Signs You May Be An Empath

Do you ever find yourself in a crowded grocery store and suddenly experience an intense emotion out of nowhere, only to realize it isn't your own? Do you always notice when someone feels a bit off, even though no one else does? Are others often telling you that you're super sensitive? If you've answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you might be an empath.

"Empaths have a higher sensitivity to outside stimuli such as sounds, big personalities, and hectic environments," therapist Kim Egel tells Healthline. "They bring a lot of heart and care to the world and feel things very deeply." Judith Orloff, M.D., an expert on the topic of empaths, adds that it is very likely that empaths don't have the ability to "filter" out outside stimulation like "most" people do. Instead of being able to shut themselves off from the feelings and experiences of others, they absorb them like a sponge, regardless if they're "good or bad." Orloff uses the term "emotional sponges" to describe empaths for this very reason.

When you think about it, being an empath is quite exhausting. Feeling our own emotions is already tough enough without adding other people's feelings into the mix. If you've always wondered why you're so in tune with how everyone feels, it might simply be because you're an emotional sponge too. Read on for some telltale signs that indicate you're an empath.

Everyone always tells you all their problems

If you've been baffled by the fact that everyone always seems to think you can give better advice than their therapist, it's likely because people feel drawn to your empathetic abilities. Unfortunately, this often means that people dump all their emotional baggage on you, and some do this without any thought as to how their negative emotions and energy might affect you. The Berkeley Well-Being Institute refers to these people as "energy vampires."

Energy vampires tend to enjoy complaining all the time. Instead of taking some small steps to address the problems they are facing, they opt to simply complain and force you to listen to them. If you notice that you attract a lot of these people, it's because energy vampires are naturally drawn to empaths. In fact, they tend to lack empathy themselves. You're likely a good listener, and because of that, they will dump their emotions on you without a second thought. You'll notice that you usually feel super overwhelmed and exhausted after you've been in the presence of such an individual.

The best way to handle this situation is to set some strict boundaries, especially if the person is a family member or co-worker. Making sure they don't have access to you 24/7 will help protect your mental health. If the person reacts negatively to the boundaries you set, it might be wise to cut them off entirely.

You typically try to avoid crowds because they overwhelm you

If you'd rather cut off your arm than go to that loud rock concert with your friends because you know it'll make you feel incredibly overwhelmed, there's a good chance that you're an empath and, therefore, can't deal well with all the emotions and energy of a massive crowd. Therapist Barrie Sueskind told Healthline that because empaths can experience the emotions of others by simply being near that person, crowded places can be almost unbearable for them. All the emotions going around in a crowd can be even louder to the empath than the music blaring through the speakers. 

Therapist Kim Egel agreed, saying, "empaths can be easily overwhelmed by feeling everything more intensely." She notes that even spending a prolonged period of time in the presence of a small group of people can be too much for an empath. In fact, the energy from a crowd of people can become so overwhelming that an empath may become physically sick. If you tend to feel your best when you're on your own or with a very small group of people, it's very likely that you're an empath — you're not weird or a loner. You simply need less emotional noise to function properly and feel your best.

You try to avoid conflict at all costs

If you're always doing everything in your power to protect the peace because you absolutely dread facing any conflict, you might be an empath, friend. Nutritious Life notes that empaths will often step in and change the subject the second things start to get heated because they dread the vibe the conflict that ensues will bring about. Empaths would rarely start an argument for this very reason.

"[Empaths are] very careful in how they speak and how they conduct themselves," clinical psychologist and author Ramani Durvasula told USA Today. "The true empath, if it was truly to be viewed as in a more clinical realm, is that person is also very, very closely self-monitored and very self-aware in how they interact with other people," she adds. If what Durvasula says describes you to a T, you can be almost certain you're an empath.

Speaking to Pure Wow, Judith Orloff, M.D., explained that people often refer to empaths as "peacemakers" because of their tendency to avoid conflict at all costs. Empaths are pretty good at negotiating peace because of their ability to feel the emotions of others. They can often lay out the facts without making anyone feel judged, successfully defusing a situation. While being able to feel everyone's emotions can really suck sometimes, it does have its perks.

You often need time alone to refuel

The thing about being an empath is that being around people can make you feel completely drained. "Heightened sensitivity to other people's pain can be draining, so empaths may find themselves easily fatigued," therapist Barrie Sueskind tells Healthline. She adds that it isn't only negative emotions that can be draining to empaths — an onslaught of positive emotions can have the same effect. This is why empaths often need and treasure their alone time, as it gives them a chance to feel their own feelings and recharge without being distracted by the emotions of others. If an empath doesn't get enough time by themselves to recuperate, it can lead to burnout (for real) and affect their mental health and well-being negatively.

