Thursday, July 19, 2012

Social Vampires in the Family: Watching Out for the Pointy Parts

I’ve had some interesting discussions with friends and family of late. I’ve listened as they’ve laid out their stories of the mother-in-law, the sister, the brother, the parent, the child who is the person  at the center of their worry that is stirring the hurricane that threatens the peace of their home. I’ve seen the depth of their anxiety over how much or how far or how long they are required to try and quell the storm their wayward relative insists on resurrecting day after day and year after year. It knots their stomachs and drains them of resources both physical and emotional. Let's call this post a pre-emptive strike for anyone who has a social vampire relative and  also has any sort of financial success and stability in their lives, because you will, forever, smell like fresh blood to your family fanger. This Blogisode is for you and all those of us who live with the fang marks of past attacks on our necks and still get up every day to care for our own.

Issues of all proportions eat away at us. If you ask a professional therapist what the number one source of continuous stress is among us, they will tell you it is family issues and dysfunction. There isn’t a family on the planet who does not boast a cast of characters worthy of a soap opera, a sit-com or, in the extreme, a psychological drama that can leave you drained and depressed. Back in the 1970’s, I actually chose to walk out of a theater showing Ingmar Bergman’s classic, Scenes from A Marriage, because I couldn’t believe I paid money to watch something I could see at home any day of the week for free. It’s so much harder to walk out of a family and harder yet, to shut your door on a family member who is knocking for reasons that can harm you and your own loved ones like the death of a thousand cuts.
Recently, theaters, bookshelves and family dinner tables seem to be the unwitting hosts to the new threat to simple, happy living: vampires. Movies and books are filled with good looking, wealthy, educated bloodsuckers that play more like rock stars than villains. If only the family vampires could be so cool, we might even be able to forgive them the “accident” with the family dog.

Family vampires, social vampires aren’t looking for actual blood; they latch onto the jugular vein on a family and they suck until every ounce of goodwill, patience, forgiveness, money, second chances and compassion is as dry and useless as a Phoenix street in August.
When a family member approaches, or rather, when they demand financial and/or emotional support, as the potential benefactor, we have the vantage point of historical precedence for their current situation. We have been witness to their lifetime of events and we know that this is not a situational emergency at all, but a lifestyle choice. We recognize the familiar sharpened fangs of a social vampire when we see one, even when they share our own DNA.

Some people chose a life as a circus performer and their every day work puts them, literally, on a high wire with or without a net between them and the thirty feet to the ground. Performers train and learn how to walk that narrow wire and every time they place their front foot out and take the second step, they have committed themselves to the task at hand and accepted the responsibilities of the job. The same can be said for firefighters who bravely walk into a burning building to save us, knowing full well that this may be their last day. They do it anyway because this is their calling and because they chose this life and choose it again every day when they wake up.
Anyone can find themselves in a rare but desperate situation, even those who do not choose to live a life where danger or risk is required of them on a daily basis.  It happens. Jobs end, natural disasters strike or serious illness befalls them and they are suddenly without shelter, without funds or without assistance when they need it most. And though there are some instances when a financially solvent, independent and fully functioning person is suddenly unable to cope, there are far more instances when the person “in need” is working their latest angle to extract money from others rather than finally getting the mental health care and occupational rehabilitation that they really need.

As a family member, we know the long history of events that led the needy relative up to this moment. We have watched for a lifetime, as each choice they have made has kept them on a risky and fiscally irresponsible path and we know, without a doubt, that they chose, of their own free will, to live a precarious life and that their occupation of choice is one of a social vampire: a panhandler and professional victim.
Granted, individuals who live this lifestyle choice are predominantly those who suffer borderline personality disorder or other undiagnosed mental health care issues. Most of them have been encouraged by family and friends to seek mental health care assistance. Many have been offered the payment of that mental health care if they accept and follow a doctor’s prescriptions and recommendations. When they decline the help they really need and instead, keep their hand out for a cash infusion, they will eventually come to the end of the money train and, sadly, the end of their family member’s patience and goodwill.

