I had a friend who I helped out recently. He was in need, and I wanted to help. He’s a good guy and I empathized with his situation. So I extended myself. Turns out that I extended myself to an Energy Vampire. This is what I learned.
I’m not someone who counts pennies, measures relationships in dollars and cents, or the numbers of times I’m invited or appreciated or thanked. On the whole, I am sensitive to, and make sure that I give in ways that are valuable and meaningful to the other person.
I’m not saying that I have no needs, just that I like to help and that my focus is one of giving. But, when I ended up assessing this situation, I realized that I’d supported him in multiple significant ways over a long period of time. And, in reality, I was getting very little back in return in terms of what was important to me.
I tried numerous ways to communicate what I needed, but was not met with a willingness to address the imbalance. Ultimately, my tank ran dry, and giving became sacrificing.
What I learned:
Sacrifice doesn’t belong in friendship. When sacrifice isn’t also accompanied by an internal higher sense of purpose or meaning, and it becomes a pattern, there’s nothing glorious about it. It’s just a way of letting others take advantage of you.
While we all give and get in different ways, it is important to measure up when we’re feeling drained in a relationship, even if, like me, it’s something you’d rather not do.
When anything in a relationship (platonic or romantic) is too out of balance where you’re giving way more than the other person, it’s a setup for future resentment and could point to an Energy Vampire in your midst.
Your Energy Vampire might not be mine
What I’m comfortable giving and getting is different from you or anyone else. What I need in return might be different from what you need in return. But it doesn’t matter. If you’re not getting what you need back in your relationship, and you’ve asked for it with no response or a negative response, you’re likely dealing with an Energy Vampire.
Anger and resentment are useful tools
They are your first line of defense. It’s not the feelings, but what you do with them that matters. You might be reacting or acting out your own drama. It’s important to check that out to make sure your “stuff” isn’t negatively coloring what you perceive to be happening (we all do it…) and act accordingly. Still, feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment are your intuition’s way of telling you that something’s not ok with you. Listen.
Ultimately, love and friendship between adults is conditional
Teeter-totter imbalances are part of an ebb and flow in relationships. We all have better times and worse times, and what we can give and what we need fluctuates. This is healthy. Rigid imbalances are unhealthy. Getting and giving that does not shift back and forth according to life circumstances and the needs of the individuals involved can lead to resentment, frustration, and learned helplessness (Dr. Martin Seligman).
Communicating about those needs is necessary. The willingness and follow through to meet them in a satisfactory way is essential. The other person’s willingness to try to meet your needs is important, but ultimately, if your needs are unmet, their “trying” without outcome still leaves you with an unmet need.
The bottom line is that if your needs are unmet, they are unmet.
Ultimately, if you don’t value what you need enough to say “no” to people you identify as unwilling or unable to meet them, you say “yes” to living unsatisfied. You say “yes” to Energy Vampires.
We all have different timelines for how much energy we’re willing to expend and how long we’re willing to wait for things to change. And whether someone is in our inner circle of people or an acquaintance changes the level of expectations we have. It’s never just black and white.
But remember, in the end, getting enough of your needs met in an adult relationship is the only measuring stick that really matters.
Evaluate relationships and friendships to identify what is and what isn’t working for you so you can communicate well
Here are some questions that were helpful to me. Please let me know what other questions you ask yourself to identify Energy Vampires, or what you’ve learned about Energy Vampires in the comments below!
Questions to ask yourself to evaluate and assess for potential Energy Vampires:
1. In what ways am I expending energy on this person? How much time am I actually spending in these efforts?
- Material goods (food, gifts, essential needs)
- Emotional support (listening, guiding, advising, “saving” from crises, experiences that cost money)
- Financial support (money, rent, utilities)
2. What do I actually get back from this person in material goods, emotional support, or financial support? What interactions with this person gives me energy, brings me joy or satisfaction, or makes me feel good?
3. What do I hope will be different in the person or in the relationship as a result of expending this energy?
4. How different are these hopes or wishes from things as they are in this moment?
5. What is this person’s history of how they relate to other people?
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