“I respect people who should be committed, and are committed.” – Michelle Visage
Before going any further, let’s clarify that this is a serious topic, and I’m not professionally qualified to psychologically diagnose anybody. I’m not a psychotherapist; I’m a yoga teacher with a certification in assertiveness coaching. Nonetheless, leading women’s health pioneer Dr. Christiane Northrup claims that what she calls “energy vampires” are an enormous public health problem that has gone undiagnosed and unrecognized until relatively recently. What do we mean when we’re talking about energy vampires? Psychopaths, sociopaths, and Cluster B personality disorders.
Renowned psychologist and expert in the field of personality disturbances Dr. George K. Simon has spent his 40+ year career attempting to figure out what factors affect character development. Family conditioning, upbringing and hardship can affect a person’s personality, sure, but Simon has discovered that indulged and pampered people hurt people, too. In other words, not all hurt people hurt people.
To genuinely understand why people hurt people (physical, emotional and sexual abuse, etc.), we must look at brain imaging. A team of German researchers using modern brain scanning technology studied the brains of 34 individuals, half of whom had been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). These researchers studied the cerebral cortex—the outermost layer of the brain associated with higher social centers in humans—the part of the brain that regulates self-awareness, self-determination and self-control. The region of the cerebral cortex associated with empathy most notably allows humans to feel both emotionally and logically what others are feeling. Participants with NPD displayed unusual thinness in the region of the cerebral cortex associated with empathy and caring for others—the area of the brain associated with conscience. Interestingly, the degree of empathy missing matched the degree of thinness in the cerebral cortex. Simply put, the degree of empathy lacking is directly related to the malignancy of the narcissism. Functional MRI studies also show marked abnormalities in the cerebral cortex regions of diagnosed psychopaths.
From here it’s important to understand that the great yogi sages didn’t reject the notion that people can be cold, calculating and without conscience. This is why the touring swamis spread yoga around the globe from the late nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. Notable figures of the movement who travelled to North America include: Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yoganada, Yogi Bhajan, and Swami Satchidananda (to name a few). As far as I’m concerned, the great composite teacher Patanjali addressed energy vampires in presenting the fourth lock and fourth key of Yoga Sutra 33: indifference, or disregard, towards the wicked. Who are the wicked? Psychopaths, sociopaths and Cluster B personalities. The vampire archetype that sucks your energy.
Cluster B personalities are a categorization of personality disorders as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), editions 4 and 5. Cluster B personality disorders include: antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.
Starting from the top… Those with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), or ASPD traits, tend to disregard and violate the rights of others. That said, it’s challenging to talk about society’s laws when the laws don’t apply to rich people.
The following excerpt from a short story by Charles Bukowski entitled “A Couple of Winos,” appearing in his book South of No North (published in 1973), eloquently illustrates the above point:
“Burkhart had fucked us from every angle. But we couldn’t holler law because when you didn’t have any money the law stopped working.”
So often we see formal diagnoses among marginalized populations who can’t hold down jobs. I can’t help but ask, however, what about the people who violate the rights of others who do hold down jobs? In the early days of 2019, for example, the world watched in horror as the Canadian federal government, on behalf of Coastal GasLink and with the approval of the BC government, send in busloads of militarized police to dismantle a wooden blockade on Wet’suwet’en territory and arrest otherwise peaceful Indigenous peoples—wielding feathers, not guns—for protecting their unceded (that is, not owned by the Crown) land and waters.
Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.”
Moving along the spectrum, we see borderline personality disorder (BPD), or at the very least BPD traits, acting up when Canadian citizens think that these Indigenous peoples (being forcibly removed from their unceded territories) should be paying for the associated policing costs. It seems to me that brainwashed and undereducated people believe the fairy tale about “handouts.” Why? Because Canada doesn’t currently own its own bank and propaganda is unfortunately convincing.
Vampires manipulate because manipulation works.
“It’s very easy to diagnose a borderline,” said Bob Palumbo, Ph.D. and psychologist with 35 years of experience. “They screw you over, rip you off, commit whatever transgression, and then they blame you for it.”
It’s like being called ungrateful every time you gas up your car.
