How to deal with energy vampires?

If friendships leave you feeling drained instead of empowered, you need to act. Below, we describe some red flags of toxic friendships and what steps you can take.

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Ideally, a good friendship is something that enriches your life. You talk about your highs and lows, get support when you’re having problems, and – naturally – help your friend with their issues.

But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes friendships can turn problematic. You give way more than you get, everything is all about the other person, they expect you to be there for them 24/7, but at the same time they’re barely interested in you. The other person is not happy for you when something good happens, but rather reacts with jealousy or envy. All these things are signs of a toxic friendship. And, according to Roger Staub (64), Managing Director of Pro Mente Sana, over the long term, they can even be bad for your health. “If your relationship feels like a burden and someone is constantly draining your energy, you need to do something.”

Other typical characteristics of an “energy vampire” include: being inconsiderate (they do what they want, don’t keep their promises, don’t answer your messages – and all without apologising), act as if other people are more important than you (at a party, they focus on others instead of you), verbal abuse (they embarrass you in front of others), and manipulation (they try to get their way by any means, including lying).

Some relationships develop into toxic friendships over time, but with some people it’s nearly always the case. Staub recommends: “When it comes to extremely narcissistic or egotistical people who only use others as a decoration for their own lives, it’s best to stay far away from the beginning.” However, for most well-balanced people, this is a natural reflex. Needy people or people who quickly feel lonely are more willing to accept this kind of imbalance out of a fear of having no friends at all.

But what should you do if you have identified the problem and you want to make a change? “If the friendship is important to you, you should start by honestly addressing the issue to see what the other person’s reaction is,” says Staub. If the other person is receptive, you could try to find a joint solution in order to find a better balance in the relationship. However, if that doesn’t help and you still want to save your friendship, he recommends finding professional support. “Like couples therapy. If you value your relationship, then the investment is worth it. Because it’s not easy to make new friends.”

However, if all of your attempts to improve the situation fail, you only have one option left: to end the friendship. “You can either do this subtly, by no longer contacting the person and seeing them less and less, or even better: end the friendship honestly and immediately with an in-person conversation.” You can also do this by phone or with a letter. “I recommend doing what you would want someone else to do for you in this situation.”

And if you’re the toxic friend and you want to better yourself? Staub recommends short-term psychological counselling. “This will allow you to reflect on what has happened and develop strategies for how to improve. If you approach something like this openly, it can have a positive impact on your whole life.”


T stands for “tiring” – because a toxic friendship can drain your energy.

O stands for “obstructive” – because it often impedes your own personal development.

X stands for “eXhausting” – because toxic friends exhaust you with their unreliability and their demands while at the same time offering you nothing in return.

I stands for “intimidation” – because these kinds of friends criticise you and make you feel like you’re not good enough.

C stands for “conditional” – because, often, they only give affection when their conditions, or their own needs, have been met.

You can find more tips for your mental health at iMpuls or at Pro Mente Sana. The foundation is supported by the Migros Culture Percentage.

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