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BOOK REVIEW: Emotional Vampires

This book has an appealing title and an appealing theme—comparing people with personality disorders to vampires. But my opinion of Emotional Vampires—Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, by Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D., is decidedly mixed.

The book gives a brief overview of personality disorders in general, and then discusses five types of problem people—antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive and paranoid. The author provides checklists to help you identify the problem personalities, and tips on how to deal with them.

Dr. Bernstein’s writing style is breezy and entertaining, and he uses made-up anecdotes to illustrate his points. To be fair, it seems that the book is mostly written for a business audience, people who come up against personality-disordered individuals in the workplace. In fact, the author is available for business consultation, speaking engagements and workshops. Here’s how he describes his presentations on his website, albernstein.com:

Give me a podium and stand back.

In my talks, I try to present a sensitive and humorous view of serious issues that everyone in the business world must face. I try to give useful, step-by-step advice and to leave my audiences laughing — and thinking. Listen to one of my talks, and work may never be the same again.

Successful speakers generally are entertaining. As a book, Emotional Vampires is entertaining. The problem, for me, was that it skimmed over the serious damage these vampires do to others, and underestimated the malicious nature of their actions.

The basic problem with emotional vampires, the author says, is that they are immature. He writes:

Emotional Vampires are not intrinsically evil, but their immaturity allows them to operate without thinking about whether their actions are good or bad. Vampires see other people as potential sources for whatever they happen to need at the moment, not as separate human beings with needs and feelings of their own. Rather than evil itself, vampires’ perceptual distortion is a doorway through which evil may easily enter.

I’m sure plenty of Lovefraud readers would dispute the “not intrinsically evil” part.

Lovable Rogues

Of the five personality disorders discussed in the book, I am most familiar, of course, with antisocial personality disorder. And quite honestly, I was outraged that the section of the book dealing with sociopaths is entitled “Lovable Rogues.” Here’s how Bernstein begins it:

Antisocials are the simplest of vampires, also the most dangerous. All they want out of life is a good time, a little action, and immediate gratification of their every desire. If they can use you to accomplish these goals, nobody is more exciting, charming, or seductive. If you stand in their way, you’re dogmeat.

At the core of the antisocial personality, Dr. Bernstein says, is “a lust for stimulation of all sorts. All the other characteristics seem to arise from that central drive for excitement.” He compares antisocials to adolescents, and says they seldom mature until they reach age 50.

Maybe this is true of run-of-the-mill drug addicts, many of whom are diagnosed as antisocial. But it made me wonder if Dr. Bernstein ever met anyone who was victimized by a sociopath. Yes, they do want excitement in their lives. Yes, they use others to get it. But as many of us can attest, the “drive for excitement” just doesn’t go far enough in describing the motivations of these people. As Dr. Liane Leedom writes in her upcoming book, they are “driven to do evil.”

The description Dr. Bernstein gives of the antisocial personality is accurate, as is the description of how antisocials snare their victims. The author terms it “hypnosis.” He also talks about “grooming,” in which sociopaths seduce you to cross one little line at a time.

But the book also gives the impression that you can deal with a sociopath. Dr. Bernstein lists the “10 elements of vampire fighting strategy,” with advice like “know them, know their history, and know your goal,” and “get outside verification.” He also advises the use of contingencies, as in, “If you do X, Y will happen.” And you have to be prepared to administer Y.

Never, however, does Dr. Bernstein suggest that you might want to get the sociopath out of your life. That scares me. If Emotional Vampires was the first book that someone picked up on the topic of personality disorders, particularly sociopaths, I think the reader would be woefully uninformed. Most of what Dr. Bernstein says is accurate, and the strategies he offers might work for someone on the low end of the disturbance continuum. But if you’re dealing with a full-blown sociopath, I wouldn’t rely on his advice to solve your problems at home.



34 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: Emotional Vampires"

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  1. shabbychic says:

    recovering… Hi. Glad you posted… yes, the “red flag” is one of the things I learned here at LF not to ignore anymore, but I was ignoring red billboards! It’s tough to realize we were in love with a fantasy, you sound like you’re out of the fog. Hope you post again. The people here are wonderful!



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  2. recovering says:

    Hi shabbychic — Thanks for your feedback. It is an ongoing journey of staying clear about boundaries and being realistic about when I might have contact with my ex, so I can be mentally prepared to remember not to get back into the gaminess.

    An example: Shortly after we broke up the last time, he called me six times one evening to report his every step: That he was going to another woman’s house to have sex, then five minutes later called to say, “I’m leaving my house,” then five minutes later called to say “I’m at her house and she’s in the bathroom getting ready,etc. Ten minutes after the last call he made to me, he stopped by my house unannounced and I didn’t open the door — I just called him on his cell phone as he stood outside and told him to go home, which he did. I knew he was trying to get me upset, yet I got a kick out of the whole charade — him trying to make me jealous. He knew I was on to him.

    I know I’m human and have weaknesses, so I don’t want to set myself up to feel like I’d be a total failure if I still have some limited contact with him at this point by phone. Many times I hang up on him when he calls with nonsense. I don’t shoot for perfection, just progress.



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  3. shabbychic says:

    recovering… boundaries, as I have discovered here on LF, are so IMPORTANT I can’t even put it into words! Of course, I was so pathetic I never had any boundaries, but I do now! Your example is a good one of a sick SOB! I’m glad you’re on to him. I would not be able to have any contact, I wouldn’t want to, I’d just mail the checks to repay the loan and not answer his calls! There is no reason why any of us should put up with someone else’s crap! I put up with enough crap from myself, LOL. You’re right, it is an ongoing journey.



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  4. OxDrover says:

    Dear Recopvering,

    Welcome!
    It sounds as if you pretty much already know what you need to DO—limit your contact with him, and as far as “intimacy” with him, that is in your CONTROL of who and when you are intimate with.

    Your comment about “being horny” and possibly having sex with him sounds like you seem to think that being “horny” doesn’t give you any choice in the matter. In fact, we all have CHOICES, and none of us are perfect, but knowing what to do and then choosing to make a DECISION that you know is not beneficial to YOU, is not a “wise” choice. Especially since you know this is not a good relationship for YOU.

    I applaud you for paying this man back the money he loaned you. Many times P actually will “give” or “loan” money to their victims as a way to gain CONTROL over them through GUILT.

    As far as contact with him, and repayment, that can be done by mail and bank drafts or money orders, you do NOT have to have contact with him to pay him back.

    TAKE CARE OF YOU, make careful and wise choices and work on YOUR healing, and YOUR needs, not his. KNOWLEDGE=POWER and you can take back your power, by gaining more knowledge and applying it to your choices. Keep on reading here, and glad that you shared and posted.

    Hang in there, you have started on a good course in recognizing that it is not a good relationship!!! Good luck and God bless.



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  5. popeye1250 says:

    Wow, ths is good info for when I go hunting for sociopaths.
    I like to hunt.



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  6. blossom4th says:

    EMOTIONAL VAMPIRE….I doubt I’ll read the book,since I have enough reading to keep me busy.But how aptly,it describes the way the spath drains you of your LIFE!Many times the thought crossed my mind that my husband was draining me of my lifeblood!And the fact that spaths do this without any guilt feelings!That any ‘plea’ that they’re sorry,and that they’ve changed is like dandelion puffs floating through the air.No substance;fleeting!



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  7. Ox Drover says:

    I actually saw some good things about this book…but if you have read some of the more in depth books it probably is not a “must read” There are actually LOTS of pretty good books out there.

    I recommend this book for people who are not quite read for the DEEPER books on “emotional vampires” (i.e psychopaths)



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