13 Signs You’re an Empath – The Deeper Picture

The Heart of the Empath

In this article, I’m going to take 13 popular signs that you’re an empath and give a deeper take that I hope will be useful to you.

What is an empath — and how do you know if you are one?

You probably already know that an empath is a person who has the ability to sense and understand the emotions and feelings of others. Empaths are sensitive or even highly sensitive to the emotions of others and can experience those emotions as if they were their own. They can be overwhelmed by the emotions of others, and may have difficulty distinguishing their own emotions from those of others.

If you already know this, keep reading because we’re going to get into some new details. Make sure you watch the video below that talks about the insular cortex…

An empath’s ability to sense what is going on with others can extend beyond emotions and even include feeling physical sensations that are present in another person’s body. These physical sensations can include both pain and pleasure. There can even be an intuitive sense of what is happening inside another person, whether it be mentally, physically, emotionally, or even spiritually.

Dr. Judith Orloff has written a book called the The Empath’s Survival Guide. However, in this article, I’m going to share why that book wasn’t really helpful for me. I’m also going to share what I found when I kept digging deeper into the life issues and relational issues that I was dealing with as an empath.

High Sensitivity – An Evolutionary Force

What I found is that the experiences of the empath are rooted in something called “high sensitivity.” What many people don’t know is that high sensitivity isn’t found only in humans. It’s in many species in the animal kingdom! It has an evolutionary purpose! When I learned about this, it blew my mind.

This evolutionary purpose has benefits to the individual and to the group. It also has costs. Understanding the evolutionary purpose of high sensitivity can help empaths gain a very grounded sense of who they are and why they are the way they are.

As a framework for discussing high sensitivity and the empath, I’m going to use 13 popular signs of being an empath and talk about each one from the perspective of evolution and high sensitivity.

Want to Meet Other Empaths & Highly Sensitive People In Your Area?

Being empathic and highly sensitive can be a disorienting, confusing, and lonely experience sometimes. If you identify as an empath and/or a highly sensitive person, you’ve found a community for people like you. After reading this article, you can join this site to start meeting other empaths and highly sensitive people that live near you.

13 Signs You’re an Empath: The Deeper Picture

1. You have a tendency to internalize the emotions of others as your own

Empathy is the ability to sense and understand the emotions and feelings of others. Empaths possess this ability to a high degree, allowing them to immediately detect the emotions of those around them, even if they are not clearly expressed. Additionally, empaths may experience these emotions as if they were their own, as if they are “absorbing” or “sponging” them up. This is considered to be the defining characteristic of an empath.

The mechanism behind empathy is still a topic of debate among experts. However, it is known that individuals with high levels of empathy have highly active mirror neurons, which are responsible for interpreting emotional cues from others and determining their thoughts and feelings. This means that empaths are particularly attuned to subtle changes in expression, body language, and tone of voice, allowing them to quickly sense the emotions of those around them.

The presence of active mirror neurons in empaths allows them to strongly connect and understand the emotions of others, as if they were their own, which can be a powerful ability. However, this also means that empaths may experience a high level of emotional intensity and may find it overwhelming and exhausting at times.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

As we move through this article, I want you to begin thinking about the evolutionary purpose of high sensitivity. Nature has determined that it’s useful for part (not all) of the population to have the ability to be able to be acutely aware of what’s going on around them, to focus intently, to not miss subtle details – in essence, to be careful and aware.

So how might the presence of highly active mirror neurons be a useful evolutionary strategy? Why might it be useful for a certain part of an animal population to be aware of what other members of the group are experiencing?

Whatever the reason, this must be an important ability because there is a cost to the individual. And nature has decided over millions of years of evolution that this cost is worth the price. The cost is that the increased processing of information in the human nervous system requires an increased supply of neurotransmitters. And herein lies the vulnerability to exhaustion and overwhelm that empath’s must deal with.

2. You may experience sudden, intense emotions while in public places

Empaths have the ability to sense the emotions of others not only in personal interactions, but also in any situation where there are other people present, and without prior warning.

As an empath, it can be difficult to navigate public spaces because one may suddenly experience intense emotions without clear origin, in reality, these emotions are coming from people in the surrounding area.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

One of the challenges of increased processing in the highly sensitive brain is that it cannot be turned off. So, increased awareness is going to be present regardless of one’s surroundings. This is why many empaths or “highly sensitive people” need time alone.

