INSIDE: If you’ve been called over-sensitive, maybe that’s all it is. But have you stopped to ask, “Am I an empath?” It’s important to understand the qualities of an empath so you can protect your mental, physical, and emotional well-being as you take on the emotions of others.
Your friend comes to you sobbing and tells you a heart-wrenching story of betrayal, infidelity, and the end of a long romantic entanglement.
“I’ve never hurt this badly,” your friend cries.
“Oh, friend, I feel you,” you reply.
But how much do you feel it?
You may feel the betrayal and mourn the loss of the relationship – but wait – it isn’t even your relationship to lose. Yet you find yourself with emotions of anger and sadness for days after your friend tells you the story whenever you think about what they are going through.
It even reaches a point where they move on, yet you're still upset for them and are mentally ruminating on the injustice of the whole relationship.
At this point, your empathy seems to have manifested beyond a relative feeling with your friend to your own trauma and sorrow.
It might be a good time to ask yourself, “Am I an empath?”
What is an Empath?
Before truly diving in to what an empath is, we need to clear something up. Empathy doesn’t arise only in negative moments – it can come from positive experiences, too!
Empaths have an extra capacity for feelings and emotions beyond their own, so much so that they take on the feelings and emotions of those around them.
It can be a beautiful quality. People feel comfortable, trusting, and safe to openly share their experiences, good or bad, with an empath.
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Being an Empath
As an empath, your extra emotional capacity acts like a sponge. When you’re a sponge like a lava stone, absorbing deliciously smelling essential oils, it’s positive.
You can truly and deeply share in the joy of others around you, feeling the excitement, accomplishment, and pure happiness as if it were your experience too.
But like a saturated lava stone, the strength and energy fades and wears off. It might leave behind a musty odor that's a lot less pleasant than the fresh oils. You may become overwhelmed and over-stimulated, a common aftermath for an empath.
Then, there are times when you'll be like a dish sponge, soaking up messes. As you listen with full heart to sorrows and frustrations, you absorb the negative energy like dirty water. You can rinse and ring a dish sponge out time and time again, but remnants of the mess may always remain.
The Scientific Reason
Are you feeling overloaded by the question you asked earlier – “Am I an empath?” If it turns out that you are, scientifically speaking, it might be in your brain chemistry – a hyperactive mirror neuron system that deals with compassion.
That isn’t a bad thing at all, but it is important to recognize. For empaths who don’t take care of their own needs in relationship to those of others, they may adopt behaviors and habits to numb their overstimulated minds.
Am I an Empath or Just Sensitive?
When we start talking empathy, we tend to conflate ideas of sympathy, compassion, and sensitivity. But there are major differences, and while we won’t get tangled in the weeds of that discussion, it's important to parse out the question, “Am I an empath or just sensitive?”
For many people, though not everyone, we can relate to others' emotions and experiences, and the key word there is "relate." You may not have experienced what someone is going through, but you have an idea of what it would feel like.
It may be human nature or social experience when we are babies that teaches us to understand what other people are going through.
The difference between a sensitive person or an empath, though, rests in the degree of understanding and relating to others.
If you cry through every movie but when you leave the theater, it doesn’t incapacitate you or distract you for days, you’re probably just sensitive.
An empath takes sensitive a step further – whatever happened during the movie affects you on a much deeper level. And you might feel agitated, sad, or depressed without even realizing it has any relation to the movie.
It isn’t delusions you're experiencing. That’s important to understand – you just relate to others with such ease. It can be a true gift, but you need to tune into yourself at times, too, to make sure you are nourished.
How Do I Know if I’m an Empath?
If you are thinking, how do I know if I’m an empath and not just extra empathetic or sensitive, there are tell-tale signs that shout, “YOU'RE AN EMPATH!”
Following is a list of traits that are typical of empaths. By no means is it exhaustive and not every quality will resonate with you. That doesn’t automatically mean you aren’t an empath.
They are meant to help you reflect on yourself, your relationships, and your emotional energy, and it just might help you answer the question, "Am I an empath?"
You Tend to Have a Lot of Empathy
We’ve been over this, but it bears repeating. An empath has a lot of empathy. We all have some level of empathy, but an empath experiences way more than what is “typical.”
You dive deep into every experience or story of an experience because it’s just in your nature to be able to truly feel emotions.
You Often Have Intuitive Hits
Am I an empath or just psychic? Perhaps they are one and the same? Most empaths tend to have a fine-tuned intuition.
That means as an empath, your gut can tell you a lot. While you may not be a mind reader, you can pick up emotional signals and subtle clues to what others are feeling and thinking even before they express it to you. You can especially sense disingenuousness in others.
You’re Often Overwhelmed in Crowds
Remember that sense of overwhelm and overstimulation we mentioned. An empath absorbs so much from the environment and people around them. That makes crowds a tad unbearable.
In a crowd of euphoric people, it means you might attract an overwhelming amount of excited energy. But in tense crowds, negativity and anger can cause you to feel physically unstable and sick.
You Feel Other People’s Emotions
This one comes with the territory. “Am I an empath because I feel everything?” Yes, as an empath, you feel other people’s emotions. The good, the bad, the ugly.
That’s quite an emotional load to carry – the emotions from others piled on top of your own.
