Contrary to what it might feel like sometimes, there are plenty of sensitive, kind people in the world. But if other people's emotions feel so intense that they're like your own, that might seem a bit beyond just being compassionate. If you ask
psychologists about empaths, they might talk about a heightened sensitivity to other people's feels as a result of neural pathway quirks or traumas; others might conjure to mind psychic folk and mind readers. Whatever comes to your mind at the term, looking for signs that you might be an empath can help you better understand your tendency to say "yes" to every single request for help you've ever gotten, or to lie awake at night wide awake with the angst of someone you barely know.
Identifying as an empath can be viewed on a spectrum," says psychotherapist Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C. "For some people, this can look like being attuned to everyone or specific people around them, noticing shifts in energy or behavior, sensitivity to voice tones, or even taking on the feelings of another person. For other individuals who have been in environments that were filled with real or perceived threat and trauma, this can actually be a protective development. In these types of situations, not being aware of others' feelings, energy, tone, or facial expressions may have been dangerous."
Figuring out how to navigate
being an empath can be a difficult journey — for example, how do you find your balance between compassion and boundaries? — but Morales says that the first step to figuring out how to cope is recognizing the role of empathy in your day-to-day interactions. "Take some time to acknowledge how your level of empathy affects your day-to-day life and functioning," she advises.
You might start that process by recognizing these seven signs that you could be an empath.
1 You Experience Extreme Emotions In Certain Environments
For some empathic people, they might get unexpectedly overwhelmed when they're in particular settings in relation to earthly events. For those who say they can literally
feel what's happening in the earth in their own bodies, events like seasonal changes, environmental disasters, and being around intense landmarks like volcanoes can trigger very extreme emotional responses. "Create space to explore who and what triggers you to feel overloaded," Morales says, so that you can be prepared when you get overwhelmed by intense emotions like dread, painful shakes, mood swings, or anxiety. If you're one of the folks who experience these types of big feels with big earth moments, you may well have more sensitivity than most other people. 2 People Seek You Out As A Confidante If people, including strangers, seek you out as a confidante in what seems like a disproportionate amount compared to your friends and family, you may be more empathic than your average person. Because empaths are highly intuitive, and easily absorb the emotions of others, they are often sought out as confidantes, which can also make them subject to being taken advantage of by folks who might not respect boundaries.
"Exploring if there are certain people you feel most connected to, or more drained by, and asking the question of 'why' will increase your insight," Morales says. This process is important whether you're thinking about a 10-year-old friendship or a one-night acquaintance, because if you're super sensitive to other's feels, you've got to be
extra protective of your boundaries — even and especially when other folks seem to lean on you more than usual. 3 You Need A Lot Of Time Alone
If you're someone who spends so much time and emotional energy immersed in other people's emotions, you're probably also a person who needs a lot of alone time. This is because empaths can quickly become overwhelmed by the emotions and energies of others, and thus need a lot of time by themselves to recharge. Sure enough,
many empaths are introverts.
Morales says that your self-care space can look like whatever you feel like you need. "Recharging your energy and resetting can look like unplugging, engaging with people who you have identified do not take up a lot of your emotional resources, spending time on your own, spending time in environments that bring you relief (home, nature, certain neighborhood, etc) checking in with yourself through meditation, body scans, and even journaling." If desperately needing these things on a regular basis sounds like you, "empath" could be one word to describe you.
4 You Become Overwhelmed In Intimate Relationships
Sure, relationships can be hard for everyone.
That's nothing new, but intimate relationships can be especially difficult for empaths. They often have an especially difficult time setting boundaries, and can spend all quality relationship time nurturing the other person.
If you absorb the emotions of others or are constantly listening to other people's problems, and you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, this is probably amplified in intimate relationships, which involve greater degrees of
vulnerability and potential codependency. Just because you're intimate with someone doesn't mean you don't need solid boundaries, Morales says. "Noticing and acknowledging your personal limitations for when your heightened empathy is having negative effects is key to maintaining your mental wellness," Morales says. If that's especially difficult for you, then you guessed it — you might be strong with the Force (erm... empathy). 5 You Feel Drained In Large Crowds
Large crowds are often overwhelming for empaths because there is so much going on, and deciphering what is your energy versus what is someone else's energy can be difficult. It can be absolutely exhausting to be surrounded by so many people and so many loud feelings, and that's OK.
How might you know if your energy-drain in big crowds is a sign of being an empath? Morales advises paying attention to your body, not just your brain. "Since mind and body are so interconnected, you may notice muscle tension, sleep disturbance, fatigue, and headaches, to name a few common red flags," she tells Bustle. "Emotional burnout may manifest as irritability, sadness, anxiety, or a combination." And that burnout might come a lot quicker when you're in a big group of emotion-filled humans.
6 You Have To Sleep Alone
According to the website of psychiatrist and author Judith Orloff, who focuses a lot of her work on empaths and highly sensitive folks,
sleeping near another human might feel almost impossible if you're an empath.
People often run through their days in their minds and hearts as they start falling asleep, and if your partner or partners are doing that, you might feel it just the same as if someone kept flicking the lights on and off. Those emotions may reflect back into you if you're especially empathetic, Morales says. "
Mirroring the emotions of another person or simply being aware (hypervigilant) can encourage a sense of safety or feeling more in control," she explains. But when you're trying to fall asleep, that hypervigilance can definitely keep you wide awake. 7 You Go Out Of Your Way To Help People
Yes, a lot of people go out of their way to help others — but Morales advises reflecting on the extent to which you help strangers or damage aspects of your own life to help those closest to you. If you get overwhelmed with guilt when you have to say "no" to helping someone, being an empath may be behind it. "If you find yourself feeling guilty when you aren't offering your time, energy, and empathic nature to others, it can be really difficult to choose yourself," Morales says. "Being honest with the people in your life about how you feel and what you need is an important step in taking care of you."
Even if you're an empath, you deserve to be vigilant about your boundaries. Just because you're sensitive doesn't mean you have to suffer. You
are allowed to say no to others and say yes to caring for yourself. Experts: Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist
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This article was originally published on
April 15, 2017