3. You are highly sensitive to the atmosphere or “vibe” of a room.

Empaths have a heightened sensitivity to the atmosphere of their surroundings. They thrive in peaceful and calm environments, as they tend to internalize these qualities. Consequently, they are often deeply affected by beautiful places, such as tranquil gardens, aesthetically pleasing bedrooms, or art museums. On the other hand, chaotic or gloomy surroundings can drain the energy of an empath.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

From an evolutionary perspective, why might it be important for certain parts of the group to be able to get a good sense of whether a place is safe or threatening? And is there a spiritual component to being able to sense negative energy?

Want to Meet Other Empaths & Highly Sensitive People In Your Area?

 

4. You tend to have a deep understanding of where people are coming from

According to Dr. Judith Orloff, the ability to intuitively understand and sense what others are trying to express, even when they struggle to do so, is the defining trait of an empath. This ability is present in all empaths, regardless of whether or not they absorb emotions. Some empaths may have more control over their ability to absorb emotions and some may not experience it as much, but this intuitive understanding is the core trait of an empath.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

One of the traits of high sensitivity is increased processing in a part of the brain called the “insular cortex.” What’s interesting about this part of the brain is that it is responsible for integrating sensory input from both internal sources (within the body) and the external world:

So in terms of understanding where people are coming from, the highly sensitive person has the ability to process and integrate more information both from within themselves and from the other person is saying as well as signaling with various subtle cues.

5. People seek you out for guidance and advice

Empaths possess a unique level of insight, which makes them sought after by friends for advice, support, and encouragement. Additionally, empaths have a natural tendency to be good listeners and are patient in allowing others to express themselves before responding with empathy.

If this resonates with you, it is likely that you understand that being a listener and an advice-giver can be challenging at times. This is because people may not fully grasp the amount of energy required from you in these roles and may take it for granted.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

Knowing that high sensitivity is built into your genes and physiology can be helpful in affirming that your body has been designed by nature to function in a certain way. As we’ve already seen, you have certain abilities which are wired into your nervous system. And since these abilities have a cost (increased processing and neurotransmitter usage), understanding that cost can help you effectively manage your boundaries. It can also help you learn how to support your need for neurotransmitters through nutrition and supplementation if needed.

6. You can become emotionally overwhelmed or irritated by watching tragic or violent events on television

If you’re an empath, it doesn’t matter that a horrible event isn’t happening to you, you still feel it through your entire being. You may seem to “live through” the pain or loss of the event yourself, even if you’re thousands of miles away — or indeed, even if it’s a fictional event in a show. This reaction can be overwhelming at times, particularly if you are already drained and have not been taking care of yourself.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

If you do in fact, find yourself in situation that “completely incapacitates you”, it’s likely that you haven’t yet had a chance to learn about your highly sensitive physiology and the special needs you may have in caring for your nervous system. There is an introductory course to high sensitivity here on the site and a community of highly sensitive people that you can connect with.

7. You tend to have a strong affection for pets, animals, or babies and may have a hard time containing your love for them

Many people find babies and pets adorable, but for highly sensitive empaths, these feelings may be even more intense. They may not be able to resist expressing their admiration for someone else’s child or stopping to show affection to a pet. This reaction may be perceived as excessive by others, but for these individuals, it is a natural response.

Being an empath comes with many benefits, one of which is heightened emotions, both positive and negative.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

Highly sensitive physiology is designed for heightened awareness of life, both as it’s happening, and on reflection. With this heightened awareness comes a natural appreciation for the beauty in life. Expressing that appreciation is natural!

8. You may also have a tendency to experience the physical symptoms of others’ illnesses, in addition to feeling their emotions

As an empath, you may experience a strong connection to those who are sick or injured. This can manifest as physical sensations, such as pain or discomfort, in the same areas of your body as the person you are empathizing with. This is not simply feeling sympathy or concern for them, but rather, it is as if your empathic brain is mirroring and projecting their physical experience into your own body.

Being an empath can be difficult and overwhelming, and it is not something that most empaths would consider a “gift.” However, this ability also enables empaths to be exceptional caregivers. The ability to connect with and understand the pain of others is what allows empaths to provide the care and support that is needed to make them feel more comfortable.

It is natural that empaths gravitate towards professions such as nursing, medicine, eldercare, and healing. Given their ability to feel the pain of others, it would be unusual for them not to want to help alleviate that pain.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

As we’ve been discussing, highly sensitive physiology confers a set of gifts and abilities to the people that have it. Of course these gifted and abilities are going be a foundation for success in certain professions. Understanding the costs of these abilities can help to avoid burnout. It can also help highly sensitive people to properly value their time and energy.

