4 Ways to Set Boundaries with Emotional Vampires

Emotional vampires can literally suck the life out of you. Here's how to stop them dead in their tracks.

That friend who always (and ONLY) calls when they are going through a breakup. That former colleague who pings you on messenger when they need career advice (never once asking you how you’re doing). That cousin who leans on you for support during her troubled relationship, only to not invite you to the wedding.

If you’re the one who’s always selflessly there for everyone else, congratulations, you could be falling victim to emotional vampires. “Emotional vampires are literally friends or family members who relentlessly and unceasingly suck every last reserve of your emotional energy and time. They are people who have endless crises and expect you to be their rock,” explains Eliza Van Cort, nationally acclaimed speaker and author of A Woman’s Guide to Claiming Space. 

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Unfortunately, while they say they will heed your advice, they almost never do. “So you give advice that isn’t utilized, spend hours offering emotional support, all while never getting support from them,” says Van Cort, which is even more frustrating for the person on the giving end.

This can lead to you feeling drained and stressed after spending hours of your time on their problems. “Emotional vampires can be hard to deal with, and especially if they are an important figure in your life or an older, close relative,” explains Van Cort. For millennials, this can even be a parent.

If this is happening to you, or has happened to you in the past, time to shine some daylight on the sitch and stop those draining Dracula’s dead in their tracks. “You are no longer powerless in this dynamic, and you have the right to set your boundaries, and stand firm,” she states.

Van Cort has broken down four ways you can set boundaries with emotional vampires.

STEP 1: Anticipate

It’s time to listen to your gut. “You know that feeling of dread you have before hanging out with your emotional vampire? You have that because you already know what’s going to happen,” explains Van Cort. “Use that to your advantage, and anticipate. Write a list of what the usual boundary breaking behaviors are.”

You won’t be able to control their behavior, but you can prepare a response. “Take your list and decide which behaviors you will and will not tolerate,” she adds.

STEP 2: Plan

Next, plan how you will respond when the emotional vampire inevitably checks off one of the behaviors on your “do not tolerate” list. “Remember, you have two categories: Behaviors you will and will not tolerate. Decide in advance how you will handle them both,” suggests Van Cort.

For instance, one of the biggest forms of boundary breaking with emotional vampires involves prying questions. “If that’s the case with your emotional vampire, have a phrase ready to go such as “That’s not something I want to talk about” and then change the subject,” she explains. Going in with a plan and being prepared puts you in the proverbial driver’s seat.

The other big thing an emotional vampire will do is talking endlessly about their latest problem without ever wanting to hear about yours. “This can be draining… so remember, you have the right to tell them, “No, I’m not up to hearing about this now,” and move on,” she advises.

STEP 3: Question

Now that you have a plan, “sit down and really have a heart to heart with yourself. Are really ready to follow through with your plan and stand your ground?,” asks Van Cort. You know that they’re toxic, you just can’t seem to stop yourself from responding to every one of their unending calls and text messages.

If you aren’t quite ready to follow through, ask yourself these questions:

What do you want from your emotional vampire?

Are you repeatedly allowing your boundaries to be broken because you are searching for something that you want and will never get?

Once you figure this out, you will be able to better understand why boundary setting is so difficult and better able implement your plan, she urges.

STEP 4: Modify

You may need to modify the plan a bit once you have really thought about these questions, and that’s okay. “Do what you are up to doing,” says Van Cort. “Be gentle with yourself. If you allow your boundary to be broken, don’t treat it like a diet that has gone bad. “Well, this boundary has been broken so I might as well fall into old habits!” Realize that this is normal, and then simply be cognizant of setting the next one,” she explains.

Your future self — that less stressed version of you who doesn’t dread her phone ringing and actually gets to the gym uninturrupted — will thank you.

Jené Luciani Sena
Jené Luciani Sena is an accredited journalist and internationally-renowned bestselling author, regularly seen on national TV outlets such as Access Daily, Today and Dr Oz. Touted as one of Woman’s World Magazine’s “Ultimate Experts,” she’s a TEDTalk speaker and a busy Mom of 4. Read more
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