Determining whether or not you are an empath is an especially important part of embracing your authentic self.
For most of my life, I was labeled by others (and myself) as overly sensitive, anxious, and high-strung. Things that other people enjoyed or found easy, like perusing through large crowds and multi-tasking, overwhelmed me.
Being one with nature helped me unwind, but it didn’t stop me from attracting energy vampires and being over-stimulated by places and events that wouldn’t bother a ‘normal’ person.
What was more mystifying, and sometimes debilitating, is the fact that when I did venture out in public or hang out with people I knew, I seemed to take on their emotions. If my friends were upset about something, I knew it instantly. And if someone in the grocery store got really angry or became sad, I could feel their tension or grief.
When you are reading this blog post, it’s likely that you, too, have experienced some of what I’ve described above and are wondering if you also are an empath. Although everyone’s experience is unique, many empaths have similar stories and empathetic tendencies.
I hope that this guide can help you understand what it means to be an empath, to define your gift a little better, and possibly use the new awareness you’ll gain to improve and empower your daily existence.
What Does it Mean to be an Empath?
The term ’empath’ is used to describe a person who seems to have a higher degree of empathy than most people and is extremely sensitive to both the emotions and energy of others. People often confuse empathy with the term sympathy, but these words have two very different meanings.
Empathy vs Sympathy
Empathy is the ability to connect with a person in a way that allows you to understand what they are thinking or feeling. Showing empathy is to put yourself in another’s shoes.
It allows you to place yourself inside another’s emotional reality. This is something that empaths can do on a much grander scale than a regular person.
With sympathy, you are not experiencing another’s emotions, but relating certain feelings toward them. For example, if a friend has cancer, you might feel pity or sorrow, even if they are in a place of acceptance.
An Example of Being an Empath
Here’s a good way to remember the difference between the two. Imagine that it is your friend Megan’s birthday, and she invites you and your other friend Claire to dinner.
After ordering appetizers, Claire asks the birthday girl if she is excited about her recent engagement. Megan turns red and lowers her head.
She sheepishly admits that she called the wedding off because she found out her fiance was cheating on her.
Instantly, you get a gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach. While Claire expresses her sympathy, you try to think of words to say to comfort your friend. This task seems impossible since you’re so caught up in the raw and overwhelming emotion that Megan, and now you, are feeling.
You excuse yourself to the restroom so that you can stop the tears that are welling up in the corners of your eyes. Claire seems a bit puzzled as she is the only one at the table who isn’t in tears.
Humans are actually just vibrations of energy, and we are always in exchange with the environment around us. Like a sponge, empaths take on the weight of the world in the form of other people’s emotional energy.
Guided by intuition, empaths feel our way through the world, absorbing both the negative and positive energies of others as we go. This can be both fulfilling and dangerous.
Signs of an Empath
Many empaths falsely assume that all people have the ability to do the same, but this isn’t the case. There are other traits and signs that suggest that a person is extra-sensitive to the energies of others.
Having one or more doesn’t make you an empath just as the absence of a certain trait doesn’t mean you’re not highly sensitive. Here are some of the most notable traits of those who are considered empaths.
1. You wear your heart on your sleeve
In Medieval times, knights wore a piece of armor called a sleeve as a way to protect the arm. A lady’s token was often wrapped around these sleeves as a symbol of favor.
Empaths are known to be highly sensitive or overly emotional, and we tend to ‘wear our feelings’ as well. If you have the tendency to show your genuine emotions in an open and vulnerable way, you might be an empath.
2. You’re a nature or animal lover
Empathic people are especially good with animals because of their compassionate hearts. Something interesting that happens as some empaths increase awareness of their gifts is an aversion to eating meat because they can ‘feel’ the emotions/vibrations of the food being consumed.
Empaths are also drawn to nature as being outside can increase the ability to ‘recharge.’ Insensitive people use the term ‘tree-hugger’ as a way to insult those who are especially connected to nature. What they don’t realize is that tree-hugging has been studied and proven as a way to reduce stress and anxiety.
3. EMpaths just ‘know’ things
Empaths function using intuition more than conscious reasoning. This means that you might know something instantly without any physical proof or evidence. Many people are intuitive but not overly empathetic.
