This article was first published in the March 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Most people know the feeling of loss of emotional, mental and even physical energy after a bruising encounter with another person. At work, we don’t bother to analyse this feeling any further, although we do sense a draining of energy. We tend to consider our relations with those we share the workplace with as pretty much given and accept many an irritation as just part of the job. The truth, though, is it doesn’t have to be like that.

We live in a time when it is fashionable to be under constant stress; indeed, it’s almost the done thing to be exhausted when getting home in the evening. This socially acceptable fatigue is really an act of self-deception. It underlies deep emotional stress, which slowly builds up in our immediate social environment without our being fully aware of what is happening.

Let’s assume that everyone is potentially surrounded by energy suckers or - to use a metaphoric concept - by psychovampires capable of causing emotional stress. Before we attempt to find a cure, it’s worth taking a closer look at the psychological mechanisms of this vampirism and its roots.

The bad news is that there is no one typical vampire type. But regardless of cultural background, location or gender, we can identify at least a dozen types that come in all sorts of different guises - the Snare Vampire, the Yes But Vampire, the Depressive Vampire, the Monument Preservation Vampire, the Ice-box Vampire, the Ignorant Vampire, the Polite Vampire, the Nosey Vampire, the It Wasn’t Me Vampire, to name just a few. In my book, Psychovampires, these and more vampire types are fully explained. But in this feature we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics and effects of just one of them: the Snare Vampire.

Snare Vampire

We’ve all had the bad luck to come across this type at some point in our careers: the despot disguised as the boss. He - or maybe she - is egocentric, totally overestimates himself (we’ll stay with a man because there are still too few women at executive level), rarely allows any contradiction, knows everything better and regards himself as completely irreplaceable. Once he’s sniffed out a potential victim, he puts an invisible rope around their unfortunate neck and squeezes it to give vent to his repressed desire for recognition and the need to get his own work done first. His unsuspecting victims don’t feel the rope at first; it’s only later that they begin to choke.

The Snare Vampire is unreasonable, despotic and considers himself irreplaceable. Most of this breed are narcissists and likely to suck their co-workers dry. For their part, his colleagues can never do anything right for him and are the victims of his trap. All too often a Snare Vampire is a boss who strangles the motivation and spirit of his own employees.

How it works

The Snare Vampire boss enters the office of his finance manager without knocking on the door and tells him he urgently requires a complete rundown of the business’s finances for his forthcoming presentation to the board of directors. ‘This has absolute priority,’ he says.

As a man - or woman - of conscience, the finance manager puts their own important projects on the back burner and begins on the work for their boss. A few hours later that boss storms back into the finance manager’s office, demanding to know how all the other projects are going. The finance manager is at pains to point out that they’re now working on the urgent rundown of finances that has been demanded, to which the boss replies with some disdain: ‘Someone in your position should be able to do several jobs at the same time.’

Duly downcast by all this, the finance manager’s good mood is spoiled for the rest of the day. Their first reaction is anger but they keep that to themselves. Situations like this recur every single day, and the medium-term effects on the manager take the form of psychosomatic disorders (stomach cramps) and demotivation. Their thoughts turn increasingly to quitting and going to work somewhere else.

Wonderful me

There are different flavours of Snare Vampire but the dominant one is the narcissist, who firmly believes that his affairs are of far greater relevance than those of his fellow men. This vampire shows a total lack of empathy in the emotional world and his experiences with other people, yet at the same time is hypersensitive to any criticism from others. Rage and disdain are his reactions to any adverse comment from his peers.

Very often the Snare Vampire is at the mercy of a need for instant gratification. In children, it is seen as perfectly normal (up to a certain age) for them to demand the immediate fulfilment of a wish or need. Sadly, this behaviour is also prevalent among certain adults. There’s the boss who summons his employee to the office because he wants something done immediately, although he could easily discuss the same matter with the employee at the meeting due to take place in the next hour. Or there’s the colleague who’s annoyed when someone doesn’t answer their mobile phone straightaway because he has to speak to them - now! Such unsolicited behaviour puts victims under even more pressure.

The Snare Vampire’s victims are often characterised by a need for recognition from others and the tendency to seek the reasons for failure in themselves. They constantly strive to please the Snare Vampire and, like the vampire who ensnares them, they too suffer from low self-esteem. They often idealise the vampire because they fail to recognise that the psychovampire himself suffers from a lack of self-confidence.

The psychological mechanism

You can’t win. Whatever you do, the oppressor is going to put that rope around your neck. People who come into contact with the Snare Vampire are victims of his fundamental distrust in the abilities of others, which in itself is an indication of the psychovampire’s low self-esteem. He must put people down in order to feel better himself.

A good image to illustrate this is a seesaw, the sort you find in playgrounds: if I push the person at the other end down, I go to the top of my end - by doing others down, I raise my own self-esteem. Unfortunately, the effect does not last for long. Since there’s no rational reason for mistrusting the abilities of his fellow men, the Snare Vampire can reasonably be accused of delusional behaviour - he relates everything to himself and interprets actions as hostile and personally directed against him.

The Snare Vampire antidote

Once you have become aware that your opposite number is a narcissist - hat is, someone who can never get enough praise and recognition, and for whom you can never do things right – just leave it at that. Reflect on your own core strengths and abilities, and simply stick to your agenda without letting yourself be distracted.

This might be easier said than done as the cause for this loss of energy is rooted within the victim, so reflection on personal reactive behaviour is key to becoming immune to any vampirism.

Practice shows that we must recognise and understand why someone may be experienced as a psychovampire by some people but not by others. Which button does the psychovampire press and what mechanisms does he release in his victim?

The answer to this depends primarily on the self; the vampire is only the trigger for an untreated, subconscious internal conflict that has existed in the victim for a long time. One suggested way of reflection could be to think and act more mindfully when a tricky situation arises. In other words, you can anticipate your own classic reactions and predesign new proactive possibilities to break your patterns, and take more control over your own, self-determined actions as a result.

Connie Voigt is an executive coach and co-author of Psychovampires