This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, June 12, 2012
Emotional Vampires are drawn to people with positive energy, insatiably soul-sucking your words and energy. They’re toxic and you do nothing positive to help them or yourself when you succumb to their insatiable needs. Detachment is good for you both.
It was a chilling question from the person who asked if I would get real and talk about slaying the emotional vampires in our lives. Slaying conjured up images of a drone attack or a video game. It conveyed an aggressive hostility that is at odds with detachment.
I responded by telling a story. When I first arrived in the United States I knew that I could not return home to South Africa because of my refusal to serve in the military that enforced apartheid at the time. For my own well-being I understood that I needed to create an extended family from scratch in my new home.
Shaun was one of those whom I believed would be part of this new family. My proactive engagement with him brought with it a slowly dawning consciousness that his energy was life-sapping. On my weekly calls to Shaun I would listen to a litany of complaints about those who had wronged, injured or offended him in some way that week. I would unthinkingly move into rescue mode and offer suggestions for how he might engage differently with the world around him.
After many months it dawned on me that the phone calls were unidirectional and that Shaun had little interest in making different choices in his life. In a moment of new awareness I realized that not only could I not save or rescue him but, all importantly, that was not my job! His toxicity was poisonous to me and my well-being as much as it was to him. I was in the presence of a soul-sucker.
Almost thirty years ago, it became my first intentional experience of detachment. I offered our acquaintanceship and the intention for Shaun’s well-being to the Universe. With love I released this relationship hoping that he would in time seek his highest good. It was a liberating moment for me. I later learned that it was for him too, free at last of listening to my well-intentioned advice!
There was a companion detachment. I detached from my own single-minded need and focus on creating extended family. With new awareness I discovered freedom in becoming mindfully aware about opportunities for organically extending my new American family. Instead of clutching at an idealized goal I was free to be embraced by and embrace the life-giving energy of those with whom mutual bonds of relationship occurred more seamlessly.
Two decades later Shaun and I reconnected. He observed a new ease about who I am. I discovered a man who had done equally important interior work resulting in his anger and distrust of others making way for a more expansive, generous way of life.
Instead of slaying emotional vampires, detachment allowed room for each of us to flourish and cultivate our own well-being. It is easy to understand the reactions of those who respond to the emotional vampires in their lives with umbrage, anger, ridicule and pain. Those feelings are real but in choosing to nurture them we imprison ourselves by connecting an IV line of life-draining energy to our own lives.
As I recounted this experience my questioner’s perplexed look gave way to an insight – “I don’t have to choose to do battle with the vampires do I?” she asked rhetorically. Indeed not! The mindful choice to detach is an infinitely more courageous, life-affirming choice. For all involved.
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