Because empaths often need time alone to stay sane, many dub these individuals as introverts. This, however, is not necessarily true for all empaths. There are extroverted empaths out there, and they often find it pretty challenging to strike the perfect balance between spending time with people and spending quality time with themselves to decompress. "[Empaths] feel so much of other people's pain that you will see they'll get deeply affected," clinical psychologist and author Ramani Durvasula tells USA Today, adding that dealing with those emotions can leave empaths feeling "wrung out." If they don't take time by themselves to recharge, they will eventually deal with physical and emotional fatigue. In severe cases, some empaths even develop physical illnesses as a result — yikes!

You want to help everyone

If you have a burning desire to help people, no matter the cost to yourself, you're likely an empath. Andre Sólo, an author, researcher, and speaker, wrote an article for his website Highly Sensitive Refuge and explained that "[f]or an empath, people are the brightest things on their radar, and it's impossible not to see — and respond to — the needs of others." He adds that this is what makes empaths such a valuable part of society.

There are different types of empaths, and they exist on a continuum, meaning that some experience others' emotions more intensely. Clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula told USA Today that if you fall on the lower end, you'll tend to always put yourself in someone else's shoes and truly care about them and what they're going through. You might also notice that you tend to be very "agreeable." Those on the higher end of the continuum care so deeply that they won't hesitate to help another person, even if it harms their own well-being. 

This can be dangerous in some cases. "They may put themselves in financial harm," Durvasula warns. "They may ignore some very clear red flags because the person told them a very painful backstory — 'I can't walk out on this person' — and could even be at risk for remaining in a situation that could be emotionally or even physically abusive." If you find yourself in situations like these, it's important you learn how to set some much-needed boundaries.

Being close to or intimate with someone feels overwhelming

Perhaps a lesser-known characteristic of empaths is that they tend to avoid intimate relationships because it's overwhelming. We've already established that being around people can be draining for empaths, and they need plenty of alone time. The second you're in a relationship, however, your space and time are no longer entirely your own. Healthline notes that living with a partner can lead to an emotional storm for empaths who may constantly feel overwhelmed and stressed. They might also experience nagging worry that the relationship might consume them completely.

In the article Andre Sólo wrote for his website, Highly Sensitive Refuge, he explains that, while relationships are challenging for everyone, empaths do have a tougher experience because of their ability to sense their partner's emotions. Every little irritation, bad mood, and lie is detected by the empath, and they can't escape it when they're sharing the same space with their partner. Having someone talking to and touching them constantly might also lead empaths to feel like their nerves are dangling by a thread. When they tell their partner they need alone time, it often results in that person feeling hurt. The empath feels those emotions as well, and so the cycle continues.

Because empaths find being in close contact with someone on a regular basis such a challenge, they often choose to remain single. Others manage to compromise by having a room in the house that's their own where they can decompress.

You are super sensitive to smells, sounds, and sensations

While empaths are super sensitive to the emotions of others, they also tend to be more sensitive to their environment in general. Healthline notes that some empaths are more affected by certain sounds because they find that it evokes certain emotions. Empaths are also more sensitive to certain smells and fragrances and are emotionally affected by them. While others would hardly notice certain physical sensations or jarring sounds, empaths might find them challenging to deal with. 

Often, empaths would prefer to gather information by reading rather than listening to someone speak because it's more comfortable. They also tend to listen to music and other forms of media at very low volumes or avoid them altogether. If you constantly find yourself telling your group of friends how loud something is or regularly tend to experience intense emotions in response to certain smells or other stimuli, it's likely that you're an empath.

Setting boundaries is challenging for you

The downside of feeling people's emotions is that it can be really difficult to set boundaries in any relationship. You know exactly what they're going through, so leaving them to their own devices simply goes against the grain of who you are. Their pain and burdens become yours, and you simply can't leave them be. In an article Judith Orloff, M.D. wrote for Psychology Today, she explains that empaths want to reach out to people who are in need. It's just how they are wired. But the truth is that none of us have the capacity to take on the whole world's problems. Empaths, however, usually try to do just that at their own expense. 

Orloff notes that she is an empath and has learned that setting boundaries can be challenging but not impossible. "As an empath, I use many strategies to protect my sensitivities, such as fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries with people who are draining, meditation to calm and center myself, and going out into nature," she writes. Orloff adds that being an empath is a gift, but you need to learn how to take care of yourself as you care for others. Inform close friends and family of your needs — Orloff notes that empaths often have special needs — so they can respect your space and be there for you when you're the one who needs a bit of help.

You feel the pain and emotions of others as if they were your own

We've established that empaths are in tune with the emotions of others, but you might be surprised by just how intense this experience is. A 1998 study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences discovered that empaths might have "mirror neurons" that enable them to detect the mental state of others. This is likely why empaths are so in tune with the emotions of others. The Berkeley Well-Being Institute notes that empaths can pick up on the emotions of others even when that person is trying their best to hide it. 

