To bookmark:

Login or Sign Up

What Is An Empath?

By Gina Langan, PhD

“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” -Milan Kundera

In science fiction, an empath is defined as a person or entity with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental and emotional state of an­other. Deanna Troi is the character from Star Trek Next Generation that best fits this model. Mr. Spock, from the original Star Trek, was famous for the Vulcan Mind Meld. The Vulcan people, apparently overwhelmed by their intense emo­tion, engineered their cultural belief system in such a way as to tightly control the emotional palette of an entire race.

In real life, an empath is someone with the ability to literally put one’s self into someone else’s place to the extent that he not only understands their position but can feel the emotions in that situation as if they were his own. Those with a height­ened sense of empathy tend to feel others’ emotions deeply and have a strong desire to help. Empaths tend to be natural healers. However, they may also be at risk for burnout, emotional abuse, and damaged self-esteem.

How Do I Tell if I’m an Empath?

Those who are empaths tend to be natu­rally inclined to help others. They are also very sensitive to the environment and pick up on subtle cues. Extreme empaths can intuit situations so deeply that they can manifest dreams and premonitions about possibilities that may occur or have occurred.

Psychic ability is an extension and expression of empathy. Noise in the environment can disturb or soothe them, and affect their abilities. Empaths can also pick up on negative energy and be adversely affected by it. This is exacerbated if the environment is stressful. Empaths may seem moody and sullen when they are having difficulties processing emo­tion but there is an upside as well. Empaths tend to have long monogamous love partners. They gener­ally have fewer friends but deeper relationships.

Some empaths are extremely sensitive to physical pain; not only firsthand, but they can pick up on the pain of someone who is ill or injured. They may experience not only an emotional response but a physical reaction. They may have a hard time deal­ing directly with injury, illness, and death. Empaths may also feel uncomfortable in crowds. This is because empaths can also pick up on unconsciously broadcasted emotions, sometimes from those out of immediate proximity. It’s not always easy for most empaths to turn off their empathy.

One of the major hallmarks of an empath (and the profoundly gifted) is a heightened sense of con­science, justice, and fairness at a very early age. The empath deeply understands that there is more than one side to any story and that all the stories are in the same book. The injustices of the world and of life weigh heavily on the empath from a very early age.

For many in the gifted and enlightened com­munities, being an empath is both a blessing and a challenge. If you resonate with these experiences, you may well be an empath. This knowledge can give you perspective with regard to your own life challenges and will also help you to understand and support the empaths in your life.

“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi

How to Increase Empathy and Healing Ability

Whether you are an empath or not, there are steps you can take to enhance your ability to sense the emotions of others. Empathy is a highly specialized socio-cognitive perceptual skill. It allows you to experience another person’s emotions in a way that enables you to see the world through their eyes and feel what they are feeling in your heart. Empathy is a great skill to hone and harness during your teleologic jour­ney to help yourself and others to ascend to a higher level. Everyone has some of it, it expresses along a continuum, and how you nurture and share it will profoundly affect your life.

Empaths are often highly sensitive people. They can pick up on the emotions of other people and animals, as well as the energy in the environment. Empaths can use meditation to increase and manage their abilities but many empaths prefer to tamp these feelings down and compartmentalize this gift. It is best to be able to do both mindfully. Choose when to engage but know your limits. You won’t feel guilty about withdrawing if you do it thoughtfully and know it’s only temporary. Attending to self-care will help you to func­tion more effectively overall.

Many empaths go into helping professions because they yearn to ease the suffering of the world. Go slow so that you may not be overwhelmed. This will help you to be a more effective listener and healer. An empath can often make a better friend or partner and can help everyone around them to foster deeper relationships. They are frequently the fam­ily member that encourages and arranges get-togethers and keeps in touch.

Empaths typically make better caregivers because they yearn to ease suffering. This is why it is important for em­paths to learn to set healthy boundaries. They must also find time for themselves to recharge. An empath can also learn to separate him- or herself from the outside world temporar­ily. If they take on too much energy at once, they can burn out. They may have to learn how to say “no” more often. This creates a lot of conflict within the empath when they try to balance their drive to help and protect others with the need to care for and nurture themselves.

Protect Against Emotion Overload

Whether you’re an empath or not, it’s important to protect yourself against being overwhelmed by emotion. One way to protect yourself against being overwhelmed by emotion is by learning how to manage your energy, just as you would man­age sleep and physical energy. Empaths absorb more external stimuli than other people, so it’s important to limit your expo­sure to external stimulants. External stimulants can include loud noises, bright lights, and large crowds.

During an emotionally charged event, an empath can feel overwhelmed. The environment can be perceived as very loud and bright, and it may seem like they are surrounded by negative energies. Sudden, loud, or repetitive noises can be particularly disturbing. They can even be overwhelmed by strong scents, even to the point of physical illness.

It’s also important to remember that empaths are very sensitive to toxic people. Toxic people are those that exhibit traits that fall within the dark tetrad. Empaths may experi­ence headaches, fatigue, and depression as a result of being around people who have these traits. It’s also important to set boundaries with people that have these tendencies. Be compassionate but firm. Assess the situation and remem­ber, it’s always an inappropriate time to engage in self-care if that is what is needed.

One simple technique that can help you protect against being overwhelmed by emotion is shielding. This technique involves visualizing yourself protected in a way that pre­vents you from feeling exposed to toxic energy. You can do this by moving away from the source of the energy, whether that’s a person or a crowd, or imagining yourself in another place. The best way to avoid getting emotionally involved with toxic or difficult people is to have healthy boundaries. These boundaries are important for everyone’s mental and spiritual health.

Another simple technique that can help you protect against being overwhelmed by emotion is meditation. You can use a visualization technique, such as picturing leaves flowing down a river. This will help you visualize the feeling as if it’s flowing away from you and dissipating. Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique; EFT) takes just a few minutes to learn and is effective for most people. Using affirmations, frequencies, and classical music to enhance meditation and reflection can enhance restorative efforts. Set aside the time to meditate and reflect, particularly dur­ing those periods when you are regularly interacting with emotional or negative people.

Whether you’re an empath or not, it’s important to protect yourself against being overwhelmed by emotion.

The times we are living through are extremely challeng­ing. Energy levels are high, and empaths can be bombarded with all kinds of different energy waves and signals, even when alone. If you are feeling these kinds of negative ef­fects, take a break from TV and social media or drop those things altogether for a while.

Empaths can also benefit immensely from spending time in nature to recharge. Natural environments can be very soothing and can help empaths deal with overwhelm­ing stimuli. Nature can be a powerful ally for empaths, as it provides a sense of grounding and can help to anchor in the moment. Other strategies to help protect against being overwhelmed by emotion include taking frequent breaks for rest and relaxation. Being mindful and taking time to relax, reflect, and exercise can help a lot. Consider increasing the time that you spend doing some of these things if this article resonates with you.

Confiding in others about your struggles can be a good idea, particularly if you are confiding in another empath, but be careful. As intuitive as empaths are, they often misjudge people by giving them the benefit of the doubt. It’s very hard for the empath to imagine, but some will use knowledge of a person’s vulnerabilities to hurt and leverage the empath. It’s sad, but this frequently occurs. It can often erode the trust the empath has in humanity, but empaths are resilient—they have a mission! They can and do usually recover.

With appropriate training and focus, empaths can find an amazing calling because of their unique deep energy, com­passion, and scaffolding ability. They can also find a sense of resilience and yielding through daily empath practices that empower both client and empath. Having the power to heal is a tremendous ability from which empaths derive great pleasure. These practices can lead to a deep sense of worth and connection, and foster feelings of joy and peace.