Author of Dodging Energy Vampires, Dr. Northrup, adds, “Those with borderline personality disorder… operate with what is called intermittent reinforcement—the most difficult kind to deal with. The good men who have been in relationship with borderline women often end up like empty husks by the side of the road.”
Basically, the borderline abuses you by any means necessary until they get their way.
Sound appealing? Read a book called I Hate you, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality by Jerald J. Kreisman, MD, and Hal Straus for more information.
Next, histrionic personality disorder (HPD)—annoying and arguably the least abusive of the Cluster B’s—is characterized by excessive attention-seeking and loud, disruptive behaviour. The self-worth of those with HPD depends on the approval of others. Like narcissists, their energy deflates when they’re not the center of attention.
Like narcissists, Cluster B personality disorders can require a tremendous amount of energy to manage (and thus, drain the energy reserves of those around them), because those afflicted tend to lack self-awareness. NPD sufferers experience an exaggerated sense of self-importance, as well as feelings of entitlement. Narcissists are nonreciprocal and selfish in relationships, as well as envious and suspicious toward the motivation of others. Narcissists are driven by a need for excessive praise and attention, which brings us to narcissistic supply: you are the energy vampire’s life blood.
First introduced into psychoanalytic theory by Otto Fenichel in 1938, the term narcissistic supply describes the interpersonal sustenance siphoned from an environment to bolster the energy vampire’s self-esteem. Either love or lashing out will do the trick.
“Vampires will often pick a fight if things are going too smoothly, just to get a hit of energy,” wrote Dr. Northrup in her book, Dodging Energy Vampires.
As stated, brain scans have revealed that brain regions are affected dependent on level of psychopathy. Primary psychopathy indicates a total lack of empathy. No effective treatments currently exist for psychopaths to recover from the imposition. With secondary psychopathy, however, empathy is muted, and determining factors vary. There is some hope that change could be possible, although the learning curve is steep. Dr. Northrup recommends to assume that the vampire won’t change and to extricate yourself from the relationship. In the context of marriage with children or employment, mediate the damage of being stuck between a rock and hard place. An appropriate support group may help.
To understand brain wiring, an over or underactive frontal lobe is associated with difficulty learning from experience, impulse control and poor judgment. The corpus collosum is associated with acting out. The cingulate gyrus is associated with argumentative, vengeful, oppositional behaviour, and addictions. The occipital lobe, with difficulty learning from punishment, little to no empathy, little to no insight, increased impulsivity and irresponsibility (noting the connection to the frontal lobe). The hippocampus regulates (or deregulates) violence and aggression, and can impair the fear response. And finally, the amygdala is associated with an inability to bond, hypersexuality, irritability, as well as impulsivity.
Because reasoning with a character-disturbed person is as fruitless as reasoning with a 4-year-old, character-impaired people need experiential insight instead, which means they must consistently change their behaviour first. Secondary psychopathy must be moved to a different perspective slowly. Behavioural therapy (not usually couch time alone) with low-end character disturbances is what psychologists report results in a different mindset.
Dr. Simon asserts that, although uncommon, change in low-end character disturbances is possible, while Dr. Northrup says don’t hold your breath.
I once heard Marianne Williamson describe the term every day garden variety as “not special.” When Dr. Northrup refers to “every day garden variety vampires,” she’s referring to people with low-end character disturbances—people we know in our interpersonal relationships to have big hearts and mean well, but come bearing a few Cluster B traits. Nothing that can’t be handled by limiting your exposure to these people. Generous narcissistic people, for example (although an oxymoron), do exist.
I recommend watching Dr. George K. Simon in action as he has mastered what he calls the Art of Benign Confrontation, in which the character-impaired person doesn’t sense malice in the questioner’s heart. Think a nonjudgmental and dispassionate, versus a heated, approach. Personally, I struggle to talk about my feelings with people who don’t care about me or my feelings, and I’ve taken to playing the avoidance card. The biggest takeaway from the assertiveness training for me was to recognize what I was dealing with before it could hurt me (or, I suppose, in the event that it did). When you have a mouth that could be considered a registered lethal weapon like me, the last thing you want to do is give an energy vampire an angry hit of energy. Remember, any hit will do; sympathy, rage, resigned or apologetic submissiveness. Energy vampires literally guzzle the life force out of you, which can lead to all manner of consequences for your health.
