"The one excitement he really couldn't do without was quarreling."
-- Willa Cather, "My Antonia"
She bounced into a Western New York
health club looking like a "Baywatch"
extra, and salesman Al White couldn't believe his luck when the young woman agreed to have a drink with him after their workouts.
"Jennifer seemed like the perfect woman," White recalls of their first date last year. But it was a relationship that cost him his peace of mind, and almost his job.
"We had only gone out about two weeks," says the 28-year-old bachelor, "and she wanted to move in, which was fine with me." Not for long. His winsome new love soon began bombarding his downtown office with phone calls.
"My boss has no idea how much time she ate up," says White, who asked to have his last name changed for this story. "She was way too jealous, grilling me non-stop about other non-existent girlfriends. All my energy went into reassuring her. We would fight from breakfast Monday straight through the weekend. I was so exhausted, I don't know how I dragged myself into work."
Fortunately for him, Jennifer latched onto another guy -- after several months of accusations and carping. White is still recovering from his time with what some call an emotional vampire.
This Halloween, better watch out for the real vampires. Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is 100 years old this year, and there's plenty of focus on those psychological blood drainers.
"Emotional vampirism," notes Daniel Rhodes in a new book, "Emotional Vampires," published by Buffalo's Prometheus Books, "results from people who crave more emotional energy than they can engender on their own. Therefore, they drain victims of energy in order to empower themselves."
These vampires are -- as the subtitle states -- "Emotional Predators Who Want to Suck the Life Out of You."
"There are people who really thrive on emotional upheavals, tapping into destructiveness," says his co-author, psychiatric care specialist Dr. Kathleen Rhodes, who specializes in psychiatric patient violence. Adds Daniel Rhodes, a journalist who holds a degree in psychology and has authored a number of acclaimed vampire novels: "Virtually all of us, at least people who will admit it, have had those situations. It can really take very serious forms. We've known people who've been emotionally devastated in love affairs."
These predators don't haunt only the relationship front. There are the work vampires, too, such as the volatile, emotional bosses who "actively impair the performance of their staff." Their style is "usually accompanied by arrogance; demeaning employees, often publicly; sudden mood shifts and unpredictability; even throwing tantrums -- all with the aim of focusing attention and power on themselves.
"The result is bad feeling, tension, distraction from the work and general inefficiency. Likely long-term consequences include loss of profit for the business."
Working with an emotional vampire can be more than a pain in the neck, as one victim told Rhodes: "I began having many days of deep depression due to his behavior. When I began to actively complain that I was being sapped, used, fatigued by his unfair behavior, I got the classic 'turnaround' attack: I had been 'pressuring' him."
One clue you're in an emotional vampire office: when you think that if a person "put one-tenth as much effort into doing his work as avoiding it, he'd be at the top of his profession."
Emotional vampirism has been explained as passive-aggressiveness or borderline psychosis. Though not everyone fully understands what these psychological terms mean, everybody knows how a vampire works.
"There are people who do not form healthy relationships with others, and drain them," says Dr. Rachel T. Hill of Hamburg, who treats inmates at Attica Correctional Facility. "Some people cling too close. There are people who play 'approach-avoidance.' But I really think the fascination with the Bram Stoker stuff is almost a personification of our own demons. It's a lot easier to slay a vampire with a stake in the heart than it is to slay some of our demons that are in our heads."
Daniel Rhodes explains in "Emotional Vampires" that he absorbs his "share of random hostility. It was never something I paid much attention to -- until I started noticing that there was a lot more of it around."
Certain types of personal interactions "drained my energy inordinately. These took two basic forms: normal contact with someone I knew -- not argumentative or high-stress -- which would leave me confused, fatigued, weakened." And after bumping up against some strangers, he'd "come away feeling shaken and angry, feeling as if a piranha had ripped out a chunk of me."
Aggressive behavior in general is on the upsurge, he writes. You can spot a psychological leech sometimes by the unnecessary noise he makes when you're trying to work. A vampire can also come bearing gifts. Dr. Rhodes warns against persons who "press gifts on you that you don't wish to, or can't, reciprocate."
"Inappropriate gift giving and unreturnable favors may be seen as a form of manipulation." Even more sinister is the leech who "inflicts the injury, psychological or emotional -- and then gives a gift."
Charming serial killer Andrew Cunanan (who left "love bites" on his victims) often used the gift trap. He would treat pals to expensive restaurant dinners. A few days before he murdered David Madson, Cunanan made an uneasy Madson show off to acquaintances his present of a gold Cartier watch. He also gave the young man with a costly leather jacket and suit. Madson was vulnerable, according to the Rhodeses' theory, because he had a "need to be seen as a very nurturing or caring person." Just what vampires zoom in on.
"He wanted to save people," recalled a former co-worker in Maureen Orth's recent Vanity Fair profile of Cunanan. "David was kind of drawn to people who needed him."
You can avoid the emotional Dracula, writes Dr. Rhodes, through "detachment and emotional neutrality."
Hold your temper. Losing control will nearly always play into the emotional leeches' hands.
In those low-level attacks, too, "humor can be an effective first line of defense."