One of the most important abilities that a human will possess is recognizing, understanding, and sharing other people’s thoughts and feelings. This is known as empathy and developing this sense is extremely important for anyone attempting to establish a relationship or behave with compassion.
By attempting to experience another person’s point of view, as opposed to just their own, empathy allows people to understand where another is coming from. Empathy is a great indicator of how much someone cares for others.
Often people with high levels of empathy will naturally gravitate toward careers that revolve around helping others. Whether through fast-paced environments meeting lots of people such as doctors, nurses, and social workers or through slower-paced one on one interactions that focus on building strong personal bonds such as a therapist, large amounts of empathy will be required. A person that possesses this high level of empathy would be known as an empath.
What Are Empaths?
Anyone that has a higher than average level of empathy is an empath. Empathy is an emotion or state of being that allows a person to connect emotionally and cognitively with another or “put themselves in someone else’s shoes.” This will help them to better understand the feelings or experiences the other person may have and will greatly help in building relationships both personal and professional.
An empath is typically a highly sensitive individual that possesses a sharp ability to sense the thoughts or feelings of those around them. As a result of their abilities, empaths are typically viewed as excellent friends as they tend to be superb listeners, consistently show up for people in times of need, and are often very generous in nature.
Empaths also display high levels of intuition and emotional intelligence.
However, there are downsides to being an empath as well. The qualities that make empaths such fantastic friends are often very hard on the empath themselves. Because an empath quite literally feels the emotions their friends experience, they can become overwhelmed by painful emotions like anxiety, anger, or grief. They also have a tendency to take on the problems of others as their own and have difficulty setting boundaries for themselves or saying no even when too much is being asked.
Additionally, empaths commonly feel drained after spending time around people and have a tendency to be introverted in nature, and require a certain amount of alone time so as to recharge. Studies have shown there may be a link between empaths and social anxiety. Crowds are usually particularly overwhelming to empaths, and they often find they feel their best when surrounded by nature.
Signs of Being an Empath
Just about every human being possesses some varying level of empathy. As children, we are taught to share and, from there, slowly develop a sense of empathy toward others. While some people may possess a higher level of empathy than others, it doesn’t necessarily make them an empath. Empaths are more than just people with a lot of empathy; they have extreme levels of it.
If you experience any of the following signs, you may be empath:
- Other people’s emotions become your emotions: This is the number one most important trait of an empath. Whatever emotion someone near you may be feeling, even if they think they are hiding it, is picked up by an empath almost immediately. It’s not just recognizing the emotion either. It’s almost like you are “absorbing” the emotion and feeling it as though it was your own.
The science behind this phenomenon is still up for debate but there are some things that are agreed upon. What is known is that empaths have highly active mirror neurons which are a part of the brain that reads emotional cues from other people and helps a person figure out what they could be thinking or feeling.
An empath will be able to pick up the tiniest of changes in expression, body language, or tone of voice that may be missed by others. These same mirror neurons that help pick up these subtle changes also cause the empath to live through the feeling as if it were their feeling as well. While certainly a gift, this can be extremely exhausting and overwhelming to live with without a way to turn it “off.”
- The “vibes” of a location really matter to you: Empaths are typically extremely sensitive to the “feel” of the atmosphere in their surroundings. In peaceful and calm surroundings they tend to flourish as they take in these qualities themselves and can rest and relax easily. Places such as a garden, museum, or spa can be rewarding to an empath. Alternatively, empaths will struggle in chaotic or depressing environments as they will tend to drain the energy out of an empath as they will have to fight against these strong negative emotions of the area.
- You understand where other people are coming from: This trait has been argued by empath expert Dr. Judith Orloff to be the core trait of an empath and more important than absorbing others’ emotions. Not all empaths absorb others’ feelings, and there are ways for empaths to learn how to absorb emotions less, but all empaths are able to intuitively sense what others are trying to express even when they themselves are struggling to get it out. Empathy at its core is fundamentally about understanding and connecting with others so it makes sense that this trait would be possessed by all empaths.
- People come to you for advice: Having incredible insight will often mean that empaths are frequently sought out by the people in their lives for advice, support, and encouragement. Empaths tend to be really exceptional listeners and because they experience the feelings and emotions of the speaker, will offer up advice and words directly from their heart. While this may be a worthwhile and rewarding service, it comes with drawbacks. The amount of energy required for a listener and giver of advice can often be a steep price to pay, and some people may take that for granted.
- Tragedy or violence on TV is overwhelming to you: Part of being an empath means that something doesn’t have to happen specifically to you in order for you to experience it. Despite being something far away and without any personal connection, an empath will still “live through” the events of pain and loss. This is true for both a tragedy thousands of miles away in another country and also for the violence faced by characters in a completely fictional movie.
- You cannot contain your love of pets, animals, and babies: While most everyone can agree that babies, puppies, and kittens are all adorable, an empath will experience much stronger emotions for them. For most people being around any of these examples may bring them joy but for an empath, it can be almost overwhelming, and they may not be able to stop themselves from gushing over the baby or petting a dog or cat as soon as they enter a room.
- You have a calming effect on people: Empaths have a strong ability to soothe and calm other people just by being near them. Often unwittingly, people will seek out their most empathetic friends when they experience difficult times just for the soothing effect of being around them.
- You cannot see someone in pain without helping: While most people may sympathize with the struggles of someone, they don’t always help. An empath will almost never be able to simply pass by a person or an animal in need and not at least try to help them.
How To Manage Being an Empath
Being an empath can be overwhelming and draining in an emotional way. For anyone trying to manage their empathy, these are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Set boundaries: Learning how to say “no” can be difficult for an empath but always saying yes and helping others can lead to overcommitting and being drained emotionally. Set clear limits and boundaries with people to keep yourself mentally healthy.
- Practice mIndfulness: As an empath, it’s easy to get caught up in the world around you, but it’s important to set aside time to look inward and connect to yourself.
- Ignore your inner criticisms: Being an empath means that you are more sensitive and are more likely to be vulnerable to criticism, both externally and internally. There isn’t much to be done about external criticism, but the critic in your head can and should be ignored.
- Spend more time in nature: For an empath, a good way to heal and recharge is to spend time in nature. The peace and tranquility can be very soothing for them especially when compared to the busy chaotic nature of cities.
Being an empath means having a strong ability to read and experience the emotions of others. It can be overwhelming and draining at times, but it is also a great gift and makes for a great friend.
The ability to care for others and understand their emotions is one that is often taken for granted. It’s not always easy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is a gift that empaths possess. While at times it may be more of a burden, there are still many ways it can be used to help people.
If you are an empath, it’s important to have an outlet to process your own emotion — one way to do this is through online therapy. Having someone to talk to about how you’re feeling will allow you to be more energy for those around you who seek you out for your support.