sake of decency, I shall protect the vampire’s identity and call her Elaine. That was not her name. I met her when I was at a difficult point in my life. I was single, after an emotionally unhealthy relationship ended, and both of my best friend’s had moved away over the previous year or so. I was working in an emotionally exhausting job supporting newly arrived refugees to settle into the country, under the brutal and inhumane NASS system. There is not a more vulnerable and desperate, yet hated and reviled client group in the country. Most people who asked me what I did for work would respond with Daily Mail fuelled vitriol when I told them, and I was listening to soul destroying accounts of rape, violence, and war every day. It was exhausting, and I was a prime victim for a hunting vampire. They circle like a shark, scenting for the blood of the wounded.
I was working late one evening, desperately trying to find accommodation for a pregnant girl who was punch drunk with exhaustion and despair. I had just placed her, and was finally locking up ready to trudge home when the phone rang. The temptation to let the answer machine answer was high, but I was standing next to the handset and a sense of responsibility and obedience caused me to answer it. The caller was a woman, Elaine, who had been a doctor with Medicine Sans Frontiers in Bosnia. She was planning to set up a counselling service for survivors of the trauma of war. She wanted to liaise with our agency to ensure she set up the best possible provision. I explained the office was closed, took her details, and assured her someone would be in touch soon to discuss it further. And so began the most bizarre episode of my life.
I can’t remember if I told my directors about the call, or just decided to follow it up on my own anyway. We didn’t have a team leader, and the charity directors were under investigation for fraud, so we dealt with most things within our team. This is another sign of vulnerability to attack- being a hero.
Anyone who has studied counselling in any form will know about the transactional analysis drama triangle, devised by Stephen Karpman to demonstrate the roles we take when we play games with each other instead of acting transparently and with self- awareness and responsibility. The triangle, with hero, victim and abuser, one on each point, offers a clear visual aid to the theory that if you will allow yourself to play one role; you will end up playing all three. The role to aspire to is the role set to one side, away from the sliding sides of the triangle. That’s the role of the reasonable adult, who refuses to play games.
I didn’t know any of this then, and regularly flung myself into the role of hero/ rescuer, and so slid into the role of victim just as easily. I like to think I never became abuser, other than to myself, but maybe I’m kidding myself, made I did harm I don’t recognise. If I did it was never intentional, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with! (I love this picture by Amy Garner that shows how we can play out each role at once)
So, the wounded, widowed doctor, who wanted to rescue me from the corrupted charity to help her do real good, just as soon as she received her compensation, was irresistible to me. Phone calls became chats over coffee, and we quickly became friends. She showered me with compliments, heralding me as someone she trusted in a world of people she didn’t. That’s a warning sign to watch out for, a slavering of praise, intermingled with dependence. It is very attractive initially, but becomes a tightening noose over time.
Insidiously our friendship became suffocating. She took me to Brussels with her to give her evidence at the war crimes tribunal, but only left the room for half an hour, so could not possibly have attended the meeting she spoke about. She showed my reams of paperwork from doctors and hospitals cataloguing her injuries, but a little voice in the back of my head reminded me of when my friend and I created letter on headed paper for her over controlling parents. Clever photocopying allowed us to create realistic letters about essential courses she had to attend, on selected dates when we wanted a night out. Don’t ever ignore your inner voice- it’s singing up for a reason, and let’s be honest, has it ever been wrong?
I hushed the voice, reminding it that she hadn’t looked for me, hadn’t been seeking help. She’d phoned the charity offering help; this was just a rough patch, just a flare up of her PTSD. This is another thing prey don’t realise about the hunters- they are fishing all the time, they bait their hooks with tantalising morsels and dangle them in fertile hunting grounds. After-hours at a charity is a good bet, anyone still there is likely to have a bit of a helper/ hero complex.
Next, she started to use me to back up her stories, and add believability to her background. I started to get suicide threat phone calls, and I’d rush round, and then I would be the one to call the out of hours doctor, to describe her situation and pain, so they would come out and inject her with super strength painkillers. Then she would send me away again. She had a hundred reasons why other people couldn’t help her, and her demands on me became worse and worse. By now I’d handed in my notice to the charity. The terrible conditions had turned the staff against each other, and I’d tried to straddle both camps, unwilling to take sides which had resulted in my isolation from both. She had not been interested in any of this, and had disappeared on the days I needed support. I had started a new job with an agency after four weeks out of work that left me terrified I would not be able to pay my mortgage. There’d been no sign of her during my dark night of the soul. Classic psychic vampire, only interested in someone when there’s energy to extract, attention to garner, once that’s drained they lose all interest.
I met the man who would become my husband, and she had no interest in meeting him, but being loved and having a new job where I was appreciated had restored me, and she was interested in that. She started demanding my time and attention again, but I was wary now. A clearer mind had stacked up the evidence against her, and I was starting to listen to the alarm bells that were sounding, the defence of her approach to the charity had worn thin. She started to text me as her own friend from a different number, pleading with me to continue to support Elaine, but she muddled up which phone she was texting me from. This playing helpers off against each other, or the threat of it is another key warning signal, it’s a form of control.
I didn’t abandon her.
I phoned her G.P and told her all my concerns so professional help could be put in place, if it was required. Then I text both the phone numbers what I had done. I did not hear anything from her again.
That is the biggest warning flag of all, anyone who will not engage with the help and support available, but expects you to do it all for them. You see professional support will have been trained to avoid feeding the psychic vampire. They will construct the support offered around the basic remit that the supported individual takes responsibility for themselves. A genuine individual, who is going through a tough time and needs assistance will welcome this, indeed insist on it. A psychic vampire will want others to do everything for them, while claiming their victim is the only one who understands them, the only one with the exceptional skills to help them. The vampire will use your own vanity and kindness against you. Don’t let them.
This was when I started my counselling training and learned about transactional analysis, and so learned how to protect myself from further predation. I don’t rush to offer help anymore, I sign post to professionals who are paid to assist. If someone is receptive to this, then I support them to engage. I do not make myself available day and night anymore, my phone is kept on silent, and I only respond to texts. I can send these on my terms. I talk about my own needs and if the friend does not respect these, or offer care in response, then I stop responding to them. I only want friends who offer in return as much as I offer them. I still have to be wary and take care, my first instinct is still to rush in, but I have experienced total burn out now, and I am determined to never reach that point again, and that means looking after me first.