Emotional Vampires: Summary & Review

emotional vampires

Emotional Vampires (2000) describes five types of toxic personalities in a professionally accurate fashion, but in simple words, and teaches readers how to defend themselves against antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid personalities.

Bullet Summary

  • Not all vampires are mean: they’re “just” hollow
  • When you are at your weakest vampires don’t see someone in need of help: they see an opportunity
  • Vampires are childish: they see their needs. But they don’t see yours. That can make them dangerous.

Full Summary

About the Author: Albert Bernstein is a clinical psychologist, speaker, author, and business consultant. He focuses on dealing with difficult personalities, a topic he often explores on his website.


The “vampires” of Albert J. Bernstein are some of the most renowned personality disorders:

  • Antisocial
  • Histrionic
  • Narcissistic
  • Obsessive-Compulsive
  • Paranoid

Each of them is driven by an immature and impossible need that, to them, is the most important thing in the world. But to most people, it only serves to make their lives a living hell (if they allow the vampires to do so).

The difference between emotional vampires and other disorders is the impact on people’s lives.
Writes Bernstein:

When people are driving themselves crazy, they have neuroses or psychoses. When they drive other people crazy, they have personality disorders.

I love a good and simple summary :).

1. Antisocial Vampires

Antisocials hate boredom.
They love parties, sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. And in their pursuit of excitement often end up breaking both laws and social conventions.

Protection Against Antisocial Vampires:

Recognize them before they turn on the charm: check their references and their past. What they’ve done in the past is the best reference for what they’ll do in the future.
Get to know them well before you open your heart or your wallet.

2. Histrionic Vampires

They live for attention and approval.
Drama is their keyword. In all sense: what you see is not what you get and they make a big fuss out of everything.
Looking good is their specialty, and all else is an unimportant detail.

  • Think they never do anything unacceptable (either mistakes or immoral thoughts)
  • Their behavior is more directed at fooling themselves than fooling you
  • Many self-help gurus and public speakers are histrionics
  • Seductive histrionic may hit on your BF or hit on your GF not to steal them but for the attention

3. Narcissistic Vampires

They live out their grandiose fantasies of being the most talented, most skilled, smartest, and all-around best people in the world.
Writes Bernstein:

It’s not so much that they think of themselves as better than other people as they don’t think of other people at all.

  • If they can’t win big they find small ponds that let them be big fishes
  • They find people whose need to be needed makes them feel adored
  • Superstar narcissists have super high standards which don’t accept failure from them and the people around
  • They hate passive aggression but attract it because of their aggressive ways of dealing with failure
  • Expect loyalty and can spend quite a bit to get back at people (exactly what Trump says in The Art of The Deal)

Narcissism means never having to say you’re sorry

Protection Against Narcissistic Vampires

They don’t do much of anything that isn’t self-serving. But if you can manage to tie your interests to theirs, then it’s possible they will take you places.
If your boss is a narcissist, says the author, your success and happiness are contingent upon indulging their every whim. Do that, or move I’d add.

Narcissists wear expensive watches so they can look at them when someone else is talking

4. Obsessive-Compulsive Vampires

They’re somewhat opposite to antisocials: they are addicted to safety.
The way to achieve safety is by full control over everything and scrupulous attention to detail.

  • Take long to make a decision
  • Will rarely if ever show appreciation
  • Confuse process with the product: how things get done can become more important than getting it done
  • Puritans and perfectionists are obsessive-compulsive
  • They kill visions: don’t listen only to them when it comes to big ideas

Writes the author:

For people who only want everything to be right, Perfectionistic vampires can cause an incredible number of things to go wrong

5. Paranoid Vampires

They see patterns and things that others can’t.
But since they see a bit too much, sometimes what they see is true and they come up with a new theory or foil a dangerous plan. But other times it isn’t and they just drive themselves -and the people- crazy.

  • Their goal is to reduce ambiguity in life
  • Search for “truth” and explanations where there might be no simple truth
  • Live by concrete rules and expect others to live by them as well
  • Search for evidence of deviation, and they usually find it
  • Moralists, visionaries, theorists (and goo therapists) have a touch of the paranoid

Protection Against Paranoids:

If you are hiding something, they will find it. Tell the truth.

How Emotional Vampires Trick You

Emotional vampires use the same techniques as hypnotists.
They are:

  • Misdirection: focus attention on them, not on what they’re doing
  • Identification: they identify the most likely victims who are most likely to give them what they want
  • Isolation: they isolate victims from others
  • Control: they use your own desires to control you
  • Alternate reality: they create illusions based on what you want and need
  • False choices: put you in a bind where one choice seems impossible. And leverage the fear of negative consequences being bigger than the consequences

And this is how you recognize the danger signs of hypnosis:

  • Deviating from standard procedures: if you find yourself doing unusual things for someone, watch out
  • Thinking in superlatives: when you think of someone as “best” and “most”, it’s a warning sign
  • Instant rapport: it’s usually the result of someone presenting a fake persona just you would like to meet one
  • Lack of concern with objective information: if you feel sure about something without concrete proof, watch out
  • Confusion: if you feel confused don’t do anything until you figure out what’s going on
  • Isolation: if you’re getting too much into them and letting go of everything else, watch out (also read: Psychopath-Free)

Healthy VS Personality Disorders

The author asks: if emotional vampires are a bit like children, what does it take to be a grown-up?