Those of us who are possess something called “intuitive empathy.” This allows us to sense and absorb information from the bodies of others. Most of the time, this is done naturally and without effort.
4. Your mood fluctuates a lot
Empaths are sometimes misdiagnosed as having a mood disorder because of ups and downs that come along with taking on tons of energy and, often negativity, from others.
If you find yourself suddenly in a bad mood, you’ve likely picked up this energy from someone (or somewhere) else. At the end of this post, I’ll outline some ways to fix this common empath issue.
5. You have a low threshold for pain, violence, and noise
Minor injuries, immunizations, and otherwise physically painful experiences can be really difficult for a highly empathetic person to handle. This is related to the fact that many empaths have a low tolerance for stimulation in general.
Loud noises, strong smells, and even physical touch can trigger overwhelming emotions as well. Empaths also find violent images and videos difficult to watch and tend to avoid social media and news airings that show such acts.
6. You stay sick and tired (literally)
There are many people who believe that all physical illness starts with negative emotion in the body. If this is true, it explains why so many empaths stay sick or struggle with chronic fatigue.
The harmful effect that negative emotions of others can have on an empath’s health is one of the main reasons all highly sensitive people must learn to protect themselves through absorption blocking.
7. You need a ‘people detox’
One of the ways empaths deal with the effects of absorbing others’ emotions is to disconnect from people altogether. It is a myth that all empaths are introverts who prefer to be alone all of the time.
Many are outgoing extraverts who enjoy socializing but avoid it because of the heaviness that is felt aftward. This makes the tendency to withdraw from interaction with people with a common empathic trait.
8. Your mind feels very busy or distracted
It is not uncommon for an empath to be diagnosed as having ADHD or some other disorder that is marked by impulsivity or the inability to focus. Often described as ‘monkey mind,’ it can be hard to focus on things you love and enjoy when tons of sensory information is being brought inside.
Becoming aware of just how many thoughts run through your mind every day is a good place to start. You’ll notice that many (if not most) of these thoughts are unneeded or unwanted.
I like to describe this as a ‘hoarders’ situation in which one’s home (mind) is being filled with tons of junk that you didn’t request. Thankfully, meditation and other mindfulness techniques can stop this ‘drop off’ from continuing.
9. Clutter is your enemy
This is a sign that is less known than some of the others mentioned in this list. To really understand how being overwhelmed by clutter is related to highly sensitive people, you have to think about what an object is made of at its core.
If you ever took a high school or college science class, you probably learned about potential energy. This means that even when an object is perfectly still, it contains the energy needed to move.
Just like an empath can absorb the energy of a person, they can also soak up the vibrations of objects. For this reason, it is super important to make sure that you declutter your home (especially your bedroom) often.
10. You struggle with addictions or obesity
Not all empathic traits are positive. Thinking that being an empath is all ‘rainbows’ and ‘sunshine’ is what makes the abilities difficult for those with true empathic natures.
It might be surprising, but addictions to alcohol, food, work, and drugs are common amongst empaths because those things serve as distractions that take the focus away from negative emotions and mental disturbances.
This isn’t something that a person chooses consciously, and most are unaware of the true reasons for their overeating, excessive drinking, etc. Empaths also tend to put on a lot of weight around their middle as a physical way to ‘pad themselves’ against absorbing energy.
11. Empaths and Relationships
You might think that the ability to understand people very well would make those of us with empathetic gifts skilled in friendship and love. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Although quick to fall in love and connect, empaths find relationships challenging because of what they are at their core: an energy flow between two people. This is why it is so important to only be in connection with people whose energies are in alignment with your own.
12. Empaths and narcissists
Narcissists target Empaths. It might seem hard to keep yourself aligned with only positive people, especially when it seems that energetic opposites are constantly drawn to each other. The takers are naturally attracted to the givers and vice versa.
Earlier I mentioned that empathy is a trait that you can have none, some, or a lot of. Empaths are on the high end of this scale while narcissists, sociopaths, and other types of ‘Cluster B’ personalities can be found on the other end of the spectrum.
These people are often labeled energy vampires because of their tendency to suck up all of a person’s positivity and leave toxic emotional waste behind.
Empaths who are unaware of how to protect themselves emotionally will naturally attract these vultures — an empath narcissist marriage isn’t uncommon.
This is especially true for those who were raised by addicts, have a narcissistic parent, or have a past full of trauma or pain.
