Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2, Episode 11. “Ted” Buffy is right, vampires are creeps.
Using the metaphor of an emotional vampire to describe some manifestations of personality disorders is not a new concept. I think the comparison makes for an interesting discussion, but I am not trying to paint with a broad brush and say that all people with personality disorders are vampires. Instead, I will write about the abusive behaviors attributed to personality disorder traits that some individuals display and light-heartedly discuss the similarity to vampire mythology (not sparkly vampire mythology, Buffy vampire mythology).
Both vampires and narcissists come from dark beginnings. Vampires are born when their human self is murdered and narcissists are born through childhood abuse. The human the vampire was becomes trapped beneath the demon that takes over their body, just like the real personality of an extreme narcissist is trapped under the personality disorder that has taken over their thoughts and behavior.
Like many descriptions of vampires, some narcissists are very charming and seductive at first. Classic vampire characters like Dracula are often described as having powers of mind control, convincing their victims to do things they normally would not want to or altering their memories and perceptions. Thankfully narcissists are not as cool as Dracula, and while their gaslighting and lying can be painful, they do not have superpowers. Vampires famously thrive on sucking blood from humans, while narcissists thrive on their narcissistic supply, sucking the energy out of those around them. Here I do not mean energy in a spiritual sense, but a very literal sense. It is exhausting to deal with an emotionally abusive person, and narcissists can be exceptionally draining.
While vampires seek to kill their victims, abusive narcissists will settle for killing their spirits. As I mentioned in my post on Complex PTSD, the helplessness and hopelessness that comes with enduring long-term emotional abuse is often described as a “death-like” feeling. Some victims of vampires are merely killed, but others are transformed into vampires themselves, similar to how narcissistic abuse can create new narcissists. A vampire forces the human to feed off their own demon-contaminated blood and usually chooses to make a new vampire for their own agenda. Narcissists do not create new narcissists quite so consciously, but it is necessary for the narcissist’s venomous behavior to be absorbed by the victim to turn the victim into a narcissist, much like a human must consume a vampire’s tainted blood to be changed. Narcissists, like vampires, try use the monsters they create for their own gain.
For a narcissistic parent, the victim most likely to be transformed into a narcissist themselves is their golden child. Though not all golden children fall into the habit of behaving like their parents, many are not only allowed, but encouraged, to be narcissistic. On the other hand, the victim most likely to be pushed to the “death-like” sense of helplessness and hopelessness is the scapegoat child. Some professionals I’ve talked to have even described the way scapegoat children are treated as the abusive parent attempting to psychologically kill the scapegoat — destroying the person they see themselves as and replacing it with a false narrative of failure. The narcissist views all their children as extensions of themselves, and just like vampires who kill all their victims regardless of turning them into vampires themselves, being a golden child or a scapegoat to a narcissistic parent can result in the same feeling of a “death of self” in place of the identity created by the narcissist. But unlike vampire victims, emotional abuse victims can break away from their narcissistic abusers and find their actual self.
In Buffy’s world, people lose their soul when they become vampires, which is what allows them to feel no guilt for their actions. Many vampires take great pleasure in the violent acts they commit. Narcissists are often described as people with “a hole in their soul” and by definition lack empathy, unable to see their behavior as harmful. Narcissists consistently seem to find glee in the pain of others. A classic example of this that I have experienced is parents that will outright laugh at a child for crying or feeling other reasonable emotions, which serves to teach the child that their feelings are a joke to you and less important that others’ feelings.
While most vampires in the Buffyverse are soulless, the phenomenon of a “vampire with a soul” comes up exactly twice. Once the soul has been returned to a vampire, they begin to feel guilt for all of their previous evil behavior. Like vampires, narcissists rarely feel guilt for their actions, and while it is possible for a select few narcissists to become self-aware and feel guilt, it is very rare. Narcissism is a disorder based on the belief that the narcissist is without fault and the narcissist will go to any lengths to protect this image. By definition narcissists are unable to be honestly self-critical.
How vampires and narcissists come to their lack of guilt and empathy is quite different. Vampires feel no guilt for their evil behavior because they just simply don’t care. The complete disconnect from others is more similar to sociopathic behavior than narcissistic. Sociopaths understand that others see things as right and wrong but do not care if their actions are wrong. Narcissists also know right from wrong, but care deeply about other’s impressions of them, and will go to extreme lengths to repress their wrongdoing. A sociopath cheating on a partner might openly admit to it and brush it off as “their partner’s problem” while a narcissist cheating on a partner might deny it to the point of gaslighting their partner and even themselves.
Perhaps the most helpful concept I have found in the comparison of vampires and narcissists is the extent to which narcissists rely on their narcissistic supply. Keeping up the facade of perfection and repressing their bad behavior requires a lot of psychological effort on the part of the narcissist. The more people they can rope into this delusion to enable their distorted reasoning, the easier it becomes to maintain their image. While there’s no part in the vampire/narcissist metaphor for enablers, they are a key component to emotional abuse, and something I will definitely be writing about.
Apparently it’s a week for vampy posts here at Cognitive Caribou, as this discussion of emotional vampires falls in the same week with my photos of black lipstick. I wanted to keep this post short and sweet, since taking this metaphor too far gets weird fast. My plans for upcoming posts related to emotional abuse include an overview of some fMRI studies on both personality disorders and PTSD, more in my series about “Things Dysfunctional Parents Don’t Teach US”, and as mentioned above, some discussion of abuse enablers. If you’re reading this and have thoughts on or stories about narcissistic vampire types, please don’t hesitate to comment and add your view!