What is an empath?
Being an empath is very different to being empathetic; being empathetic is someone who has the ability to put themselves in someone else’s position and understand how they feel and what they are experiencing (https://jonathanvitalliving.com/12-signs-you-are-a-sensitive-person/). An empath is someone who can actually feel either physically or mentally – sometimes even both – what someone else is feeling. Mostly, people are unaware that they are an empath as very often, another’s energy and emotion can feel as if it is their own, as they experience it as something within them, rather than something coming from someone else.
If you are an empath it is vital that you realise you are, then you can take steps to protect yourself; being an empath can be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining, so it is vitally important to look after yourself and take care of your physical and mental well-being. We will look at in more detail below the specific signs that indicate you could be an empath, but in general, all empaths will feel from time to time anxiety that is not their own, physical discomfort in the form of vague aches and pains that don’t relate to anything they have physically done, the need to isolate themselves from people from time to time so that they can re-charge themselves, and unexplained emotions that are not related to what they are are personally experiencing in that moment.
The 12 signs:
- Taking on other people’s emotions as your own: This is the biggest sign that you are an empath. Usually an empath will experience this when they are talking to someone and they start to feel a certain way. It could be that you are hearing a story about what someone currently, or previously, has experienced, and you begin to take on the emotion of that they are saying. Very often you will not only experience the emotion but you will actually feel it in your body and it will feel as if the emotion and the experience is entirely your own. This is very different to being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what they are saying. For an empath, it becomes a literal and visceral first hand experience.
- Being influenced by your environment: An empath will be directly influenced by their environment; usually busy, noisy and crowded places will leave them feeling under assault and their senses overloaded. They will easily be taken over by the differing energies buffeting them from all directions and will soon start to feel tired and drained if left in such an environment for too long. Heard the expression “you could cut the atmosphere with a knife”? That was invented by an empath! Empaths have the ability to ‘read’ a room/situation/person without being told any information beforehand. They will literally feel the energies around them and know what’s going on. Conversely, being out in nature, woodlands, mountains, sea will leave them feeling deeply peaceful and replenished and more in touch with themselves, rather than hooking into what everyone else is experiencing.
- Sometimes feeling overwhelmed in personal relationships: Whether it’s a parental, romantic or other close relationship, empaths can feel overwhelmed as they take on the emotions and feelings of the other person, being swamped by that person’s needs, feeling a responsibility to fulfil those needs and emotionally carry that person. This is very often totally unconscious without any realisation that it is happening. At its worst, it can develop into a co-dependent (article coming soon) relationship, at the very least, you will be highly sensitive to the other person’s changing emotion, picking up and taking to heart each and every change; when they are happy, you are happy, when they feel anxious or upset, you too will experience anxiety or be upset. This is obviously more intense should the empath live with someone as they won’t get the alone time they need to detach and re-charge themselves. However, even if they don’t live with the person that they are close to, they will still be highly influenced by the other person’s feelings, receiving them as a psychic broadcast.
- Difficulty in setting boundaries: Empaths really struggle with setting boundaries and have a particularly hard time saying ‘No’ to people. Empaths are very sensitive and really do want to help people and make the world a better place. Because they feel what other people are feeling, one person’s battle or experience becomes their personal experience too. They genuinely want to do good and feel intense guilt at the mere thought of letting someone else down. They will always put other peoples’ needs before their own – it’s in their nature to do so. Even if it is against their own personal benefit, they would rather help someone else rather than help themselves – they never help for personal gain. Because they are so kind and generous, it is very easy for them to be taken advantage of, whether that’s consciously or unconsciously by the other person, which very often leaves them being manipulated.
- People come to them for advice: Because empaths have the ability to feel what someone else is feeling and almost directly share their experience, they are wonderfully adept at giving very good, practical advice. They will find that people come to them frequently for advice on what they should do and very often will use them as a ‘shoulder to cry on’. They will usually have friends and relatives that repeatedly pour their hearts out to them and the empath will feel it’s their responsibility to offer help and guidance. It won’t just be people they know, even strangers will sense this about them and they’ll find themselves having very deep interactions with people in the most unlikeliest of circumstances.