13. Empaths have low self-esteem or are overly critical (of themself)
While narcissists and other energy vampires tend to project onto everyone else, empaths take turn blame inward. Empaths are especially prone to low self-esteem because of the emotional turmoil many feel.
The same is true of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, but most can be undone by figuring out how to guard one’s self.
After reading about the signs above, you might be even more convinced that you have higher than average empathic abilities. Like some personality traits, empathy can present itself as a sliding scale, with some being very compassionate and some being very closed off to the feelings of others.
The empath test below can give you an even better idea of where you fall on the pendulum.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you feel different or as if you don’t fit in with others?
- Are you able to feel the pain of people or animals?
- Do these feelings tend to manifest physically?
- Do you know what others are feeling, even if they are trying to hide it?
- Are there times when you (or others) feel you are too emotional or sensitive?
- Do you struggle with chronic anxiety or depression that isn’t situational?
- Does noise, lots of movement, or certain smells make you feel anxious?
- Do you avoid public places because they make you feel overwhelmed?
- Do you feel drained after being around large groups?
- Is your mood affected by the emotional state of others?
- Are interpersonal relationships with others hard for you to manage?
- Do art, literature, and music move you emotionally?
- Do you avoid conflict with others because of the way it makes you feel?
- Are there times when you mimic the accents or mannerisms of others without meaning to?
- Does multitasking seem overly difficult for you?
- Are you more connected with nature and animals than the average person?
- Do people tend to come to you for help with their problems?
- Are you affected physically or emotionally by violent images or videos?
- Do you overeat, drink, smoke, or engage in other unhealthy habits to deal with strong emotions?
- Do certain medications or caffeine have a strong effect on your physical or mental state?
If you answered ‘yes’ to 8 or more of these questions, you have greater empathic abilities than the average person. 12 or more suggests that you are hyper-empathetic (an empath).
How to Deal with Being an Empath?
Like all gifts, being empathic comes with both opportunities and obstacles. Seen by some as a gift and others as a curse, lots of effort and patience is required when learning how to deal with being an empath. The information below will help you learn to protect yourself from absorbing unwanted energy and find balance.
Balance your Energy Centers
Although there is much debate on how or why some people are more empathetic than others, many believe that the absorption of others’ negative energy has to do overactive chakras.
These seven spiritual energy centers are located in a line starting just above the head and ending at the very base of the spine. One’s chakras should be open, but not in overdrive. Otherwise, you can end up the following effects of overactive chakras:
- Experiencing a lack of inspiration, mental fogginess, depression, and emotional detachment (overactive crown chakra)
- Feeling overwhelmed, experiencing headaches or delusions, and experiencing nightmares (overactive third-eye chakra)
- Over-talking, gossiping, and being critical and judgmental of yourself or others (overactive throat chakra)
- Struggling with co-dependency, tolerating too much from others, losing one’s own identity, and saying yes when you mean no (overactive heart chakra)
- Fighting against a desire to control, perfectionism, stubbornness, and eating disorders (overactive solar plexus)
- Being overly emotional, struggling with addictions, or feeling unable to let go of attachments (overactive sacral chakra)
- Feeling angry, greedy, impatient, or stuck (overactive root chakra)
Chakra experts claim that not fixing this problem can also lead to blocked chakras. So to fix this problem, you must balance your energy centers. Read our article about chakra healing for a step-by-step guide on how to do this.
Use Visualization Techniques
To prevent blocked and overactive chakras in the first place, empaths can use shield visualization. Although this might seem complicated, it’s actually very simple to do.
When you start to feel uncomfortable (with a person, place, or situation,) take a moment to imagine a beautiful shield or bubble of white light is surrounding you. It should completely surround your body and extend out a few inches.
Remind yourself that your shield is protecting you from toxicity, bringing in unwanted energy, and stress. It also stops your own energy from being sucked up by emotional vampires.
As silly as this might seem, science has proven that the body and mind have trouble distinguishing what we imagine from reality.
This is why thinking of an unpleasant experience like your spouse cheating or a loved one dying can bring on such strong physical and emotional reactions.
When you visualize this shield blocking unwanted vibrations, your body will do the work.
