As you can probably guess from some of my blog posts, I’m a big proponent of practicing good self-care. And there are many different ways we can practice self-care; regular exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, and one of my personal favorites (and the subject of my REST blog post)- a habit of good sleep. But over the years, I have come to realize there is another really important aspect of self-care that many of us don’t exercise frequently enough that is critical not only to our health but to our enjoyment of our lives, and that is practicing healthy boundaries with unhealthy people. The figurative VIP rope we establish to allow access to our interior lives.
I find that one of the main stresses that my family law clients experience is having to deal with the angry, unreasonable or downright abusive actions of their spouse or partner. These are sometimes just garden variety hurt and angry individuals, but more often in my experience they are individuals with significant personality disorders or mental health problems; the narcissist, those with borderline personality disorder or other serious anger management problems. In these situations, the hypervigilance that is required to deal with these impossible partners leaves many of my clients feeling worn out. Oftentimes, angry and abusive conduct that can no longer happen in person is channeled through co-parenting of children or through litigation tactics themselves. And the question becomes how do reasonable people navigate these unreasonable situations? How do you disengage from this abusive dynamic?
I recently read a fantastic book that I am literally telling all my friends about, “Dodging Energy Vampires: An Empath’s Guide to Evading Relationships that Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power,” by Dr. Christian Northrup, M.D. Dr. Northrup categorizes the type of difficult individuals I laid out above as “vampires,” and categorizes the dynamics of the vampire relationship as one in which the “vampire,” manipulates others for their “narcissistic supply.” “Narcissistic supply” is “ a concept introduced into psychoanalytic theory in 1938 to describe a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem.” The term is typically used in a negative sense describing a pathological need for attention, admiration from codependents . . .that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people.” She describes this “narcissistic supply” as the blood that manipulative people suck out of their victims- picking fights, creating unnecessary drama and “doing whatever else is necessary to direct energy, attention, and money toward themselves.” She said that you will know whether you have a vampire in your life by how you feel after you’re with them- DRAINED.
Dr. Northrup goes on to describe in detail the health risks that are attendant with being a part of such unbalanced relationships. On a basic level she indicates that this can lead to physical symptoms because of the “chronic, unrelenting release of stress hormones in the body.” Which can also lead to much more serious impact on the immune system and create susceptibility to all kinds of infectious diseases, including autoimmune disease.
Where do we access the proverbial bushel of garlic or wooden stake antidote to these vampires? She suggests that the best way is by creating strong boundaries, developing the ability to say “NO,” and limiting or ending these relationships where possible. Although this may sound impossible when forced to deal with the other person in a family law or divorce situations- especially where co-parenting is required- boundary setting can be a powerful tool in disengaging from unnecessary drama and conflict.
It is clear to me that good boundary setting is a process of not only asserting to the other person how you want to be treated and what you will accept but also a commitment to yourself as to where you will engage and put your own energy. In limiting the access that unhealthy people have to you and your life – you create room for the people and things that you actually enjoy. You also create more space for yourself- your thoughts, your dreams – what YOU want.
Need help getting rid of an energy vampire or creating better boundaries in your family law situation, please contact Georgia Fraser, Esq. of Fraser Family Law Office at 609-223-2099.