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]."
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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.