Empaths can also sense changes in a person's body language and tone that others don't notice. Theoretically, the mirror neurons in their brains latch on to those emotions and start to create the same feelings, making the empath feel the exact same way as the person they are in contact with. This can be a very intense and emotionally-draining experience. Empaths can be standing in a queue at the grocery store and suddenly be overcome by anger or sadness, even though they don't actually feel that way themselves.

You feel other people's physical pain

Aside from experiencing the emotions of others, empaths might also be able to experience the physical pain of those they come into contact with. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Patient Experience found that when an electric shock was administered to someone, people that were classified as highly empathetic reacted as if they received the shock themselves. This was a pretty small study, so more research needs to be conducted to prove the findings, but it's not much of a stretch, given that empaths already experience the emotions of others.

In addition to possibly being able to experience others' physical pain, empaths also tend to mirror the movements of others without even realizing that they're doing it. For example, if an empath observes someone getting pricked by a needle, their brain will react the same way as if it was done to them, "activating the same motor and sensory areas," Medical News Today reports. A 2003 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America analyzed MRI scans and concluded that empaths have a neural delay mechanism in their brains that leads to them "mirroring" the facial expressions, postures, and mannerisms of those around them.

You have a keen intuition

If you see right through people's charades, it's probably your empathetic superpowers at work. Empaths tend to have the uncanny ability to see right through people, so trying to lie to them is pointless. Empaths have an incredibly sound "gut instinct," as Andre Sólo notes in his article published in Highly Sensitive Refuge. "The thing about an empath's ability to process even the tiniest social cues means that it's almost impossible for someone to hide their true intentions," he writes, adding that empaths don't always know precisely what someone is trying to achieve. Still, they usually know when someone is acting a little shifty.

Of course, this doesn't mean that empaths can't be deceived. But usually, when they end up getting hurt because someone lied, they know, deep down, that they saw some huge red flags they chose to ignore. If you can almost always tell when someone is not being completely honest, you might be an empath. And while some of the things empaths deal with aren't exactly easy, being a walking lie detector is a great perk most of the time.

Violent or tragic TV shows or movies upset you tremendously

Do you find yourself determinedly sticking to lighthearted TV shows because violent or tragic stories upset you? Well, that might just be because you're an empath. The Berkeley Well-Being Institute explains that empaths are deeply affected by the "torture, killing, or pain" that often accompanies violent movies or TV shows. Even though the empath knows that the story isn't real, it still affects them as if it is. This is also why empaths try to avoid any sad content. It can have such an adverse effect on them that they feel terrible afterward. Some people even find that these shows or movies interfere with their sleep.

If this describes you to a T, we're here to let you know that it's okay to skip the violent and sad stuff and stick to watching "Friends" over and over again. It's a good idea to vet the contents of a movie or TV show before you watch it to ensure that it won't affect you negatively. Of course, it's also important to practice the art of reminding yourself that what you see isn't real and try to separate yourself from it.

You find that spending time in nature energizes you

Empaths often find that nature is like a healing balm for their souls. In an article Judith Orloff, M.D. wrote for Psychology Today, she explains that empaths often find the buzz of everyday life a tad too much. Spending time in nature can help them feel more like themselves and help them process their emotions. "The natural world nourishes and restores them," she writes. "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."

Author, researcher, and speaker Andre Sólo agrees with Orloff. In the article he wrote for Highly Sensitive Refuge, he explains that spending time in the beauty of nature can serve as a "transformative" experience for empaths. He adds that nature isn't the only environment that can help empaths to recharge — peaceful places like museums or a comfy bedroom can also do the trick. Pure Wow notes that empaths also enjoy spending time with animals because it helps ground them. Conversely, many empaths find that depressing or chaotic environments drain their energy. In short: Vibes matter to empaths, and nature is the best medicine for when they're feeling overwhelmed.

You often feel lonely and like you don't fit in

The irony of being an empath is that your ability to experience the emotions of others is the very reason you might often feel like a lonely outsider. Healthline explains that empaths aren't always able to easily relate to others because they experience life so differently. Trying to explain to someone that you need a break because their emotions are draining you is hard to do. Because of this, many empaths keep to themselves and avoid discussing how they really feel with others.

Introvert Spring notes that many empaths "put up walls to protect themselves" from the onslaught of emotions they have to deal with every day and only allow a select few access to them. Often, even the people closest to empaths can't break through all their walls. This can lead to loneliness and constantly feeling like the odd one out. However, it's important to remember that we all need people in our lives, so don't shut everyone out. Remember that your empathy is part of what makes you special. Embrace it, treasure it, and don't allow it to become an obstacle that keeps you from having meaningful relationships with others.