What is an Empath?

by Judith Orloff, MD

Being an empath is different from being empathetic.  Being empathetic is when your heart goes out to someone else.  Being an empath means you can actually feel another person’s happiness or sadness in your own body.

In empaths, the brain’s mirror neuron system – a specialized group of cells that are responsible for compassion- is thought to be hyperactive.  As a result, empaths can absorb other people’s energies (both positive and negative) into their own bodies. At times it may even be difficult to tell if your are feeling your own emotions or someone else’s.

There are different types of sensitivities an empath may experience.   Emotional empaths pick up on people’s emotions and become a sponge for their feelings, both happy and sad. 

Being an Empath has incredible benefits such as greater intuition, compassion, creativity and a deeper connection to other people.  But living in this state of high sensitivity also comes with its challenges such as becoming easily overwhelmed, over-stimulated, exhausted, or absorbing the stress and negativity of others. If a person isn’t aware that he or she is an empath, everyday interactions that others find tolerable could be causing and empath stress.  

Empaths are the medicine the world needs and they can have a profound impact on humanity with their compassion and understanding.  As you learn to identify your special talents, you will find that you not only enrich your life but you can enrich the lives of others too.  The key skill is to learn how to take charge of your sensitivities and learn specific strategies to prevent empathy overload.