What it Means to Be an Empath?
Meditation & Spirituality

What it Means to Be an Empath?


4 November 2019


Has anyone ever told you that you’re a good listener? In fact, do your family and friends often seek advice from you because of this? If your answer is yes then you just might be an empath.

If your answer is no, that answer might change after learning more about the traits of an empath!

Empath Traits

Some other traits of an empath would be:

  • You feel easily overwhelmed in and by public places - for example, everything is fine and dandy but suddenly you enter a crowded elevator and you feel your mood instantly drop

  • You feel sensitive to the emotional and physical pain of others - for example, you are watching a movie and an on-screen character is suddenly injured so you flinch as if the pain is yours

  • You feel the need for time alone - for example, if you have not had time for just yourself you can feel that you are just not you, that something is somehow off

There are many, many more traits of an empath but fundamentally, being an empath means being able to intuitively understand and connect with others by sensing the emotions of others. Naturally, this can be unnerving if you are not aware of the fact that you are an empath - for instance, the elevator example may have you feeling like you’re cray when you are really just highly aware of the emotions around you!

Of course, not every empath internalises the emotions of others but many do. Regardless of what type of an empath you are, there is more you should know. 

Empath Definition and Needs

Dr Judith Orloff authored The Empaths Survival Guide and is the Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA in  the United States. As the leading expert in all things empath related, Orloff understands how empaths are constantly picking up on the experiences of those around them. This can be not only emotionally exhausting but also physically draining.

Orloff believes that when overstimulated, empaths may experience chronic fatigue, panic attacks, depression, and food, drug, or sex binges. If you feel that you are an empath and can relate to any of the aforementioned symptoms then remember to:

  • Identify the problem - did you ever feel drained after meeting with someone? If yes, then spend more time with people that energize you instead of drain you emotionally and energetically; remember, if you cannot take care of yourself, then how can you take care of others?

  • Set boundaries - of course, if the person you thought of is a best friend then just set time limits, conversational boundaries, or any other type of boundary related to your relationship with that person; sometimes hanging out for two hours is fine but three to four hours may be too much so take notice of this 

  • Identify your feelings - if you start feeling negatively then take a moment to recognise if what you are feeling is really you or if what you are feeling is you absorbing the emotions of others

  • Allow time for quiet - taking mini-breaks throughout your day to breathe fresh air or to stretch the body. This may help more than you think, especially as these mini-breaks provide interludes from excessive stimulation 

Remember that every person is different and thus, experiences being an empath differently; this means your symptoms when overstimulated may differ and so you may need to tackle overstimulation in a way that works best for you. 

Logically Speaking

That aside, if you are more of a ‘head over heart’ type of person then know that in 1759, the author Adam Smith detailed the phenomenon in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Besides empaths being referenced literally centuries ago, modern-day science also has an opinion on the phenomenon.

Basically, very active mirror neurons equate to high levels of empathy. Imagine you are conversing with a person and during this conversation you notice subtle changes in expression, body language, or tone of voice - that is your mirror neurons reading non-emotional and emotional cues then using said cues to feel what the other person is feeling. Not every brain is wired to sense what is brewing underneath the surface but the brains of empaths definitely are!

Taking it even further, the journal NeuroImage published a study that found how empaths have more grey matter in certain regions of their brains. This could explain why empaths are more sensitive to the emotions of others and especially to their own emotions. 

If you are still not sold and need a definite answer to if you are an empath then click this link for a quiz curated by Dr Judith Orloff.