What It Means to Be An Empath
You know I never knew the term “empath” before in my life until I was about half way through my marriage to a narcissistic sociopath. I had been enlightened by a girlfriend of mine whose therapist hipped her to the term “narcissistic personality disorder" or NPD for short. The “light bulb” went off that this applied to my ex-husband and in my “frenzy” to research everything I could on the topic…I came across the term “empath.”
What Is An “Empath”
An empath is someone who is highly aware of the emotions and energy of those around them, to the point of feeling those emotions or that energy themselves.
Empaths see the world differently than other people; they’re keenly aware of others, their pain points, and what they need emotionally.
It’s doesn’t seem to stop at just emotions either. According to Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, empaths can feel physical pain too — and can often sense someone’s intentions or where they’re coming from. To say it another way, empaths seem to pick up on many of the lived experience of those around them.
The Difference Between “Highly Sensitive People” (HSPs) and Empaths
Many highly sensitive people (HSPs) are also empaths. But, having a high degree of empathy is just ONE of the four traits that make someone an HSP. HSPs are also sensitive to many kinds of stimuli, in addition to emotions.
It’s likely that most empaths are highly sensitive, but not all highly sensitive people are necessarily empaths.
For more info on HSPs, visit this excellent source: https://highlysensitiverefuge.com/.
Are YOU An EMPATH?
There are several clear signs that would indicate you are an empath.
You take on other peoples’ emotions as your own — THIS is the classic, #1 trait of an empath! You not only pick up on others’ emotions, but you may actually FEEL the emotion as if it were your own…essentially “absorbing” it or sponging it up.
Sometimes you experience sudden, overwhelming emotions when you’re in public — Public spaces can be challenging because you might sense the emotions of others around you at any time and without any warning!
The “vibe” of a room matters to you A LOT — Empaths are extremely sensitive to the “feel” or atmosphere of their surroundings.
You understand where people are coming from — This is the core trait of an empath. All empaths are able to intuitively sense what someone is trying to express, even when they’re having a hard time voicing it.
People turn to you for advice — Empaths tend to be good listeners and will often patiently wait for someone to say what they need to say and then respond from the heart. However, people have no idea how much of an empath’s energy it takes to the be listener, advice-giver and supporter. It’s easily taken for granted!
Tragic or violent events on TV can completely incapacitate you — As an empath, even though horrible things aren’t happening to you, you still feel it through your entire being. You may seem to “live through” the pain or loss of the event yourself. Empaths may not do well watching violence or human tragedy, even if it’s a movie or fictional event in a show that others find gripping and entertaining.
You can’t contain your love of pets, animals or babies — An empaths feelings for these things seem to be much stronger than the typical person.
You might feel people’s physical illness too, not just their emotions — When someone is sick or injured, an empath might go so far as to “feel” their ailment as if it’s their own. This means having actual physical sensations like pain, tightness, or soreness. It’s like your empathic brain is not only mirroring but also physically projecting the experience into your body.
You can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships — Relationships are even more challenging for empaths who can sense every little mood, irritation or, yes - even lie from a partner. Positive emotion may “engulf” one as well. Living together just heightens these emotions. Empaths view their homes as a sanctuary where they can get away from the constant demand on their emotional senses. A partner changes and challenges that. Empaths who live with someone either learn to adapt - or compromise with their partner - by having a room that’s their private space, or (extremely important) they seek a partner who respects their boundaries.
You’re a walking lie detector — Someone may have been able to get away with deceiving you, BUT even then you knew something was “off” and you were going against your gut instinct from the start! The thing about an empath’s ability to process even the tiniest social cues means that it’s almost impossible for someone to hide their true intentions. You know if they’re not being completely honest — or if they seem shady.
You can’t understand why any leader wouldn’t put their teams first — Empaths can make excellent leaders, and when they do, it’s always by listening to their team and uniting people around shared goals. Any leader who doesn’t operate this way is a failure. Empaths tend to be thoughtful and attentive, making sure each team member feels heard.
You have a calming effect on other people & the power to heal them — Just as people seek out empaths for advice, they also feel more at peace in an empath’s presence. People often unknowingly seek out their most empathetic friends during difficult times. Empaths can develop and use this to actually heal people, in the sense of helping them work past serious emotional baggage and overcome unhealthy patterns.
You cannot see someone in pain without wanting to help — For empaths, PEOPLE are the brightest things on their radar, and it’s impossible not to see — and respond to — the needs of others. This is exactly where an empath’s healing ability comes from!
Like I said, I never knew what an “empath” was until I learned about the subjects of narcissistic personality disorder, narcissists, and narcissistic abuse. The term “empath” kept coming up. And you know what? Empaths are easy targets for those type of toxic people…especially if the empath has trouble setting clear, healthy boundaries and no sense of self-value.
I am definitely an empath…but please believe I will put myself first before I sacrifice myself or my peace of mind to “help” others any more!
Here are a few other valuable resources with more info on empaths.
Judith Orloff, M.D. — https://drjudithorloff.com/top-10-traits-of-an-empath/
What is an Empath? video with Dr. Judith Orloff — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cl_bDVokuQ
Are you an empath? (20 Question Test) — https://drjudithorloff.com/quizzes/empath-self-assessment-test/
Is being an empath a “superpower” or a “super-stressor”? — https://www.psychalive.org/empaths/