Police Psychology | Brain Eaters
By Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
In Telugu language, the second most popular language in India, they have a phrase that is highly important in police psychology – burra tinoddu. Not to be confused with the “Lion King’s” Hakuna Matata which tells you not to worry and be happy eating grubs and big juicy beetles, Burra Tinoddu roughly means “Don’t eat my brain.” Damn, there are a lot of brain-eaters out there! And, the holidays just bring them out of the woodwork. We all have various interpersonal relationships: friends, family, spouses, children, bosses, co-workers, even the employees behind the counter at our favorite restaurants or coffee shops. In general, interpersonal relationships are very positive, and they are healthy for your own personal growth and development. However, we all have some people in our lives that are just physically and mentally draining. We walk away from any experience with them feeling like we just ran a full-marathon, and then hiked across the Sahara desert, and finished by climbing Mount Everest. And that’s when we’ve spoken to them for five minutes—don’t get me started on how we feel after talking to them for a whole hour. They are worse than zombies when eating your brain. At least zombies don’t talk incessantly.
Police Psychology | Emotional Vampires
In English, we say that person is “taking up too much space in our head,” or that they are “emotional vampires.” What does this mean? An emotional vampire (or a “brain eater”) is someone who drains your energy. They don’t just make you physically exhausted, but mentally exhausted as well. They can make you feel small and worthless, berated by their constant barrage of insults or belittlements, or talk so much they nullify you, or they are constantly scamming you, or trying to control you, or …, — I guess brain eaters come in all shapes and sizes. One zombie fits all, I guess.
They may say innocent remarks such as, “You’re just being overly emotional,” or “Are you sure you need that last piece of pie? You’ve seemed to put on a few pounds this month,” or even, “Well some of you should be proud of the work you’ve turned in…” A brain eater can be very subtle about their desire for brains, and they can be a little smarmy about slipping a comment in, sometimes even with a bunch of positives. These emotional vampires suck all things good and healthy out of you. Unlike a compassionate and understanding person who is constantly looking out for your well-being and health, these emotional vampires take some sort of sick pride in tearing you down. And like all vampires, they woo you in upfront. Don’t look in the eyes!
A lot of it is in the tones they use when they communicate with you, or in their mannerisms as they speak. Like the vampires of fiction novels and television shows, these vampires survive by sucking important energies from you. But unlike popular vampires of the media, these emotional vampires don’t suck out your blood but your positivity, your contentedness, your feelings of love, peace, and goodness in the relationship. They force you to play emotional pinball off of their thoughts and feelings. They tear you down with voices of malcontent and negativity. Most importantly, they take pride in doing so. They enjoy seeing you squirm, seeing your discomfort, your rapid mood change.
Police Psychology | How to Identify Emotional Vampires
Emotional vampires are particularly dangerous because it can be hard to identify them in your life. They don’t make themselves out to be your enemies. Their attacks against you aren’t grandiose or obvious. Instead, they use subtleties and specific language to suck the energy out of you. So, what can you do to help you identify (and remove) the emotional vampires from your life? Well, the first thing to note is that emotional vampires tend to be very self-absorbed and narcissistic. They maintain a relationship with you because, in some way, you are useful to them. Whether you serve as a house to sleep in when they’re in the neighborhood, or a person to vent to, they have some specific purpose for keeping you around. Sometimes family members keep you around just because you are their sister or brother.
Furthermore, the conversations you have with them are typically very one-sided. They get to complain about their day and tell you the latest workplace gossip, but you don’t get to do the same thing with them. They also tend to only see the bad in everything. Usually, the emotional vampires in your life will not tell you about their amazing boss, or the wonderful new restaurant they just went to. Instead, they will talk at length about their domineering employer, and how the service in the restaurant was slow. This will remain a consistent pattern across all interactions and conversations you have with them. If you look objectively at your relationships and you see that the conversations always seem to be about them, and they exclusively focus on the bad, there’s a good chance you’ve just caught your first vampire.
Emotional vampires can come in a few different forms. Some of them make themselves out to be the victim, feeling like the whole world is against them. Others tend to over-dramatize everything and act like a drama queen. Still others are narcissistic and self-absorbed and rarely notice or care for the feelings and thoughts of the people around them. And still others are very manipulative and controlling. The unifying feature among all these types of emotional vampires is that they don’t really care about you and your needs in a healthy way. The best thing you can do is to remove all ties you have with these emotional vampires before they suck the last dredges of positivity and energy from you.
- Raise the Concept of Burra Tinoddu in Your Mind — Particularly when we are young, we tend to think that we are our own masters and we lose the concept that others can have such a great impact on us. Get over that. There are people that will try to eat your brain in all walks of life. There are people who do this as a matter of course. You have to spot the emotional vampire and free yourself from him or her. We also tend to hide behind labels such as a personality disorder, or a difficult person. Some brain eaters don’t really fit that label and may only be a brain eater for you not for everyone. You have to first recognize them before you take action. Just call them a “brain eater,” that will suffice.
- Try Out Your Assertiveness Training – “I need you to hear me, that is undermining what I am trying to do in life and I would like you not say it that way.” “Your opinion is not the only opinion” (repeated several times if necessary which is called broken record assertion). And so forth. Assertiveness is essential in limiting how much brains they eat from you. If you let them, they’ll eat the whole brain and you’ll walk around without a brain for awhile. And believe me, we all have met many people without brains over the years. But if it doesn’t work, you have no choice but…
- AVOID!! — In all seriousness, sometimes you just have to limit the effect these people have on you. Avoid them completely if you can. If you can’t, limit your exposure. If it is a boss, or a father/mother-in-law or someone else you can’t avoid completely, limit their effect on you. You have to remind yourself before every meeting with you say to yourself, “they are going to try to eat my brain, I have to protect myself. I can and will avoid them and their special kind of terror.” Remember burra tinoddu!
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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