Understanding Empaths: How to Identify If You Are One

Understanding Empaths: How to Identify If You Are One


Empaths have a unique ability to sense and feel the emotions of others. Find out if you are one and how to harness your abilities for a more fulfilling life.

We all have the ability to tap into empathy, but being empathetic and being an empath isn’t the same. Empaths have a natural ability to relate to other people’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences on a visceral level.

Despite sounding like a superhero trait, this ability is real. So, how do you know you are an empath? Here are the essentials you need to know:

Understanding what it feels like to be one, you may discover something new about yourself or spot them around you.

What Is the Definition of a True Empath?

First of all, the scientific definition of an empath is still highly debated. According to this analysis of empathy conceptualization, an empath is someone who understands, feels, and shares another person’s world on a deep level. And this understanding isn’t experiential or rational — it goes beyond the empath’s experiences. 

The term “empath” was popularized by psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff, author of the best-selling book, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, Thriving as an Empath, and Emotional Freedom.

Dr. Judith Orloff defines ​​an empath as someone who has the ability to sense the emotions and feelings of others, often without them having to express them verbally. She elaborates that empaths are able to understand and process the emotions of those around them, and may even take on those emotions themselves. They are often highly sensitive to the energy of others and can be easily overwhelmed by large crowds or intense emotions.

two girls hugging each other

Are Empaths Real?

There’s no extensive scientific research on empaths. What science does know is that​​ humans have a neural mechanism known as “mirror mechanism” that enables us to understand the meaning of actions done by others, their intentions, and their emotions. And there are certain people who have either more or more active mirror neurons than others, which could be a case for empaths.

On top of that, there are also individuals who have intensely heightened perceptions.

Does it mean that empaths aren’t real? No, it doesn’t. Your experience as an empath is valid, even though scientific proof behind the concept is still scarce.

What does it mean to be an empath?

When you are an empath, you have the ability to understand someone’s thoughts and feelings from their perspective instead of your own. For you, “I feel your pain,” is more than just a figure of speech. You can viscerally feel someone’s pain.

There are a few core values many empaths share: meaningful relationships, non-judgment, and deep concern for the well-being of others.

Large groups of people can be quite overwhelming for an empath, as they absorb the emotions and energy around them. They also value their alone time, as they can benefit from taking a step back from other people’s lives.

a couple hugging each other empathetically

Are Empaths Rare?

If you look at empaths as people who have intensely heightened perceptions, they are rare. About 1% to 2% of the population can feel sensations on their skin while watching someone else be touched. This phenomenon linked to empathy is known as “mirror-touch synesthesia.”

Many people mistake empaths for sensitive people, but there’s a very important difference between the two.

While highly sensitive people get emotional quite easily, they don’t absorb other people’s emotions as empaths do. Instead, they’re focused on their own feelings and aren’t prone to mirroring the behaviors of others. They often take things personally and judge the actions of others without trying to see their side of the story.

Empaths, on the other hand, are all about the feelings of others, especially the negative ones. Some people’s empathy reaches a point where they can’t differentiate between their emotions and the emotions of those around them. 

Does it mean that you can’t learn empathy?

In the past, empathy was considered an inborn trait that could not be taught, but research has shown that it is mutable and can be taught.

three empathetic women

What Are the Signs of an Empath?

One of the most important things that empaths are known for is their affinity for deep and meaningful connections with others. Other significant hallmarks of an empath include:

  • High sensitivity to the emotions and energies of others,
  • The ability to easily sense the emotions and needs of others, even without them expressing them,
  • A strong desire to help others and make the world a better place,
  • A tendency to be easily overwhelmed by the emotions and energy of those around them,
  • A strong need for time and space alone to recharge,
  • Willingness to sacrifice their well-being for others,
  • Altruistic and selfless nature, and
  • Attunement to intuition.

Having these traits makes empaths an easy target for emotional vampires and narcissists. 

What are empathic abilities?

Empathic abilities are the various ways empaths extrovert and express themselves. Essentially, it’s the ability to sense and understand the emotions and energy of others. This can include:

  • Feel the pain of others. Empaths can tap into the pain of others emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
  • Pick up on energy. They have the ability to sense the energy of others in their own bodies, including physical sensations such as tension or relaxation.
  • Intuition. They know things without being told.
  • Emotional mirroring. True empaths can mirror the emotions of others, which helps them understand them better.
  • Healing. They use their empathy to help others heal emotionally and physically.
  • Emotional regulation. Empathy helps them regulate their own emotions and energy.
colleagues at the table sharing emotional experience

What Are the Downsides of Being an Empath?

If you haven’t mastered your empathy, you may find yourself dealing with the following downsides:

  • People project their emotional baggage on you,
  • Having experiences you don’t want,
  • Getting caught up in other people’s priorities,
  • Being taken advantage of,
  • Being constantly overwhelmed,
  • Losing track of your desires,
  • Losing sense of self, and
  • Mirroring other people’s dramas at work, home, in relationships.

Jeffrey Allen, energy healer and trainer of Mindvalley’s Duality Quest, explains that when you are an empath, you’re like a projector of other people’s emotions. He says, “It’s like swimming in the ocean of other people’s thoughts and emotions. If you aren’t aware of it, it can make your life feel overwhelming, out-of-control, and full of endless drama.

To minimize these downsides, it’s crucial to learn how to cultivate empathy awareness and create healthy boundaries between you and others. 

When you cultivate empathy awareness, most of your emotional challenges will be released because you no longer need to process them.

— Jeffrey Allen, trainer of Mindvalley’s Duality Quest

Discover the Empath In You

Understanding yourself means fewer emotional reactions and more empathy for others. And this invaluable skill can be cultivated, even if you aren’t a true empath.

It boils down to growing your emotional and empathy awareness to be able to distinguish your emotions from the emotions of others. As a result, you will know and understand yourself better and level up your relationships with other people.

The good news is, by joining Mindvalley, you can learn how to:

  • Grow your emotional and empathy awareness with Jeffrey Allen and his Duality and Unlocking Transcendence Quests
  • Tap into your emotions and heal your emotional wounds with Jennifer Partridge and her Tapping into Emotional Mastery Quest,
  • Cultivate super listening with Linda Clemons and her Body Language for Dating & Attraction Quest, and
  • So much more.

You can sample classes of the quests with Mindvalley’s trainers by unlocking your free access.

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Written by
Irina Yugay