You may have spotted the word empath on social media and wondered what the heck it means. Despite becoming popularised by meme culture, it’s actually an important concept that deserves our attention and respect, especially since so many empaths walk among us. You may even be an empath without knowing.
Here, we’re going to look into what an empath is and how to figure out if you identify as one.
Signs you are an empath
As the name suggests, empaths are people who have a high level of empathy, more so than the average person.
They’re not super humans per se, but they feel things much deeper than anyone else.
Because the term ’empath’ is rooted in psychology, we spoke to psychologist Gemma Cribb of Equilibrium Psychology
“An empath is someone who can experience high levels of empathy – the ability to understand and sense other people’s feelings,” she told us.
“Some empaths are so sensitive to other people’s feelings they can experience ’emotional contagion’ and actually feel the feelings of others in their own body. We all have ‘mirror neurons’ in our brains that help us pick up and mirror the emotions of the people we interact with. It is speculated that some people, empaths, may have more mirror neurons than others.”
The joys of empathy
While there’s “no set criteria” to determine if you’re an empath, according to Gemma, there are some psychologist-approved ways to suss if this means you.
“Some of the signs relate to how you respond physically and emotionally to big emotional events taking place in front of you,” Gemma said.
“If you find yourself being very sensitive to other’s feelings, taking on other’s stress or sadness, becoming very upset by the news or crying in sad movies, you may be an empath.
“Empaths may also be more likely to feel overwhelmed in groups of people or by the energy of crowds and crowded spaces.”
What are empaths capable of?
So you’ve determined that you are, in fact, an empath… what now?
Well, it’s not like you’re going to develop super human abilities like telepathy or telekinesis or anything like that, but there are some benefits to being in tune with other peoples’ emotions.
“Having high levels of empathy can help you relate to other people and encourage deeper levels of intimacy in your relationships,” Gemma told us.
“Understanding other peoples’ emotional reactions can help you understand who they are as people and use this information to make better choices for yourself as to who you want in your social circles and who you don’t.”
She also informed us that “being able to understand and validate other’s emotions can also help them feel more supported and allow them to process and resolve their emotions more quickly and easily.”
What to do if you’re struggling
While being an empath can be a blessing, it can also be a curse as it’s an incredibly difficult feat to feel everything so deeply.
Empaths lack the filters that most people use to protect their heart and mind from overloading themselves with emotions and other peoples’ energy.
Just because you’re super in tune with emotions doesn’t mean you automatically have the ability to handle them, so if you’re struggling with the overflow of feelings, make sure you see a therapist to discuss what’s going on.
Think of yourself as a sponge who absorbs all those emotions, and when you become full, it’s a very heavy place to be.
So by offloading those thoughts and feelings onto a trained therapist, you’re releasing those emotions and freeing yourself of any pain you might be feeling.
Advice from a fellow empath
I have identified as an empath for many years now, long before it became a buzz word on the internet.
Ever since I was young, I’ve always been deeply in touch with other peoples’ feelings, to the point where sometimes the emotions of those around me will override my own.
I’ve always hated crowds. I’m always super anxious before attending a party or a gig, not because of the social aspect, but because I find it difficult to surround myself with so many humans at once because the overload of emotions can feel like daggers for an empath.
I often wonder, is this a blessing that I’ve been bestowed with or a curse?
Honestly, I see it as both.
There is great power in knowing and owning your emotions. There’s great pain that comes with it as well, of course. But honestly, I’d rather feel everything than feel nothing.
For anyone who’s just discovering that you, too, identify as an empath, my advice to you would be to honour your gift, do not fight it or reject it.
If you’re struggling, seek help. Whether it’s from a friend or a therapist.
Empaths always find great comfort in spending time in nature, so if you’re ever feeling depleted, go for a swim in the ocean or a walk through the park. Do whatever it takes to nourish your soul and cleanse your mind, body and spirit.