On their own and fresh out of smaller emergency situations that historically netted them a cash infusion, they often turn to attaching themselves to larger, more dramatic relief efforts funded by church or government monies. At the new source, they hope to latch onto the constant flowing milk teat of a cash source that is too large and busy to ever do a detailed background history that might expose their mental health care issues. Like all good vampires, they will feed and then form new families of others like them that can identify replacement sources after they have drained their access to their current source.
The social vampires who have managed to live a marginally functional life often haunt the internet  and you will find them attempting to rally others together against the “system”. Read: relatives who have had enough and have cut them off. They join support groups for issues that they have no connection with, and they select them based on outrage factors alone: child abductions, etc, much the same way tabloid papers select their cover stories; by shock value. They can smell the blood of pain and tragedy and they know that where that scent exists, innocent donors will be drawn to it and a fresh source of what they want will be available for the taking, if you can jump on the sympathy train.  Each time there is a natural disaster, the stories of some person trying to collect benefits who wasn’t anywhere near the tragedy come floating up in the news like a rotting piece of meat in the sea of compassion.

Individuals who have worn out their own families feed source often become these same predatorily driven people who are drawn to tragedy like a shark to blood in the water. They have a religious resume that reads like a Wikipedia file on random belief systems as they have tried them all on like t-shirts at Wal-Mart, and left them on the floor after they realized the shirts weren’t free.

Often, they appoint themselves as a crusader for issues they don’t actually have and when their expertise comes into question from actual victims, the social vampire moves on to fresh feeding grounds. You’ll find them all over the Internet posing as “concerned citizens” trying to promote efforts with poorly organized online communities. The sites hold a few threads of chat that die off from lack of any real forward motion. Healthy individuals, who were unlucky enough to have stumbled onto these social vampire sites, will naturally gravitate away from them, leaving web pages and chat groups flailing like a running vacuum hose awaiting the next taker to be sucked into its machine.   

There is nothing as tragic as being forced to end contact with a family member who has chosen a life of social vampirism. Lost are all the opportunities for a shared familial experience; celebrating or supporting one another throughout milestone events, witnessing the lives of their children and grandchildren and comforting one another as we lose family members along the way. Breaking the ties with these damaged individuals means an early loss of a loved one that rides the same rails as the loss of a family member to dementia; they are still alive but gone from who they ever were. We don’t make the decision to cut the ties easily or lightly and it is always done so that we have a chance to preserve our own family; done as in the removal of a gangrenous limb so the remaining healthy body can continue to live.
For the social vampire, the pain of rejection by a family member always cuts deeply because family is the first source of belonging. As in all forms of vampirism, the social vampire never considers the pain that their bite or the life threatening blood loss has on their victims as they bleed them dry of cash, patience, second chances and compassion. Their only thought and their driving force, is their need to feed on whomever has a little bit more than they do and they feed with a vengeance and a sense of entitlement, coveting others lives and property as if it was their own.

And beneath it all, in the quiet stillness of their long nights living in their own personal hells, they know exactly who they are and exactly what they are doing. They know full well that their financial responsibility is their own and not that of their child, their sibling, their parent or other relatives. They look in their own mirror and if they still retain a shred of their former healthy, human lives, they can see that they are 100% responsible for everything they experience and they also know that getting the real help they need and following it is their only chance to be able to walk in the daylight of functional life once more. Again, they know exactly who they are and they are fully aware of what they are doing at all times. Hold no delusions of their ignorance.

Admitting there is a problem and seeking mental health care are the first steps toward a life worth living. Getting the help they need, living that healthy and responsible life day after day is the path that must be walked for any chance of ever reconnecting with others. This is their only choice to build a healthy and happy relationship with people, young and old; who would be in their life if they finally turned away from the road they have chosen.
Each morning, like the tightrope walker, the firefighter, the accountant, the hotelier, the waitress or the nurse; the social vampire chooses their profession. It is a choice and not a situational emergency and the only way today will be different from yesterday for them is to choose differently as they open their eyes when the sun comes up.

NEW NOTE: 30 August 2013   
WOW. This has been a popular post! Perhaps, because we all have at least one of these creatures in our circle of family or friends. And so it is...