You Often Get Overstimulated by Sounds, Smells or Other Sensations
It’s not just crowds of people that overwhelm you. Other sensations that you experience through sound, smell, sight, and touch can drain your physical and emotional stamina.
You may find that you would rather listen to soft, slow music. You’d rather pick up a book than have to watch flashing images on a television screen. Am I an empath then? Possibly.
You Need Time Alone to Recharge
At this point, you may wonder – is knowing am I an empath or just sensitive really a good thing? All this information may feel overwhelming (hmm, that’s a pretty empath-like thing), but being an empath can be such a beautiful thing.
If you tend to carve out alone time because it rejuvenates your energy, you are likely an empath. If you don’t, you tend to burnout. This period of reset is so good for an empath.
You may not prefer alone time like an introvert does, but maybe you do. An empath can be extroverted or introverted, but you recognize the need to download your thoughts and emotions to clear your mental cache.
You Usually Don’t Feel Like You Fit In
This one is tricky. Empaths tend to attract people to them because they have such an open capacity to understand. However, empaths often feel disconnected from others.
While everyone dumps their happy or sad news on you, you feel like there isn’t space for what you feel and want to share. You find it difficult to express what you need to say about your own experiences and sensitivities.
You're great at being a vessel for sharing, but in your reality, you don’t feel like you truly relate to others, and as a result, you internally become more private about your needs.
Setting Boundaries is Difficult for You
As the person that people turn to for sharing their feelings, you often feel obligated to be available and to listen. It’s hard for you to assert your needs and set boundaries.
Empaths often exchange their energy for others’ emotions until they overspend. They feel guilty not being able to be available even when they know it is detrimental to their own well-being.
You’re More Tuned into Things That Are Under the Surface Than Others
This goes with intuition. You pick up on signals, but also you tend to make connections between things that other people don’t easily recognize.
You have a wonderful ability to read situations and see how things influence us and come together.
Nature is Your Safe Place
An empath has an incredible tuning fork to human emotion. “But I feel so much better when I’m on a solo hike and NO ONE is around. No way am I an empath!”
Well, as an empath, getting far away from other humans and taking solace in nature is your true safe place. The sensations of nature – a cool breeze, animal noises, natural scents, organic colors – don't overwhelm you.
Instead, they calm you because they invigorate your emotions and energies without the baggage of human feelings.
You Care Too Much
Along with struggling with boundaries, an empath has a hard time stepping aside and not trying to fix problems. An empath always wants to help when told about a problem or negative emotion, but sometimes people don’t want a fix, they just want an ear to listen to their problems.
Compassion fatigue sets in when an empath realizes that they can’t always help. Because an empath feels right along with others, not helping makes the empath feel powerless.
People Often Come to You With Their Problems
Even as people may not want help, they still want a place to air their problems. An empath offers the perfect vessel as a fantastic listener.
The problem is people tend to dump their emotions on you without realizing how detrimental it can be. Also, people may take advantage of the sensitivity and availability of an empath who is vulnerable to toxic relationships that sap their vibrant energy.
You Feel Ill During Arguments or When You Hear Bad News
“If everyone could just be happy, then none of us would have to feel bad! Wait, am I an empath?!”
An empath definitely wants to avoid conflict and negativity because of the layers of emotions they know come with it. Even watching the news can be too much for many empaths. Hearing about a shooting can replay in their minds for weeks to come, and when they have their own arguments with others, it can take a physical toll.
You Don’t Enjoy Talking on the Phone for Long Periods of Time
You give so much time to people to express their feelings and tell their stories. Because you absorb so much emotion and feeling, interacting on the phone adds one more layer of connection that can really drain you.
You care about how people feel around you, so you tend to find disembodied conversations via telephone signals unfulfilling and tiresome.
You Are Sensitive to Chemicals or Uncomfortable Clothes
If you're also sensitive to what touches your skin, like itchy clothing or chemical detergents, this can be a sign of an empath.
Because nature is such a nurturing space for you, it makes sense that unnatural, chemical substances make you uncomfortable. It’s important to you that you feel comfortable in what you wear so that you feel authentic and available to others.
Intimate Relationships Sometimes Feel Suffocating
The way that people feel so comfortable being open and honest with you makes people assume you easily develop intimate relationships. That isn’t really the case though.
It isn’t that you don’t want deeply connected relationships. In fact, you crave intimacy and understanding, but often committed relationships overfill your emotional capacity. You tend to focus on your partner’s needs and lose yourself, which suffocates your energy.
You Enjoy Small Towns Over Large Cities
You typically thrive in smaller towns close to nature instead of large cities. The barrage of stimuli in large cities imposes man-made pressures rather than the soothing essence of Mother Earth.
You Prefer Small Gatherings Over Large Groups
You thrive in small gatherings. Even a large group of good friends can be too much for you, so you gravitate to social situations in which you can truly connect to a few people rather than doling yourself out in too many energetic exchanges.
Am I an Empath? Some Final Thoughts
”I know I’m an empath, so now what do I do?” Like we said, this information can feel overwhelming at first, especially to an empath. But being an empath can be a great gift!
To know the answer to the question, "Am I an empath?" is a step towards cultivating self-care practices that protect you from burnout and overstimulation.
Taking the time to recharge in ways that nourish the energy of an empath will enable you to open yourself up to the feelings of others while maintaining your energetic balance.