Stated more abruptly, relationships with Cluster B energy vampires (including psychopaths)—that is, wicked people—can devastate your health. The immune system requires energy to function, yes? If vampires are stressful, and the body can operate in one of two modes (growth or stress) but not simultaneously, then what do you think that chronic, neurochemical stress response from dealing with energy vampires is doing to your body?
So, when we exercise indifference towards these wicked Cluster B energy vampires, they’re not getting a hit of our energy, our energy reserves aren’t being drained, and their behaviour isn’t being enabled.
Several years ago, as an example, I lived with an energy vampire who drank excessively, and I enabled the behaviour by encouraging the drinking—because it seemed to be the only way the person would settle down (and be nice to me). But, hangovers are ugly (a commitment, really), especially when feeding seamlessly into the next drinking binge.
Leaving a relationship is usually the best way to stop enabling substance abusers, as well as energy vampires. Note here that judgment and discernment originate from two different perspectives. With judgment, we label experiences as good or bad. With discernment, however, we’re aware of our preferences; we’ve sifted and we’ve sorted, and although we understand all experiences exist within the buffet of life (desirable and undesirable), we’re now choosing to focus on what we desire. We don’t need to eat everything at a buffet, right? Likewise, we leave toxic relationships once they’ve served a purpose in our lives, because they are ultimately destructive and undesirable.
Bottom line? You choose the parameters of your relationships, including setting boundaries with energy vampires. Read Dodging Energy Vampires by Dr. Christiane Northrup, or In Sheep’s Clothing by Dr. George K. Simon. In fact, read all of Dr. Simon’s books on the subject matter. And then read Yoga Sutra 33 from Book One of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Samadhi Padi or Portion on Contemplation. And then after that read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. See how your mind synthesizes all of that information.
With neuroplasticity, humans have the ability to change neural connections (thoughts, beliefs, behaviours) in our brains based on one caveat: our willingness to change.
Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), said that willingness is the cornerstone of recovery. And the thing that energy vampires notoriously don’t have is a willingness to change. Vampire behaviour is typically egosyntonic, meaning that energy vampires don’t think they need to change.
Dr. Simon asserts that the burden always has to be on the disturbed character, and their willingness to change. Watch out for signs of contrition (genuine remorse), but be honest with yourself if you’re continually falling prey to “breadcrumbs of change”—or as I like to call them, fakethroughs. Breakthroughs, on the one hand, are transcendent, meaning you don’t snap back to old patterns. With fakethroughs (or breadcrumbs of change), on the other hand, the character-disturbed person nearly always snaps back to abusive and manipulative patterns of behaviour. You’re not likely having a breakthrough with the vampire; you’re more likely having a fakethrough. Understand that the character-disturbed person rarely changes, and don’t take it too personally. Instead, focus on your own growth and development.
Statistics claim that 1 in 5 people is affected by some degree of Cluster B personality disorder, while psychopaths represent 1/25th of the population. When you think about it, it’s one of the only statistics that might not be off its rocker.
Yogi Bhajan spoke of universal compassion in the fourth of five sutras he laid out for the Aquarian Age, while Dr. George K. Simon speaks of the art of benign confrontation. Yet Patanjali, father of modern yoga, called for flat out indifference—indifference, in my opinion, the compassionate response. Perhaps this is where we see purpose and destiny converge, and where we as humankind must work as a team.
Fortunately, leading edge scientific discoveries are beginning to conclude what yogis have known for millenia: consciousness is the epiphenomenon of matter. With very few cultures untouched by Cluster B personality traits—including yoga culture—what does this mean for Earth circa 2020?
Marianne Williamson said, “A cell in the body that forgets it’s here to collaborate with other cells is malignant. And that’s what has happened to humanity: we’ve been infected with a malignant consciousness, the thought that ‘it’s all about me.’ Awakening from that delusion is key to healing our world.”
This takes us back to Astrology (know your delusions) and Yoga (master your mind).
And for Earth’s sake, please stop enabling energy vampires.