- They can tell if someone is being honest or not: Being so in-tune with others’ feelings, an empath will know if what someone else is saying is truthful or not; whether it’s a great whopper of a lie or a small fib, an empath will feel if they’re telling the truth. They might not know exactly what the truth is, but they will feel the inauthenticity of what the other person is saying. This becomes a burden for the empath, as they can never blind themselves to the instinctive knowing of dishonesty which can leave them feeling disillusioned about people; they are very unlikely to confront this dishonesty, yet will carry it around with them long after the other person is no longer in their presence. Often, they will blame themselves and possibly even begin to mistrust their own very accurate instincts so that they can believe the other person – they desperately want to believe that people are as honest as they are.
- Being sensitive to violence and bad news in the media and film/TV: Empaths feel things deeply so any depiction of violence in the media, whether it’s real or fictional, will cause an emotional reaction that will stay with them long after the initial exposure. Most people won’t be left with any lingering emotional aftershock, yet an empath will carry the emotional reverberation with them for quite a while afterwards. It doesn’t matter if it’s a scene on TV or in film, or whether it’s in the news or a newspaper article, it will still have the same emotional impact on the empath no matter the source, which will ultimately be draining for them.
- Addictive personality: Picking up and feeling others’ emotions so intensely, it is very easy for an empath to become overwhelmed and bewildered with a huge mix of feelings, let alone dealing with their own. As they feel so intently, they may turn to things to try and soften the edges of these feelings or to even escape them entirely. They sometimes end up with a dependence or addiction to painkillers, alcohol or even illicit drugs. Sometimes, the dependence maybe sex or even to the person who’s feelings they are being overwhelmed by. They may even obsessively exercise or perhaps overeat – anything to escape the intensity of what they are feeling. They can use addiction as a way to deal with what they are experiencing.
- Needing a refuge: Because empaths are so affected by other people and the environment in which they are in, it is necessary for them to have time away and seek refuge on their own. It is usually in solace that they can decompress and re-charge themselves. Being in nature, around animals or even in a place such as a peaceful room, can bring them the respite they so desperately need. A calm bedroom listening to soothing music, taking a long salt bath, sitting in a favourite arm chair drinking tea and reading are a few of the ways an empath can begin to replenish. Gentle exercise such as Yoga or Tai Chi, meditation and breathing exercises are all wonderful things for the empath to do.
- Innately understanding people: Empaths will innately understand people, how they feel and what they’ve gone through. They have the ability to literally see the experience through the other person’s eyes and transport themselves there, as if they are having the experience. Even if the other person cannot verbally express how they feel and what has happened, the empath will feel it deeply within and understand. This often means that the other person doesn’t feel that they have to explain to be understood and accepted.
- Drawn to or repelled from healing modalities: In an effort to understand how they can best serve others, empaths are very often drawn into the healing world, especially that of alternative wellness. You’ll find many an empath who practices Acupuncture, Eastern medicine, Reiki and Yoga to name but a few healing modalities that they will use to help people. They may even turn to these healing modalities in an effort to better understand and heal themselves – carrying around the emotional baggage of others and feeling they are duty bound to help will cause all empaths physical, mental, emotional and spiritual depletion at some time which will need to be cleared and lifted; otherwise they can be prone to breakdowns, illness or addiction (see point 8). Conversely, because of the burdensome nature of feeling that they always need to help, they may be repelled by any sort of healing – for themselves as well as others – and it may take a long time before they even consider approaching healing in this way.
- Creative: Empaths are highly sensitive and usually very creative, whether that is in art based creativity such as drawing, dance or design; it may be through speech and writing; it may be through a love of literature and music. They may not pursue a traditional career in the arts, or have a particularly creative job, but they will definitely express creativity in some way – even if it is the way they dress or express themselves, they will definitely be a unique individual in some creative way. It could be a hobby such as cooking, photography or gardening.
If you recognise yourself in most if not all of the above points, then you are definitely an empath. Hopefully now you will be able to come to terms with some of your feelings and begin to recognise those which are not your own and take the necessary steps to start looking after yourself. Look out for my upcoming article for Sensitives and Empaths and what you can do to protect and nurture yourself.
As always let me know what you think about this article and whether it has resonated with you!
With love –