9. You can become emotionally overwhelmed in close relationships

Maintaining relationships can be difficult for anyone, but for empaths, it can be especially challenging. Empaths have the ability to sense every subtle change in mood, irritation or dishonesty in their partner, which can make it harder to navigate the relationship. Additionally, the positive emotions in a relationship may also become overwhelming, making it feel as though the relationship is consuming them. If this sounds familiar, you may be an empath.

Being an empath can also make living together with a partner challenging. The energy of a cohabiting partner is always present for an empath, and it can feel like an intrusion. Empaths often view their homes as a place of refuge where they can escape the constant demands on their emotional senses. However, having a partner in the home can change that dynamic, making it harder for empaths to find the sanctuary they need.

Some empaths choose to remain single to avoid the emotional demands of being in a relationship. However, others learn to adapt by creating private spaces in their home, or finding a partner who understands and respects their emotional boundaries.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

Understanding the physiology of high sensitivity sheds some light on some of the dynamics that empaths experience in relationship. The mirror neurons, the increased processing in the brain, and the increased need for neurotransmitters all have an effect. Something that’s important to understand is that neurotransmitters are “non-infinite, renewable resources.” This means that the body makes them, we use them up, and then have to rest while the body makes more.

10. You possess an innate ability to sense when someone is being dishonest

As an empath, your ability to pick up on even the most subtle social cues means that it is difficult for someone to deceive you. Even when you may have been deceived in the past, you likely knew deep down that your gut was telling you something was not right. Even if you can’t always tell exactly what a person’s true intentions are, you can usually tell when they are not being entirely truthful or when they seem shady.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

This trait of being a highly sensitive person has obvious benefits from an evolutionary standpoint. If you are able to help the group avoid tricks and traps and to identify members of the group whose intentions are not life-giving, that’s a valuable ability.

11. You find it difficult to understand leaders who do not prioritize their team’s needs

For an empath, working under a manager or group organizer who does not take into account the needs of their team is not only frustrating and impolite, it is also a failure in leadership.

Empaths are often effective leaders because they have the ability to listen to their team and unite them towards shared goals. They tend to be considerate and attentive, ensuring that each team member feels heard and valued. This approach not only leads to a more satisfied team, but it also leads to better decision-making by gathering all relevant information.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

Because people with high sensitivity are generally able to process more information (see the video above), they are uniquely equipped to be leaders. Dr. Elaine Aaron has mentioned this repeatedly in her books on the highly sensitive person. Dr. Jordan Peterson has also talked about how empathic leaders are more effective than leaders who operate solely via overwhelming strength.

12. You have a soothing effect on others and possess the ability to aid in their healing

People often seek the advice of empaths and find comfort in their presence, often unconsciously seeking out the most empathic individuals during difficult times.

Developing and utilizing empathy can assist in helping people overcome emotional baggage and unhealthy patterns. However, to truly make a difference, one must embrace their sensitivity and empathy rather than hiding it.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

Understanding the unique physiology of high sensitivity gives people who identify as an empath the ability to better care for themselves. As we’ve already discussed, the gifts and abilities that come with being an empath have a cost.

13. You have a noticeable urge to help those who are suffering and in pain

Are you unable to walk by someone in need without wondering how to help them? Do you find it difficult to detach yourself from the concerns of others, even when you have other tasks to attend to? If you answered “no” to these questions, it is likely that you’re an empath.

Empaths are an essential component of the diverse human experience. For empaths, other people are the most important thing on their radar, and it is impossible for them to ignore the needs of others. It is from this that empaths derive their ability to heal, and their presence is greatly needed in our world.

The Highly Sensitive Part:

One of the most fascinating things about high sensitivity is the understanding that it is an evolutionary force. In other words, nature has designed a certain part of the population to be highly sensitive. Unfortunately, it’s all too common in our current society for the gifts, abilities, and needs of empaths to go unseen or be undervalued by the rest of society.

Conclusion

My hope is that after reading this article, you’re beginning to get a sense that the experiences of being an empath are grounded in evolution. By understanding how this evolution shows up in our bodies, we have a useful way to understand the challenges we face. We also have concrete, physical ways to approach the self care we need. And we can understand that many of the difficulties that empaths face are rooted in the increased processing and increased neurotransmitter requirements that come with the evolutionary physiology of high sensitivity.

If the subject of high sensitivity is of interest, here’s an excerpt from the high sensitivity and neurotransmitters course available here on the site:

Want to Meet Other Empaths & Highly Sensitive People?

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  1. Very thorough article that covers a lot of bases. I found myself nodding a lot while reading it.
    Thanks