Have you ever walked in a room and had a wave of negative energy wash over you?
Have you had a conversation with a stranger and could tell, without them saying a word about it, that they were deeply troubled or sad?
Do you ever feel so profoundly moved by something beautiful that you start to cry?
If any of these ring true for you, you might be an empath — a highly sensitive person who has a more heightened awareness to subtle stimuli.
If you are an empath, you’ve likely known for some time you are different from most people around you. You’ve probably been accused of being too sensitive or overly emotional your whole life. As a child, you may have had a hard time adjusting to new situations. You may have cried easily, had unusually deep thoughts, or asked out-of-the-ordinary questions.
You may even believe there’s something wrong with you or that you have some kind of emotional disorder. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Being an empath isn’t something shameful or even very unusual. According to research conducted by Elaine Aron, PhD, a psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York, 20% of the population are genetically predisposed to be more aware and empathic.
She and her research team have found physical evidence in the brain that empaths respond especially strongly to certain situations that trigger emotions. Says Dr. Aron, “We found that areas of the brain involved with awareness and emotion, particularly those areas connected with empathetic feelings, in the highly sensitive people showed substantially greater blood flow to relevant brain areas than was seen in individuals with low sensitivity during the 12-second period when they viewed the photos [of happy and sad faces].”
Being an empath is not a disorder — it is an innate quality you should never feel shameful about. Although some of the traits of empaths make it more difficult to operate in a world dominated by less sensitive people, there are many positive aspects of being an empath. Says Dr. Judith Orloff in her New York Times bestseller, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, “Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers.”
Empaths feel positive, loving emotions deeply and appreciate the subtitles of beauty, art, and music. They flourish in calm, loving, and peaceful environments. On the flip side, however, empaths feel all emotions keenly — even negative emotions. Says Dr. Orloff, they are so in-tune to other’s negative feelings they become “angst-sucking sponges.” As a result, they are vulnerable to emotional abusers who want to use and manipulate them. Stressful situations and people overwhelm them and often trigger serious issues like depression, anxiety, weight gain, and addictions.
Here are 22 empath traits that might suggest you are a highly sensitive person:
1. People point it out
You’ve been told all your life you are too sensitive, overly emotional, or wear your heart on your sleeve. People tell you that you pick up on cues or feelings they don’t even notice.
2. You feel other’s feelings
You’ve noticed how sensitive you are to the emotions of others. Even before they tell you how they are feeling, you already know. You can enter a room and have a sense of the general mood of the environment.
3. Negativity overwhelms you
Where others can tolerate raised voices, conflict, or anger, it sends you over the edge. You almost feel physically sick or in pain as a result of the negative energy around you. You crave peace and calm.
4. Being in crowded places overwhelms you
You don’t like being in malls, sporting events, airports or other public places with crowds of people. You feel suffocated and overly-excited. You can’t wait to leave.
5. Strong intuition
You seem to know things without being told. You sense what needs to be done or what’s about to happen. Your gut feelings nearly always prove to be correct.
6. Pain intolerance
More than others you know, you have a lower threshold for pain tolerance. You can’t stand getting shots, feeling nauseated, or dealing with a minor injury. You may even have had a doctor tell you to stop complaining so much.
7. You must have alone time
You need time every day with no sensory input. You want to withdraw to your room or another quiet place to recharge.
8. You avoid negative media images
You find it extremely disturbing to watch or read about tragic news events or see unpleasant images. It bothers you so much, you avoid looking at these images at all costs.
9. You can easily tell when someone is lying
All you need to do is look at their faces or listen to their tone of voice, and you know instantly whether or not they are telling the truth.
10. You are more sensitive to stimulants/medications
Caffeine in particular makes you more anxious and agitated than the average person. You can never drink caffeine in the evening if you want to sleep. You often have reactions or side effects to medications.
11. You often show up with the symptoms of those around you
If someone close to you is sick or depressed, you will develop the same ailments.
12. You frequently have lower back and digestive problems
These are the result of dealing with negative and stressful situations and people. Your feelings show up as these physical symptoms.
13. You are the dumping ground for the problems of others
People around you seem to gravitate toward you and unload all of their pain and problems on you. Because you are an empath, you feel compelled to help, even to your own detriment.
14. You often feel fatigued
Because others take so much from you, you often feel drained of energy and extremely tired. You might even have chronic fatigue syndrome.
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15. You have a very vibrant inner life
You are highly creative, imaginative, and loving. You may be involved in the arts or other creative pursuits. You feel close to animals and especially enjoy your relationship with your pets.
16. You are sensitive to sounds and sensory feelings
Loud noises or sudden dramatic movements startle you. You also feel overwhelmed by bright lights, rough fabrics, and strong smells. You also notice very delicate smells, touch, and sounds.
17. You don’t like too many things at once
When you have to multi-task or have too much coming at you at once, you feel rattled and overwhelmed.
18. You manage your environment
You create your living and working environment to accommodate your sensitivities. You arrange your schedule and commitments to avoid unpleasant, chaotic, or overly stimulating situations.
19. You don’t like narcissists
You are particularly bothered by narcissists who put themselves first all the time and aren’t sensitive to the feelings of others. You may even believe there’s something wrong with you or that you have some kind of emotional disorder.
20. You can almost feel the days of the week
Each day of the week has a specific “feel” to it. You notice when a Wednesday feels like a Saturday. You feel particularly heavy at the start of the work week. Even months and seasons have a particular feel.
21. You are a great listener
People tell you this all the time. You listen consciously and know the right questions and comments to draw people out and make them feel heard.
22. You get bored easily
As an empath, you need to focus on work and activities that stimulate your creativity and passion. If you get bored, you resort to daydreaming, doodling, etc. However, you are still very conscientious and try hard to avoid making mistakes.
If you are an empath, know that you have an ability to use your sensitivity for your own good and the good of others. To protect yourself, mindfully manage your environment and screen out people who drain you or take advantage of your sensitive nature. Acknowledge that you have the benefit of feeling positive experiences more profoundly, and accept that your reactions to pain, anger, stimulation are normal — but not universally understood.
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You are certainly not alone as an empath. A fifth of the population understands you completely and appreciates your special characteristics. People who aren’t highly sensitive can appreciate your unique qualities if you share this information with them. If you are reading this, and you aren’t an empath, perhaps you recognize these traits in someone you know and love. It is through understanding and awareness that empaths and non-empaths can live and work together in mutually supportive and thoughtful ways.
photo credit: Pulpolux