What is an Empath?

By Amalia Sirica, LCSW

According to Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist specializing in treating empaths: “Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners.”

How Do I Know If I Am an Empath?

Though there is no clinical diagnosis of being an empath, these seven signs of empaths can indicate you have a highly empathetic nature.

You have good intuition. Do you often just know things without being able to explain why or how? Empaths generally have excellent intuition. You can pick up on things that are not said.

You’re a sounding board for other people’s problems. Do people naturally gravitate to you? Do complete strangers tell you about their lives? Maybe you are told that people feel at ease and safe in your presence. Caretaker roles may come easily to you.

You consider yourself an introvert. The difference between extroverted and introverted lies in how you recharge your energy. Do you often feel drained after spending time with others As an empath, you likely need time alone to recharge and recenter to tap back into your intuition.

You try to avoid conflict. You may tend to be conflict-averse because you do not want to upset or disappoint others. You might also conflate being conflict-averse with being kind and gentle.

You’re able to feel and mirror the emotions of others. This can be particularly difficult around people that you care for deeply. The closer the bond, the more you might feel what they are feeling. This is a superpower once you learn how to manage it. You can hold space for the emotions of others while holding boundaries and remembering your own needs.

You’re easily overwhelmed by intimate relationships. As an empath, you might both seek out and avoid deep relationships. Shallow relationships feel constricting and draining, but deep relationships can feel scary. It may be difficult to determine where you end and the other person begins.

You’re easily offended. There is a lot of stigma in our culture around being sensitive. We are encouraged to close off and be “tough.” When empaths ignore pain in this way, it grows until even the slightest comment from a friend or loved one is enough to set us off. This can result in anger and resentment.

Managing Empathy

If your empathetic nature begins to feel like a burden instead of a blessing, chances are you are not caring for yourself. Despite how it may feel, empathy is a finite resource. It is exhaustible and must be replenished.

What are some signs that your empathy reserve has become depleted?

  • Irritability
  • Quick to anger
  • Becoming easily offended
  • Becoming tearful easily
  • Feeling the desire to isolate yourself
  • Feelings of depression and hopelessness
  • Having a hard time connecting to your intuition

All of these examples are your body letting you know that it needs rest. These seven strategies can help:

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an important tool to get in touch with your intuition and maintain boundaries between your emotions and the emotions of the world. This is particularly difficult when your needs come into direct conflict with the needs of others. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathwork can help us come back to center and into our bodies.

A common occurrence for people who experience the world deeply is to separate from their bodies to protect themselves from harm. This process is called dissociation, and it is common in survivors of trauma. It is a way of avoiding feeling, something that is often overwhelming for empaths. Mindfulness practices offer safe ways to come back into the body. If you are a survivor of trauma of any kind, it is recommended that you consult an expert while exploring some of these practices, as they can elicit intense emotional experiences.

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is often difficult for empaths. There is a tendency to operate between extremes. Boundaries are the key to existing in the happy middle ground.

Keep your heart open, be kind and loving, but without exhausting yourself to the point of ignoring your own needs and desires.

Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are great first thing in the morning and become even more powerful when combined with a tool called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This involves tapping on certain points on the body while repeating positive affirmations.

Positive affirmations can help you become confident in yourself and your ability to make powerful choices.

Using Grounding Techniques

Many of the techniques listed above can be used for grounding (EFT Tapping, meditation, yoga, etc.). Time in nature is also essential. Time spent in nature is where we can really hear ourselves think. If you are having a hard time getting in touch with intuition, you can spend some time next to the water or go on a hike.

Cutting Out Toxic People From Your Life

It is true that being highly empathetic tends to attract people who need healing. Replacing “toxic people” with “people that need healing” allows us to retain empathy for ourselves and others.

That said, pay attention to how you feel after you spend time with someone. Are you drained afterward or content? This will tell you a lot about who should be kept close and who should be held lovingly at a distance. This includes family relationships.

It is not always necessary to cut people out of your life to have healthy boundaries, but if someone repeatedly disrespects your boundaries, it might be time for the relationship to end.

Accountability

It might feel easier to blame others and attribute our behavior to external factors. In the end, that will always keep us stuck. No evolution is possible from that space.

Accountability feels scary at first, and then it feels like freedom. Because you are no longer handing your power over to external factors and random chance. You are taking the reins of your life in hand and taking control of your destiny.

Gratitude

A daily gratitude practice can change your life and mindset. We can practice gratitude in a variety of different ways. An excellent place to start is by keeping a gratitude journal or implementing gratitude lists following your morning meditation practice.

How To Get Help

Being deeply feeling can often feel like a burden, but with time, and by practicing some of the techniques mentioned above, being an empath can feel like a gift.

If you are interested in more resources and ways to practice self-care, check out Nobu. Nobu is a comprehensive mental wellness app that utilizes strategies and tools shown to effectively manage mental health concerns, including meditation techniques, mental health lessons and assessments. It also provides access to sessions with licensed therapists for an additional cost. Get Nobu on the App store and Google Play store and start working towards your personalized mental health goals.

Edited by – Jonathan Strum Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.
Written by – Amalia-Sirica, LCSW Amalia Sirica is New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a writer. She has spent the last ten years working with children, young adults and adults of all different backgrounds and experiences. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duke University, and her master’s degree in Social Work from New York University…. Read more.
dr angela phillips

Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.