Everyone is capable of empathy, some more so than others. Many like to wear their empathic tendencies as a badge of honor, while true empaths might argue that the personality trait is less of a blessing and more of a curse. Being tuned in to others’ emotions 24/7 can be tough. We can have empathy for the most empathetic!
If you’re highly sensitive to emotions, maybe you're an empath—and constant empathy could become draining to your wellbeing if not managed properly. Read on to learn what an empath is, what often triggers empaths and how to cope with empathy’s less-pleasant potentials.
Characteristics of an empath
To put it simply, an empath is someone who experiences high amounts of empathy. Everyone is empathic to some degree, but true empaths take empathy to a whole new level. They’re good at sensing how others feel and take on those emotions as their own. Empaths can’t help but shoulder the burden of other people’s problems, and it’s often at the expense of their mental wellbeing.
Empaths are great at reading people. Empathic individuals can usually tell when someone is lying. Since they’re so good at feeling others’ emotions, empaths can see people for who they really are. There’s no fooling an empath!
Additionally, empaths tend to be introverted. This means they’re easily overwhelmed by crowded, noisy environments and need alone time to recharge their energy. Empathic individuals tend to prefer the solace of being out in nature, far from communication with other people. However, it’s worth noting that not all empaths are introverts, and not all introverts are empaths.
Empathic individuals have a reputation for being good listeners and even better friends. They will bend over backwards for the people they love and offer endless support. Empaths are incredibly generous with their time and energy, often putting the needs of others before their own. Friends often describe empaths as selfless, kind-hearted and loyal.
Potential hardships for empathic individuals
Empathy can be a double-edged sword. While empaths have a knack for helping loved ones, all that good work can really take a toll on their physical and emotional health. Empathic people easily become overwhelmed by other people’s emotions. Absorbing too much energy—particularly negative energy—from their environment can trigger anxiety, depression, anger or stress.
All too often, empaths don’t leave enough time for themselves. If someone needs a shoulder to cry on, empaths have a hard time turning them away. They say “yes” every time a friend demands their attention, regardless of how emotionally drained they’ll feel afterward. Burnout is common among empaths because they might not always set proper boundaries.
An empathic person can also easily get lost in a sea of self-criticism. While they’re extremely compassionate toward friends and family, empaths don’t always know how to extend that same level of compassion to themselves. Empaths usually have low self-esteem because they’re overly critical when they can’t solve other people’s problems. Since they’re so busy helping others, empaths neglect their own need for emotional counseling.
Empaths might also shy away from physical contact. They might be uncomfortable being in close proximity to people, especially those who express love through hugs and other forms of physical touch. This can become problematic in romantic relationships if the empath struggles to let their guard down and be intimate. Despite their intuitive connection with others’ emotions, empaths may come across as distant and closed off.
Of course, persistent mental stress can manifest in physical ways. Empaths might develop chronic physical problems like high blood pressure, stomach aches, headaches or even diseases.
Tips for a positive mindset and healthy life
Empathy shouldn’t feel like a curse. Empaths can achieve a happy, fulfilling life once they find the right balance between helping others and taking care of themselves. One way to do this is by working alone time into your daily routine. Empaths need to recharge in a quiet place away from their friends, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day.
If you’ve been hard on yourself lately, take some time to reflect on what’s running through your head. Practice transforming negative thoughts into positive ones and show yourself the same level of compassion you’d give to friends and family. You wouldn’t be so critical of the people you love, and you don’t deserve that kind of treatment, either!
Empaths must learn to put themselves first in order to achieve mental and physical health. It’ll be hard at first, but saying “no” to the demands of others every once in a while is necessary to preserve your wellbeing. After all, you won’t be able to help others with their problems if you’re burned out all the time!
Take pride in being the empath of your friend group. True empaths are hard to come by, and the world could use more people like you. As with any personality trait, empathy comes with its own unique set of benefits and challenges. Next time you feel overwhelmed by other people’s emotions, remember that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of those you love.