It recently occurred to me that a lot of people, myself included, fall at one time or another into a category very much under-utilised in the field of armchair psychoanalysis in favour of the larger and more popular concepts. And although I don’t ascribe to the simplistic idea that any person is going to be exactly and only this one personality-type, all the time, I found it compelling.
The Emotional Renfield gains his or her energy from consuming the smaller things in life: jokes, songs, pictures, anecdotes. As a natural progression, he or she will gain emotional fulfilment by consumption of larger things that contain the smaller things: stories, movies, ideologies. This isn’t unhealthy in and of itself, although the nature of the consumption and the exclusion of other forms of fulfilment can, of course, make it unbalanced.
The Emotional Renfield is usually quite content and happy with his or her chosen lifestyle, although it can often veer sufficiently from the norm that it attracts attention. In this day and age of Internet memes and viral marketing and bite-sized information blocks for the short of attention-span – not to mention the glorification of the obsessive fan and the compulsive nerd – the Emotional Renfield is in his or her element and often passes by completely unremarked. Metaphorical, emotional bug-eating has become the norm, a celebrated quirk, a way of coming to terms with the abundance of information in our day-to-day lives and the deluge of emotional manipulation we’re subjected to by the information age. It’s an accepted coping mechanism for all those First World Problems we poor, soft, fat denizens of the 21st Century have to deal with.
Heck, emotional bug-eating has found acceptance just like literal bug-eating has found its way into the trendy mainstream. All that biomass, all that sustainability, all that protein. All those legs.
But I digress.
Despite its accepted status and general harmlessness, the idea of the Emotional Renfield speaks of a certain sensitivity, a certain instability or dependence, that can be taken advantage of. Because we all know what happens to the Emotional Renfield when he or she ends up anywhere near an Emotional Vampire, don’t we?
This is what Stoker said about Renfield:
Sanguine temperament, great physical strength, morbidly excitable, periods of gloom, ending in some fixed idea which I cannot make out. I presume that the sanguine temperament itself and the disturbing influence end in a mentally-accomplished finish, a possibly dangerous man, probably dangerous if unselfish. In selfish men, caution is as secure an armour for their foes as for themselves. What I think of on this point is, when self is the fixed point the centripetal force is balanced with the centrifugal. When duty, a cause, etc., is the fixed point, the latter force is paramount, and only accident or a series of accidents can balance it.
Okay, I don’t know about the “great physical strength” bit, and I don’t think I’m dangerous, but that’s the point of it as an analogy – emotional Renfield as opposed to literal (or literary). This is basically me, and I believe it applies to a lot of people, at least some of the time.
Put simply, the Emotional Renfield is laid-back, but prone to [geeking out] [fanboyism] [obsessive keenness] [over-investment], take your pick and name your cliché. This is often interspersed with bouts of moodiness, another 21st Century First World classic. When these characteristics are combined with self-centeredness, the result is harmless (if a little annoying): the Emotional Renfield will just jabber constantly about, say, Deadpool, regardless of how few people are listening. Easily ignored.
When the self-interest is replaced, however, with interest in an outside source – the erstwhile Emotional Vampire, for example – the result can be destructive.
Even if it’s completely unconscious, the Emotional Vampire recognises in the Emotional Renfield some set of characteristics uniquely suited to his or her own personality and its almost purely parasitic needs. The Emotional Renfield can provide some warmth, some grounding, some veneer of the normal, upon which the Emotional Vampire feeds. In extreme cases, the Emotional Renfield becomes a hollow shell, the mask that the Emotional Vampire uses to move among the humans and carry out a vicarious life. And driven by his or her own compulsions, the Emotional Renfield completely buys into this, under the delusion that the Emotional Vampire is something – anything – other than what he or she actually is.
Inevitably, the Emotional Vampire makes too many unfeasible demands, has too many unrealistic expectations of the mere mortal Emotional Renfield, and the Emotional Renfield is consumed and burned out. Or the Emotional Renfield finds some other external source, something that overrules his or her host-parasite relationship with the Emotional Vampire, and stands up in defence of that new source. The Emotional Mina, if you will. The usual outcome there, as in the book, is that the Emotional Renfield’s initial burst of will expends itself and his or her usual helplessness returns, followed by a violently petulant outburst from the Emotional Vampire that leaves the Emotional Renfield shattered.
Now, it’s a common misconception that the Emotional Renfield owes all his or her issues and faults to the Emotional Vampire. That fits nicely with our modern-day “Nothing is your fault” mentality, doesn’t it? The truth is, it’s his or her existing flaws that make him or her more susceptible to the Emotional Vampire than your average person – nothing more. And for this reason, the Emotional Vampire and the Emotional Renfield are a natural personality dynamic, just as the literary equivalents were a natural narrative dynamic.
Again, as I have said, this is not a set of personality traits that will uniformly and precisely and permanently apply to any one person. Some days you’re the Vampire, some days you’re Renfield. Some days you’re Keanu in that movie version, just watching the entire plot happen while onlookers can only guess at the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing because damned if you’re going to show even a trace of it on your chiselled Poker God face.
Still, something to consider.