Well, the answer is this:

  • Perception of control: emotional vampires see themselves as victims of fate, “things happen” and they don’t learn from mistakes
  • Feeling of connection: becoming an adult means learning to live by the social rules:
    • Other people are the same as I am: empathy is what maturity is about. To vampires, other people only supply their needs
    • What’s fair is fair: vampires’ idea of fair is to get what they want
    • Others have the right to deny me: vampires believe whatever they want should be given to them regardless of how others feel

Finally, the author says that to grow is to do things that are difficult. But at this one, vampires are better. Because of their immaturity, they operate at the edges of creativity.

Dealing with Emotional vampires

Emotional vampires lack integrity. They are hollow inside.
When they give you something or offer help, they usually have an agenda.

They are most dangerous when you need something and your guard is down. Where most people would then see someone in need, emotional vampires see a golden opportunity.

Emotional vampires see your weakness as an opportunity

The best strategy to contain them is what you’d use on children:

  • setting limits
  • arranging contingencies
  • being consistent
  • keeping lectures to a minimum
  • rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad
  • occasionally putting them in time-out

Emotional Vampires Aren’t Evil: Just Immature

Emotional vampires are not necessarily evil, says Albert Bernstein.

But their immaturity leads them to operate without distinguishing much between what’s good and bad (and what will be good and bad for the people around).
He says:

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.

These are the mindsets that can make them dangerous:

  • My needs are more important than yours
  • Rules apply to others, not me
  • It’s not my fault, ever
  • I want it now
  • If I don’t get my way, I throw a tantrum

My Note: sure, they are not necessarily evil, but some can be.
And sometimes the distinction can only be one of semantics, with the effects being exactly the same.

Also, read:

emotional vampires

Real-Life Applications

Cultivate Your Weirdness & Rebellion For Creativity
The author says that creativity cannot be turned on and off like a water tap.
Creativity comes from rebellion and it’s only called creativity when it produces something useful. Other times it’s called “being weird” or “having a bad attitude”.
People who like things as they are don’t create anything new.


  • All Greatness & All That Work Is From Personality Disorders?

It seems like the author ascribes all that is good in the world to personality disorders:

Though there is plenty of narcissism without greatness, there is no greatness without narcissism

Of obsessive-compulsives, he writes:

Without Obsessive-Compulsives none of the world’s difficult and thankless tasks would ever get done, nothing would ever work the way it should, and none of us would do our homework, ever

Of antisocial vampires:

Most of history’s great deeds of exploration, financial daring, and physical courage have been done by people who would meet the criteria set down here for Antisocial vampires

I don’t know how other readers felt, but to me, it felt like “normal” people without personality disorders do very little for this world. They don’t advance the world, do little thinking outside the box, and present little fringe behavior.
That’s not necessarily wrong per se, but as of now, I am just not sure that’s correct at all.

  • Can You Really Generalize For All of Them?

The descriptions of each personality disorder are superb. But when the author generalizes to all of them, I gotta wonder: can you really generalize about such different personalities?

  • Pathological Giving Because of Male Dominance?

In the chapter on histrionics, the author writes:

This pattern of pathological giving, though not specific to women by any means, does correspond to what has been expected of females throughout thousands of years of male domination.

I disagree that “thousands of years of male domination” pushed any woman into giving.

  • Not All Undiagnosed Illnesses Are Made Up

Talking about histrionics the author says that they “invented the undiagnosable illness”. This might confuse histrionics with hypochondriacs. And I felt that a note saying that undiagnosed does not equate to somatization could have helped.


  • Eye-Opening Information

The information is top-notch.
While I was reading I could exactly point out to a few people I have seen in my life and clearly understand their pathology.

  • Simple & Practical

While the information is from a high-quality, professional source, Emotional Vampires is laid out in simple terms for everyone to understand -and put to use-.
Anyone, with any level of previous knowledge, can learn and improve their social skills with Emotional Vampires.

  • Hilarious

Albert Bernstein writes with humor and lots of innuendos. And that helps to make Emotional Vampires a real pleasure to go through.
His “narcissism means never having to say you’re sorry” cracked me up and is just one of many examples.


Emotional Vampires is an outstanding book to get a quick overview of some common psycho-pathologies.

Like the more famous Dangerous Personalities, it popularizes complex psycho-pathologies, but it does so in a simple fashion that turns out to be very effective and helpful.

But it just happens to do so very well. It’s one of the best, clearest books you can read to get an overview of some of the most common personality disorders.

The more academic type might scoff at the mundanity of the descriptions. But “Emotional Vampires” does a great job of marrying accurate information with a format that is easily accessible to anyone.

Highly recommended to every non-medical reader out there who wants to understand personality disorders.

Check the best psychology books or get the book on Amazon

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