I’ve spent a lifetime working in the field of health and healing—first as a conventionally trained ob/gyn physician and surgeon and then later as a global teacher who reminds women about everything that can go right with their bodies. And, even more important, how to make this their reality.

During my decades on the front lines of women’s health, I have seen countless women suffer from seemingly inexplicable health conditions. These women eat well. They exercise. They take care of themselves. They manage families, jobs, homes. On paper, everything looks great, but each time I dig deeper into their lives, I find that there is another person at the root of their problems—a person who seems to be literally sucking the life blood from them. I refer to these people as energy vampires.

Most of the women (and also men) afflicted by energy vampires are compassionate, loving, and deeply concerned about the well-being of the people around them. They interact with the energy of other people to a degree that puts them well past being merely compassionate. They don’t simply feel an observational sadness when they see someone suffer; they feel the same suffering, as if they are having a firsthand experience of the pain they are witnessing. These women fall into a category of people known as empaths. My guess is that if you’re reading this, you recognize yourself a bit in this description.

Until quite recently, energy vampires have been largely unrecognized and undiagnosed by society in general and the medical and legal systems in particular. That’s why so few people understand what a problem they are.

I didn’t actually realize the degree to which they affected the lives of my patients until I began researching them because of what was happening in my own life. As an empath, I mistakenly believed that everyone shared the same empathy and compassion that I have. I assumed that no matter how much harm someone was causing to their families or colleagues that deep down, in their heart of hearts, they were good people who meant well. They were simply acting out of their unexpressed pain and denial. It never occurred to me that there are people who are actually predators—who prey on the agreeableness, trust, goodwill, openheartedness, and resourcefulness of others. I couldn’t imagine that there were people who are nearly devoid of empathy, compassion, caring, and the willingness or even capacity to change. But this is exactly what energy vampires are. They are chameleons who can be master manipulators, getting what they want from others without giving anything in return.

Unsuspecting empaths often open their hearts, their bank accounts, and their bodies in order to help these vampires heal their so-called wounds, which actually don’t exist. This is not because the empath is a fool. It results, instead, from the perfect storm of the empath’s desire to be a healing force in the world, combined with the predatory skills of the vampire—and, very often, the unhealed wounds of the empath, who often doesn’t feel worthy of the best life has to offer.

The truth of this was brought into stark focus for me by a series of romantic relationships and with several close friends and some business colleagues. These relationships were sapping me. I felt like I was going crazy. Losing myself. I was always blaming myself and feeling like I needed to improve something. What was I doing wrong? As it turns out, the only thing I was doing wrong was over-giving to people I thought I could heal without including my own needs and well-being in the mix. I had no idea that many people in my life were energy vampires.

This is actually the case for so many people who form relationships with energy vampires. We don’t even know that we’re dealing with one of these masters of Darkness until we become physically ill, lose our friends, our jobs, our incomes, our fertile years, and eventually even our self-esteem and dignity.

The thing about energy vampires is that they target the people who are most likely to put up with their tactics— and those people are empaths, because we have extremely high levels of compassion and empathy. The energy vampires know just how to use this to their own benefit—and to the detriment of the empath.

But there is hope. The mental health profession in particular and society in general is finally getting up to speed on how these energy suckers work—and how predictable they are. They are identifying personality traits and manipulation tactics. They are figuring out how to recognize vampires and opening up new pathways to leave these relationships.

As an empath, you have special gifts that bring light to the world. Your compassion and empathy are healing salves for the people around you and the planet itself. You were not put on earth to be the energy source of a vampire. You are here to bring your light to the world.

Dodging Energy Vampires by Dr. Christiane Northrup. It can be found online at hayhouse.com or amazon.com.