[NOTE: This is an excerpt from my recently released book Choices for College Success (Boston: Pearson Education, 2011, page 221.) While the book addresses student success, the topic for this blog applies to all of us.]
Toxic people can “poison” our lives on various levels. Perhaps it is a physically abusive relationship or a psychologically demeaning relationship. In whatever manner they come to us, these toxic people seem to take the life right out of our bodies, figuratively and literally.
In her book Positive Energy, Judith Orloff writes of energy vampires –people in our lives who are continually draining us of energy. They whine about their lives, berate us for our actions, and monopolize conversations. When they finish with us, they feel more energized; we feel exhausted, having had our energy zapped.
The metaphor of an “energy vampire” is powerful. It could be a classmate, an instructor, a friend, a roommate, a coworker, or even a family member. The experience may be subtle–you are not sure what happened, but you feel more tired than you did before a particular person talked with you. At other times, you may literally feel the energy draining from your body as the person moves towards you. [Note to the reader: On my first CD (Same Tune, Different Song) I wrote a song about these people, aptly titled Energy Vampires. You can hear a clip here.]
Energy vampires do not typically engage in conversations; rather, they typically deliver a monologue about their maladies, opinions, or prejudices. In short, these people spray toxins into your environment just as real as if you immersed yourself in a polluted river.
Two cautionary notes must be added to this description. First, as with many things in life, there are shades of gray; not every situation is black or white. Obviously, a friend who comes to you in distress about a traumatic event that just occurred is not the same as the person who continually drains energy from your relationship. Second, any encounter is a two-way street. If you frequently find yourself in draining relationships, it would be wise to evaluate your actions. Do you do something that draws these types of people to you and encourages their behavior?
Finding “nutritious people” for your life
One way to protect your energy and sanity is to associate with nutritious people. These people help to neutralize the poison spewed by the energy vampires. A nutritious person has three main characteristics that stand out:
• When this person sees you, he is genuinely glad to see you. His face brightens with a smile.
• When you speak, this person listens to you. She asks questions about what you have said and about what matters to you. She exhibits a genuine interest in what you have to say.
• The nutritious person accepts you as you are. He does not try to make you into someone he would like you to be.
The more nutritious people we have in our lives, the better. It is almost as though we can feel our energy level rising just by seeing their faces. Be grateful for their presence in your life. And then ask yourself: “Am I a nutritious person for other people?”
© Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog, 2010.