Set Energetic Boundaries for Yourself
Even the best shielder can have trouble keeping all negative energy out. This is why it is crucial to disconnect from those who are toxic and set energetic boundaries at work and at home. You can do this by:
- Being aware of how you feel and what is causing these feelings. Take notice of your inner world and what things cause your energy to shift. When a feeling comes up, ask yourself, “Is this mine or someone else’s emotion?” This will help you not to react to every feeling that presents itself.
- Limit draining interactions by detaching from people who make you feel overwhelmed or drained. A lot of empaths struggle with this because we feel that disengaging is selfish. However, protecting your own energy is necessary, not mean or egotistical. If you work or live with people who make you feel
- Use physical objects such as crystals, plants, and even noise-canceling headphones to help you set energetic boundaries. One thing that I have found helpful is using a weighted blanket that serves as a ‘shield’ while protecting my energy and reducing my anxiety when I sleep.
- Figure out what boosts your energy and focus on those things. Exercising, getting outside, eating good foods, watching your thoughts, and practicing meditation and/or yoga are all places to start. If you’re a complete newbie, read this guide with the best yoga books for beginners.
- Another practice to employ is grounding. This involves connecting to both yourself and the eath. You can do this by placing your feet firmly on the ground and then sending any negative energy out of your body and into the field.
Meditation is important for anyone who wants to become his or her best self, not just empaths. However, embracing this practice is especially important for those who struggle with the negative effects of being highly sensitive. Some of the benefits include:
- Lowered stress and anxiety
- Better control of one’s thoughts and attention span
- Stronger memory and self-awareness
- Improved immune system and energy levels
- Regulation of mood and sleep
A lot of people are put off by meditation because they don’t understand the purpose, think it is linked to religion, or just don’t know how to get started.
The truth is, you don’t need to pay for some expensive app or do anything special to meditate. Simply find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down and relax your body.
Then, begin to focus on your breathing, taking in slow, deep breaths as you count or repeat a mantra of some kind. Doing so will allow you to go beyond your conscious mind and connect with yourself (higher) inner self.
Although this might feel a little strange at first, just 20 minutes a day will allow the bulleted benefits above to start to manifest. You can find more tips on how to meditate in my article about clairvoyance and claircognizance.
Empaths and Relationships
My final suggestion for empaths learning to make the best of their extra-sensory abilities is to detach from anyone who drains your energy or affects you negatively on a daily basis. I’ve mentioned this vaguely throughout the article, but I think it is really important to devote at least a paragraph to explaining why this is not only suggested by necessary.
Limit Toxic Interactions
Imagine this scene: You are allergic to seaweed, and anytime you come in contact with it, your skin breaks out, your eyes swell, and you develop skin sores. You love swimming in the ocean, but when you do, you usually touch some seaweed and end up sick.
You try to avoid this problem by wearing protective swim gear and only swimming in places where seaweed isn’t prevalent. Still, you know there is a risk of having an allergic reaction, and often, this is what occurs.
This is similar to the exchange between empaths and negative family members, partners, and friends. We call these people’ toxic’ because of the harmful effects of being around them.
Empath and Narcissist Relationship
If you are in a relationship with an energy vampire or narcissist, the only way to fully escape from their grasp is to ‘stop swimming’ with them. If you can, this means no contact. However, I realize that this isn’t possible in all cases. This is especially true if you have children with a person or they are a parent.
If this is the case for you, you can still protect your energy centers by using something called the ‘grey rock‘ method. This technique works in two ways. For one, it limits your contact with energy vampires and two; it encourages them to lose interest in you. Unbalanced people tend to be attracted to drama and chaos.
Psychopaths enjoy the push and pull and need your energy to feel fulfilled. By being emotionally detached and acting like a dull ‘rock,’ you undermine toxic people’s ability to lure you into an energy exchange. The result? You are protected and able to control your empathic skills better.
Becoming the empath you’re supposed to be
Because we are so intuitive, any empath who has read this far into the article has probably determined ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ when it comes to having empathetic abilities.
If you think for the slightest bit that you might possess empathetic abilities, it is worth exploring empowering those abilities as soon as you can.
You have so much untapped potential and massive abundance waiting for you once you have a system in place to help you achieve your empowerment.
Many people told me about the enlightenment once you’re finally free of burdens and are able to step into the light to see the blessings of being an empowered empath.