Updated: Nov 17, 2021
First let’s start with what an empath is:
Empaths are those that are affected by other people's energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. Their life is unconsciously influenced by others' desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it's not just limited to emotions.
I'm an empath and maybe you’re wondering if you are too. ???
Often an empath and having empathy get thrown into the same definition. Being an empath and having empathy are two very different things. Empathy means our heart goes out to another person when they are having a difficult time in their lives. You can also feel happy for them in times of joy. An empath can actually sense the emotions, energy of others and may also feel physical symptoms in their own bodies. Empath's don’t have the usual filters others have. We are super sensitive to sounds, smells, voices and body movements. You know the saying, “read between the lines”? That’s what empaths do all the time. So dealing with passive-aggressive people is particularly difficult. I had to a very difficult time dealing with a family member for many years until I finally just did what I had to do to protect myself.
So, let’s explore the question.
Dr. Judith Orloff (Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, has helped patients find emotional freedom for over 20 years) defines an empath as having "an extremely reactive neurological system. We don’t have the same filters that other people do to block out stimulation.”
In other words, empaths are influenced by the energies around them and have a natural ability to intuitively feel and understand others. We can be unconsciously effected by the thoughts and moods of others and are often told, you’re just “too sensitive”. But, we’re not limited just to our emotions. Empaths are also receptive to the physical world and just have an inner knowing about the motivates and intentions of people and animals. Also, there are different types of empaths. You are either an empath or you aren’t. It’s not a trait that is learned, but it is a trait that can be managed.
Empath's are always open to process other people’s feelings and energy. Meaning we feel and in some cases take on the emotions of others. (I do this all too often..ugh!) Many empaths may experience things like chronic fatigue, environmental sensitivities, or unexplained aches and pains daily. Essentially, empaths are walking around in this world with all of the accumulated karma, emotions, and energy from others. It can suck big time if you don’t know how to manage it.
For as long as I can remember, I have been sensitive to other beings, places and things. But the uncomfortable feelings have always been the worst in crowds. Whenever my comfort level got to be more than I could handle, I would just have to get away. In college I wasn't big on the “bar scene” and have always preferred small group gatherings. I would often refer to these feelings as being “claustrophobic to people”. It was never about small, close spaces. Back then I hadn’t heard of the word “empath” and this was the best way I could explain what I was feelings to others. Not that anyone ever got it.
The most recent time when I almost went into a full blown panic attack was at the Women’s March in Washington DC. As you probably know, thousands more people showed up than had been expected. So much so that the planned marching route was filled up before the march even started. So we had no place to march.
We spilled over onto the avery crowded mall because the street was packed. As the crowd grew tighter, my absorption of the emotions of 1000’s of people got worse and worse. Everyone was waiting for instructions from the authorities as to where we were to march. It took well over an hour and the intensity got to be too much for me. I told my friends I had to get myself out and away from the crowd. So as quickly and politely as I could, I pushed my way through the crowd in the opposite direction we were headed. When I broke free on the other side of the mall, I was finally able to breathe. I saw that the marchers where heading for our new route up Pennsylvania Ave. I wasn’t able to meet up with my DC friends, but that was OK. We had a fun and very memorable few hours together.
Getting out of the crowd and finding some open space was what I needed to be able breathe and ground myself so I could let go of the emotional chaos that was about to erupt inside of me. This wasn’t the first time this has happened, but definitely one of the worst. Understandable given the political climate that day.
I've come to know...
I understand now that all my life I have taken my own actions to protect myself from the energy of others by getting closer to nature and finding my own space away from others. Seeking alone time outside is probably the most grounding thing empaths can do to stop the absorption and release the energy of others. I love lying on the ground watching the nighttime sky. The connection I feel to the stars, the moon, the vastness of the universe is nourshing to my soul. In addition to natrue, our pets help us too. Stroking a cat, dog or other furry animal can be very grounding and calming - empathic or not. Leaning on, standing under, or hugging a tree helps as well. I can feel those roots spreading deep into the earth. If we don’t ground the energy we’ve taken in from the stimulations around us, we could go berserk and possibly get physically sick.
Below is a list of common signs of being an empath. Let’s see which ones might apply to you.
Absorb people’s emotions like a sponge, carrying them as your own & weighting us down When someone close to you is physically ill, you may feel this as physical pain in your body Often suffer from unexplained physical or mental fatigue and tiredness Solitude is immensely refreshing, and you absolutely require it to “recharge” May experience many mood swings throughout the day Witnessing violence or cruelty is unbearable Strong intuitive abilities Feel a deep connection to the natural world and need it daily Highly creative Tendency towards anxiety and addiction Tendency to attract wounded people Chronic fatigue Digestive issues Drawn to healing professions People often come to you with their problems Animals and children are attracted to you Hyper-aware of the physical environment, e.g. to smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing, Can’t stand interpersonal conflict. Crowded places are very overwhelming and draining
Any of these apply to you?
One doesn’t have to have all of these traits to be an empath, plus there are more. Dr. Orloff has written books on this subject and has broken them down into basically three types of empaths; physical, emotional and intuitive. She breaks down the intuitive empath into seven sub-groups.
If any of this resonates with you, maybe you’re a struggling empath.
“It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply.” – Unknown
Some people say that being an empath is a curse. I certainly don’t see it that way. I think it’s actually a blessing. Maybe those that call it a curse have not yet learned how to manage their feelings. As for me, I wouldn’t be in the business I’m in if I wasn’t. I have found a way in life that honors and uses these gifts.
If you’re a struggling empath, I invite you to check out Dr. Orloff’s new book,The Empath’s Survival Guide; life strategies for sensitive people.This book is also for those living with, related to, or working with one who is an empath. (you need understanding as well) You may find the book in your library system as I did.