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By Judith Orloff M.D.
The trademark of an empath is feeling and absorbing other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of their high sensitivities. These people filter the world through their intuition and have a difficult time intellectualizing their feelings. As a psychiatrist and empath myself, I know the challenges of being a highly sensitive person. When overwhelmed with the impact of stressful emotions, empaths may experience panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, food, sex, and drug binges, or exhibit many other physical symptoms that defy traditional diagnosis.
But empaths can also learn how to center themselves so that they don’t feel too much or become overloaded. The first step is to acknowledge that you are an empath. Here are the top 10 traits of an empath, from my book on how to achieve emotional freedom. See if you can relate:
1. Empaths are highly sensitive.
Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually open, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, these world-class nurturers will be there for you. But they can easily have their feelings hurt, too: Empaths are often told that they are “too sensitive” and need to “toughen up.”
2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions.
Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme. They take on negativity such as anger or anxiety, which can be exhausting for them. If they are around peace and love, though, their bodies take these on and flourish.
3. Many empaths are introverted.
Empaths become overwhelmed in crowds, which can amplify their empathy. They tend to be introverted and prefer one-to-one contact or small groups. Even if an empath is more extroverted they may prefer to limit how much time they spend in a crowd or at a party.
4. Empaths are highly intuitive.
Empaths experience the world through their intuition. It is important for them to develop their intuition and listen to their gut feelings about people. This helps empaths find positive relationships and avoid energy vampires. (See How to Develop Your Intuition.)
5. Empaths need alone time.
As super-responders, empaths find being around people can be draining, so they periodically need time alone to recharge. Even a brief escape prevents emotional overload. For example, empaths like to take their own cars when they go places so they can leave when they please.
6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships.
Too much togetherness can be difficult for an empath so they may avoid intimate relationships. Deep down they are afraid of being engulfed and losing their identity. For empaths to be at ease in a relationship, the traditional paradigm for being a couple must be redefined. (See Secrets for Sensitive People: Why Empaths Stay Lonely.)
7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires.
An empath’s sensitivity makes them particularly easy marks for energy vampires, whose fear or rage can sap their energy and peace of mind. These vampires may do more than drain an empath’s physical energy. Especially dangerous ones such as narcissists (who lack empathy and are only concerned with themselves) can make empaths believe they’re unworthy and unlovable. Other vampires include The Victim, The Chronic Talker, The Drama Queen and more.
8. Empaths become replenished in nature.
The busyness of everyday life can be too much for an empath. The natural world nourishes and restores them. It helps them release their burdens and they can take refuge in the presence of green wild things, the ocean, or other bodies of water.
9. Empaths have highly tuned senses.
An empath’s nerves can get frayed by noise, smells, or excessive talking.
10. Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much.
Empaths are big-hearted people and try to relieve the pain of others: a homeless person holding a cardboard “I’m hungry” sign at a busy intersection, a hurt child, a distraught friend. It’s natural to want to reach out to these people and ease their pain. But empaths don’t stop there. Instead, they take it on—suddenly they’re the one feeling drained or upset when they felt fine before.
As an empath myself, I use many strategies to protect my sensitivities, such as fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries with draining people, meditation to calm and center myself, and going out into nature. I find being an empath a gift, but I had to learn to take care of myself. Empaths have special needs. If you’re one of us, it’s important to honor your needs and communicate them to your loved ones.