Gossipers. Compulsive talkers. Self-centered people who take selfishness to a whole new level. These are examples of potential emotional leeches.
The term “emotional leech” itself sounds terrifying, and while not all of them are as bad as the word suggests, you do need to learn to protect yourself sooner rather than later.
The best way? Allow yourself to be emotionally detached, to not care so much, to deliberately turn off your emotions when they’re around. We’ll have a look at how to deal with emotional leeches in a minute, by the way.
But first, here’s a brief definition of the term, as well as a list of the ten most common types.
Emotional leech: definition
Parasites, technically speaking, survive by feeding off someone else’s energy. An emotional leech is a person with a tendency to feed off other people’s emotions.
An emotional leech will somehow manage to steal some of your positive emotions and feed off them, so they can feel better (have more energy) and you will feel worse (have less energy).
Another term to describe emotional leeches is energy vampires. They are often synonyms, and you’ll find that the end result is basically the same — an unhealthy, unwanted transformation of energy.
The act of taking vital energy from others isn’t even that rare, nor is it necessarily evil. We all do it, to a certain extent.
The issue with chronic, compulsive, soul-sucking emotional leeches is that 1) they do it all the time, often unconsciously, and 2) there is a clear lack of balance.
Meaning: you interact with them and the person whose mental and physical energy will decrease will always be you. It’ll never be them. Also, the energy decrease could be totally exhausting. Which is all but healthy.
Types of emotional leeches
Some people see the glass half-full, some see it half-empty. Then there’s a third category: those who don’t even see the glass.
Ever met a person who just couldn’t appreciate anything, who would always look at the dark, imperfect, depressing side of something — including themselves?
Not only are extreme pessimists totally unrealistic, not only does their attitude prevent them from being objective; they are contagious. If you spend enough time around them, you’ll notice a big drop in energy and enthusiasm.
Basically, people who ask for time, favors, money, advice, or anything else, all the time. As if you had an infinite amount of patience and resources. Huge red flag.
Though emotional leeches steal your… emotions, they may do so by taking from you in general. If you’re in a parasitic relationship, then what you give is ten times more than what you receive.
The most obvious sign of that is you being always available, or efficient, when it comes to helping them, and them being “too busy”, or “broke”, or “clueless” when you need help.
Nothing wrong with the occasional small dose of gossip, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. But that’s not what emotional leeches do.
The third type of emotional leech is the one that talks behind your back, that smiles at you and then says horrible things about you. In fact, it’ll never be just you — they do it with everyone.
Now, malicious gossip can be caused by pure stupidity. But emotional leeches use it as a tool to, you guessed it, lower your emotions and energy so they can feel a bit better about themselves.
Any issues in their life simply “happened” to them. They are not responsible for anything. They are totally perfect, and other people simply take advantage of them.
And the world is evil, and life is unfair, and so on. Sounds familiar? Those who play victims can also be emotional leeches. They use their (often self-created) circumstances to complain, complain, and then complain some more.
And lower your emotions in doing so. It’s a great way to steal people’s attention, as well. Before we realize they are emotional leeches, we naturally tend to listen to them, to give them our time, because we are compassionate.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the type whose ego is beyond gigantic, and whose needs are a million times more important than anyone else’s (at least in their mind).
Narcissists lack empathy and, most importantly, feel superior. They are always superior in some way. Again, in their own mind.
So their superiority complex often leads them to take from others, and manipulate others’ emotions so that the narcissist feels in control. By the way, that’s the only way for them to feel safe — to always be in control.
6. Compulsive talkers
I have met a few myself, and honestly I couldn’t even believe they could talk so much. Literally switching from one topic to another just so they could keep talking forever.
I’m an introvert, and I’m quiet most of the time, so I guess it was even more of a shock to me. Either way, that’s the sixth potential type of emotional leech — the compulsive talker.
It has nothing to do with being friendly, or outspoken. It’s a way to attract attention. You’ll find that compulsive talkers are often extremely needy and insecure.
Similar to pessimists, with the difference that these will actively warn you about the absolute worst case scenario of everything. Especially things you would like to do.
I remember reading an article about successful people being more likely to focus on the positive outcome of a path, e.g. expecting things to go well rather than some catastrophic scenario.
Well, some people are the opposite. If you were to listen to their advice, you’d basically sit in a room and do nothing. Because everything is so risky and scary.
8. Control freaks
Those obsessed with perfection and getting things right all the time often create their own personal hell, which is bad enough.
But then some of them will go even further and expand their control freak attitude to others. They will actively try to control those around them, often in abusive ways.
If you’ve ever been in a toxic workplace, you may have met a few. These people want to control you, so they can control your emotions, so they can feed off them — hence, emotional leeches.
9. Invasive people
When someone is invasive (e.g. asks intrusive questions, calls or texts inappropriately), you may feel emotionally drained, and in most cases that’s exactly what they want.
Remember, emotional leeches feed off your emotions. They need you to be vulnerable to then steal your positive emotions.
By being invasive, emotional leeches make you uncomfortable in some way. Their aim isn’t to find out more about you; it’s not information per se, but a change in your emotional state.
10. Fake people
Lastly, emotional leeches can be people who are just… fake. Their words are fake. Their behavior is fake. And they probably have fake friends as well.
Naturally, this creates a lot of tension. Being spontaneous and honest doesn’t require any real effort; lying and being fake does. The more fake a person is, the more tension they will accumulate.
Not only that, it will affect you as well. Imagine being complimented by someone who you know is fake. How do you react? Chances are you’ll be forced to pretend, to be fake as well. So even more tension is created.
How to deal with emotional leeches
Emotional leeches love empaths and all those who genuinely like to help others, simply because they are more vulnerable.
But the good news is that even if you do belong to this category of people, you can still learn to protect yourself — and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
A few quick tips, in no particular order:
- Learn to say no. The more you’ll give, the more they’ll take. While it’s natural to help and care about your friends, toxic people will take advantage of your good nature and use that to steal your time and energy. Practice the art of saying no politely and you’ll already be in a ten times better position.
- Be emotionally detached. The more you react emotionally, the easier it will be for the vampire to achieve his or her goal. But if you remain calm (or at least pretend to remain calm), emotional leeches will have no power over you. So when they start talking to you, don’t raise your voice; don’t change your posture; don’t smile unless you want to; and so on.
- Surprise them. When emotional leeches approach you, they usually expect a specific reaction. For example, they bombard you with negativity and expect you to feel sorry for whatever terrible thing just happened to them. If your reaction is absurd, or the complete opposite of what they expect (for instance, if you start laughing), they will be very confused.
- Ghost them if necessary. The thing is, while it is possible to tell someone they are toxic to your health and expect them to understand, in some cases you’ll have to end all contact simply because it’s the only way. This is especially true for the most insidious types, such as abusive narcissists. You may feel sorry for ghosting them, but remember, nobody has the right to interfere with your mental health.