9 signs you’re an empath, according to psychologists

by Brendan Brown | May 1, 2024, 9:02 pm

Are you an empath?

Look, we are all empathetic people. Well, most of us, anyway.

If you don’t have some mental disorder like Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you probably have the ability to put yourself in the position of another person and understand their feelings and actions.

However, although there is a lot of crossover between normal empathy and being an empath, psychology suggests some notable differences that make empaths unique.

If you’ve ever wondered if you are an empath, here are some signs you may well be.

1) You can read other people really well

In her book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, Judith Orloff distinguishes between regular empathetic people and empaths according to the depth of their feelings for others.

While anyone with a normal level of empathy can put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and imagine what they are experiencing, a true empath goes further. They can actually feel what other people feel.

This trait can be both a blessing and a curse, but it does have the advantage that it enables empaths to read people extremely well.

When developed, this trait can seem almost like a superpower.

A true empath doesn’t need to know much about a person to get a good reading of what they are like. 

That’s because empaths spend so much time living in other people’s heads that they get to know human nature very, very well.

2) You are a very effective communicator

There is still debate over whether humans are the only animals that exhibit empathy. But it’s clear that our empathetic abilities go far beyond those of other species.

And that ability to understand what each other is thinking, known to scientists as theory of mind, makes humans the greatest communicators in the animal kingdom.

Simply put, the more empathetic you are, the better you are communicating with others.

Several studies have found that empathetic people are unusually good at communication.

Maybe that’s not so surprising. If you can understand what other people are thinking and feeling, it’s much easier to communicate with them.

3) You pick up on the mood of people around you

So far, I’ve mentioned some of the positive traits of a heightened sense of empathy. This next one, however, is a little more complex.

Empathetic people can understand the feelings of others around them. But empaths actually feel those feelings as if they were their own.

There is some data to suggest that empaths have more mirror neurons, the parts of our brains that allow us to feel as though we are taking part in something we are only watching, like a sports event or action movie.

According to psychotherapist Talia Bombola, there are even some empaths who experience what is known as mirror touch synesthesia

This means they feel as though they are being touched simply by watching somebody else be touched.

Not all empaths take it to this extreme level. However, empaths do easily absorb the emotions of people around them. 

That means if they are around stressed, angry, or depressed people, they will start to experience those emotions themselves.

No wonder…

4) You have mood swings

Empaths often suffer from mood swings.

Maybe that’s not surprising when you consider how easily they absorb the moods of those around them.

Empaths are often prone to sudden changes in mood, from happiness and elation to depression and anger.

This can make life very difficult for an empath. And it often means that they have to practice self-care to keep their mood stable and avoid triggers and stressors that may have a powerful effect on their mood.

5) You are easily overwhelmed by noise and crowds

Do you feel uncomfortable and crowded places? Are you often overwhelmed, frightened, or made anxious by loud or sudden noises?

Dr. Elaine Aron uses the term Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, to describe many of the traits shared by empaths. According to Dr. Aron, sensory processing sensitivity is found in around 20% of people.

Signs of this increased sensitivity may include:

  •       Awareness of subtleties in your environment
  •       Increased sensitivity to pain
  •       Sensitivity to caffeine
  •       Becoming overwhelmed by intense noise or light
  •       Being easily startled
  •       Being deeply moved by art and music

What does this mean for you?

Well, if you’re an empath or a HSP, you’ll find yourself easily overwhelmed by noise, crowds, and lights. But it also means you’ll have a deep appreciation of the arts, so it’s not all bad.

6) People confide in you

Because of their heightened understanding of people, empaths are often the first people others go to when they need to confide something.

Empaths are great listeners, and have the ability to feel their way into the heads of other people. That’s why, as in the case of Judith Orloff, empaths often end up in careers like counseling and therapy.

If people are often willing to confide in you in a way they wouldn’t with other people, it’s a good sign that you may be an empath.

On the other hand, that’s not always a good thing.

As Orloff points out, people may seek out an empath and engage in what is known as trauma dumping. This is different from ordinary venting, because a person who is trauma dumping:

  •       keeps repeating the same thing
  •       takes no responsibility for their part in what happened
  •       blames others
  •       is not open to solutions

This kind of conversation can be draining for anyone, but it’s especially dangerous for empaths, who are liable to take these negative feelings on board and experience them themselves.

That’s why, if you’re an empath, you need to be careful about how you let people confide in you.

7) You engage in addictive behavior

Being an empath often means being easily overwhelmed. And that, in turn, can lead to destructive coping mechanisms, including addiction.

This doesn’t necessarily have to mean alcohol or drugs. Empaths can become addicted to all kinds of destructive behaviors, such as binge eating, shopping, gambling, or smartphone addiction.

If you find yourself engaging in addictive behavior, it may be because you are an empath suffering from being overwhelmed.

8) You are creative

The high sensitivity of empaths, combined with an appreciation for the arts and the ability to be deeply moved by them, means that empaths are often some of the most creative people you’ll ever meet.

In a 2009 interview, singer Joss Stone identified as an empath, and linked her empathetic ability to her singing and songwriting. Many other artists have similar experiences.

Being able to feel what other people feel, even if they are fictional, is a gift for any artist. And it means that empaths are often abnormally creative and gifted when it comes to artistic expression.

9) You appreciate being alone

Maybe it’s because they are so easily overwhelmed. But although empaths often love being around people, they can also enjoy being alone.

Often, empaths need to take a break from people to focus on themselves and their own emotions without absorbing those of other people.

One great way for empaths to do that is to spend time in nature. A walk through the park or a stroll in the forest can help an empath to get some distance from their emotions and recharge their batteries to face the world again.

So if you often find yourself seeking out solitude, especially in nature, there’s a strong chance you may be an empath or highly sensitive person.

Being an empath

By now, you’ve probably realized that being an empath is both a blessing and a curse.

Being so in tune with the emotions of others makes you a wonderful communicator, a great listener, and probably a highly creative person.

But it also means you may be easily overwhelmed and have difficulty protecting your own emotions from being swamped by those of others.

On the other hand, now you know the signs of being an empath, hopefully, you can take steps to manage your emotions and use your empathetic abilities for personal growth.

Good luck!

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