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Most people have felt empathy at some point in their lives but there is a difference between being empathetic and being an empath.
The feeling of empathy is triggered from an external source such as a phone call, or the expression on someone’s face. An empath actually feels the living being’s energy to know what it is experiencing.
According to Dr. Judith Orloff, empaths absorb the world’s joys and stresses like “emotional sponges.” In Dr. Orloff’s opinion, empaths can’t help but take in surrounding emotions or energies, good, bad, or in between.
Traits of an Empath
- Intimacy can be overwhelming. Empaths find frequent close contact difficult. They want to develop long lasting relationships however, spending too much time with someone leads to stress and overwhelm. Sensory overload or frayed nerves may occur from too much talking or touching. They fear expressing their need for time alone because they absorb their partner’s hurt feelings leading them to feel more stressed.
- Empaths tend to have strong gut feelings when something is off. They’re able to pick up subtle clues providing insight to the thoughts of others.
- Nature is a source of comfort to them. They tend to be more drawn to nature and remote areas which provide a calming space to rest from overwhelming sensations, sounds and emotions.
- An empath doesn’t do well in crowds. Because they can absorb energy by being in someone’s presence, being in crowded or busy places magnifies the sensitivity making it almost unbearable. When picking up negative emotions, energy, or physical distress it’s possible to become overwhelmed or physically ill.
- Empaths are great listeners often causing them to be a dumping ground for everyone’s problems. People tend to reach out to them first when they have a problem. Because they are caring individuals, it is hard for them to tell people they’re becoming overwhelmed. Their need to help people may leave them unaware of toxic people. This also makes them prime targets for narcissists.
- Sensitivity to sounds, smells and sensations is also a common trait. Fragrances and odors may affect them more strongly, as do jarring and physical sensations. Empaths prefer to listen to music at low volumes or read the newspaper rather than listen to the evening news. Certain sounds may trigger an emotional response. Because the senses are heightened, it is not uncommon for an empath to feel drained and exhausted. Even positive feelings can tire them. If they don’t find a means of escape they are more likely to burnout.
- An empath does not like conflict and will actively try to avoid it. Their higher sensitivity makes it easier to get their feelings hurt. They tend to take things personally, off-handed remarks cut them deeply. Arguments and fights cause empaths more stress because they are dealing with everyone’s feelings, not just their own.
- Isolation helps their recovery process. While shutting out the world completely may seem healing, prolonged isolation can take its toll on their mental health.
- Setting boundaries are difficult because they struggle to turn off their feelings. An empath finds it impossible to stop giving, even when they’re out of energy.
- It is hard for an empath to cope with sensory and emotional overload. They find it difficult to protect themselves from taking on someone else’s emotions. The emotional “noise” of the world can cause significant distress when you lack the proper tools to manage it.
Many of us know someone who possesses many, if not all, of these traits. Being an empath is not a specific diagnosis because it is not considered a “condition.” If you or someone you know struggles with being an empath it’s important to know there is information out there that can help you. For more information some of Dr. Orloff’s publications on empaths can be found at the Book Outlet