You may have stumbled upon the term “empath” recently. Perhaps you tend to feel things more deeply than other people, or you get strong hunches based on how others behave… and your hunches are often right on. Could you be an empath? 

Empath comes from the word “empathy,” which refers to a person’s ability to connect with the emotions of other people. A person who has natural empathy might be readily able to figuratively put themselves in another person’s shoes, or fairly accurately imagine a situation that some else faces.

An empathic person can sometimes be so tuned in to what others think or feel, that they may experience these emotions as their own… even though the experience is something that the empath has never had to face in their own life. An example of this might be crying along with a person who has lost a loved one, even though you’ve had the good fortune to have been spared such as loss thus far in your life. Another example might be hearing a story of someone facing physical pain, and feeling that pain happens in your own body by way of your empathic nature.

If you’re an empath, then you may assume that your feelings and perceptions of the world are common – that everyone has them. This is the real reason why empaths are greatly misunderstood. You think everyone else is picking up the very same energy/feelings as you are, but they’re not. The truth is that each person perceives the world in their own, unique way. It is also hard to know if you’re truly connecting with what another person is feeling, versus what you may imagine their experience might be.

Are you an empath? Here are some signs, with tips on how to deal:

  • You sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between your feelings, and the feelings of other people. If you’re empathic, you may also find yourself a touch codependent. This means that in addition to feeling what others feel, you prioritize their needs ahead of your own. This points to the need to strengthen one’s boundaries and get clear on your own beliefs and opinions about things. After all… feeling strong in one’s convictions means that you aren’t likely to buckle to another person’s emotional influence, and that’s the whole challenge of being an empath.

How to deal: It’s not bad if this is how you are. After all, being sensitive as well as being unselfish are certainly admirable qualities. But sensitivity is also something that, as an empath, you can work on if you’re tired of being at the mercy of other people’s emotional issues which likely have nothing to do with you and are taking up too much of your time that could better spend meeting your own needs. Getting to know yourself, exploring your thoughts and opinions on things, can be key if you’re an empath who at times feels shaky about emotional boundaries, and what separates you from another.

  • Your mood can change depending on who you’re surrounded by. Maybe you’re married, and you know this scenario all too well. You’re in a calm mood, but then your husband or wife shows up agitated about some problem they’re having. Suddenly, you find that your emotions have quickly shifted into an excitable state to match what they’re experiencing.

How to deal: If you find it inconvenient to always be changing your mood according to what’s happening with people around you, it points to a lack of emotional control in your mind. You might benefit from calming breathing techniques. Use mindful breathing to help other people calm themselves when they’re with you, rather than feeling rattled by whatever they’re doing or saying.

  • Being around certain people for too long can make you feel either over-stimulated or drained. Let’s face it, big loud personalities can wreak havoc on your delicate nature. People who can sense every subtle change in facial expression and conversational nuance tend to feel like they’re drowning in others’ emotions. If you’re a sensory-overloaded empath, then social situations are likely to overwhelm or drain you– especially if the people you’re with have loud, boisterous personalities, strong opinions and tend toward being controlling toward others.

How to deal: Believe it or not, this is one of the easier managed aspects of being empathic and/or a Highly Sensitive Person. There are many ways to get yourself out of an overwhelming social scenario. In other words, separate yourself and create distance between yourself and others. Example: consider NOT carpooling with other people on your way to an event. This will permit you to slip out early if your finely tuned system needs a rest after an hour or so. Also, don’t be afraid to say NO to invitations that aren’t quite your cup of tea. You can be strategic in how you socialize, emphasizing small, quiet gatherings, and making yourself unavailable for the more involved, bigger group events.

  • You are easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, such as light, sound, and touch. As an HSP, you will have to cope with an overactive nervous system. (As an empath, this may or may not be an issue for you.) A good example of this is the irritation and/or confusion experienced when walking into an electronics store when all of the televisions and computers are playing different shows at once. (whoever designed this highly over-stimulating scenario has not measured the effects of this type of sensory experience on buyer habits.) You may have trouble focusing, or experience a fairly urgent need to vacate the premises immediately.

How to deal: Some situations, like choosing where and when (if at all) to shop in loud stores that overwhelm your senses can be controlled. Thankfully, shopping online is a much quieter option, or at least the option to turn down the volume of your computer is there in the event some annoying, talking ads suddenly pop up.

  • Places, like a crowded ball game, concert, or school event, may be more difficult to avoid if you’ve agreed to attend with a group or if this is something that your child will be participating in. In that case, earplugs can be a lifesaver, as can a soak in a hot bath to relax after the over-stimulating activity. You have physical reactions while listening to other people talk about the physical or emotional pain that they have experienced. As an empath, you likely have a special talent for imagining what someone else may be going through. Your sense of other people’s feelings is so heightened that when they talk about how they scraped their knee, had a weird dental procedure, or hurt their back, you might experience physical sensations to match what happened to them.

How to deal: Luckily, the body sensations that you develop as an empathic reaction to another person’s pain aren’t likely to last long. People eventually stop telling their story and you can move on to a new topic. However, if you know that someone has something very upsetting that they want to tell you, such as having to hear about another person’s prolonged suffering, or how an animal may have been hurt, you can politely ask to be spared this story as it may disturb your senses to the point of not being able to sleep or stop thinking about it.

If you are an empath and/or highly sensitive mom looking for a community of like-feeling others I invite you to join my Empath Mama Facebook group. Or, visit our website. We provide loving guidance and resources so you can live a healthy life.