“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” ~Harper Lee
You know that saying, “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes?” For an empath, this statement might not be entirely true.
Empaths are sometimes described as people with a rare and metaphysical ability to experience the emotional, physical or spiritual state of another being as if they were in it themselves. In other words, empaths don’t just put themselves in another’s shoes. Rather, they have the ability to understand and absorb the feelings, sensations and other intangible connections of those around them — and often can’t help themselves from doing so.
We know, it sounds a little crazy, right? But researchers have actually determined that there are these things called “mirror neurons” in our brains and that they help us to copy or “mirror” what the people we come in contact with are experiencing. Studies show that some people have more of these mirror neurons in their brains than others, which could explain the “empath” phenomenon.
Can you imagine the weight of taking on the burdens and pain of others, and not being able to shut it off? If you’re an empath, maybe you can.
Types of Empaths
The science is still out on whether empaths truly exist, but according to Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist and author of “The Empath’s Guide To Survival: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” there are three types of empaths.
1. Physical Empath
A physical empath is especially in tune with someone’s physical state of being. They might feel a similar sense of pain in their body to what a close friend is experiencing. They might absorb any number of a person’s physical symptoms, good or bad. Because many empaths feel unable to avoid taking on the pain of others, they can often feel sick and acquire symptoms seemingly out of nowhere. They are sometimes misdiagnosed with illnesses like chronic depression, panic disorders, and more.
2. Emotional Empath
An emotional empath is more closely connected to another person’s feelings and emotions, and will feel their feelings in real-time. Beyond simply understanding the sadness or anger, they will feel it firsthand. There is often a sense that they are drawn to these feelings and can’t control their tendency to do so.
3. Intuitive Empath
Intuitive empaths are believed to have uber intuition, almost like a sense of telepathy. Their “gut feelings” appear to be predictive of the future, and their communication skills are almost uncanny. Some intuitive empaths claim they have the ability to understand and communicate with animals, plants, and even those who have passed.
Common Traits of an Empath
There are several traits and behaviors that most empaths share and display. If you’re wondering if you or someone in your life might be considered an empath, here are a few key signs to watch for:
1. Avoid Intimacy
Empaths often feel overwhelmed by having close connections with other people on a regular basis. As you might imagine, this can potentially create some challenges in a romantic relationship. That certainly doesn’t mean an empath can’t or won’t succeed in a relationship. It might just require a bit more effort!
2. Extraordinary Intuition
Does your best friend always know when you’re upset, even if you’re trying to fight it like crazy? Does your spouse know when you’re telling a white lie, even if you’ve got your best poker face on? Empaths have this uncanny ability to pick up on the tiniest cues, even the slightest facial expressions. It’s almost as if they can see right through you.
3. Avoid Confrontation
For an empath, confrontation is super uncomfortable, so you may notice they will avoid it at all costs. They may also try to keep or create peace where there is conflict because they dislike conflict so much. Know someone who’s always changing the subject when things get tense? They might be an empath.
4. Difficulty Setting Boundaries
Do you know someone who always says “yes” to your invitations, and always seems to agree to do things, whether or not they really want to? Empaths are known to find it difficult to set boundaries, likely because of their tendency to avoid conflict and confrontation. They want to please everyone whenever possible, so you won’t often hear them saying, “no.”
5. Frequently Seek Solitude
Do you know someone who cancels plans often, or passes on girls’ night out? An empath might go out of their way to avoid large groups of people, or maybe they will just limit their time spent around others. Because they take on the emotions and other symptoms of those they care about and spend time with, they often need extra alone time to recharge. They may not necessarily be an introvert, but they’ll have many similar traits.
6. Highly Sensitive … to Everything
Do you know someone who is always commenting on how loud things are, or how strong a smell is? Maybe they feel sensations more than others or are emotionally affected by certain sounds. They are also often very emotionally sensitive and tend to have their feelings hurt quite easily.
The Importance of Self-Care
We all have times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed with the world. It’s only natural. Whether you think you’re a full-blown empath or just have a lot of similarities, we highly recommend making time for self-care in your life in order to minimize the emotional and physical stress that taking on the burdens of others often causes.