“I am fascinated by how the phenomenon of empathy works. I feel passionately that empathy is the medicine the world needs right now.”
-Judith Orloff M.D.
What is an Empath? Is it even a real thing? Isn’t that just when you show empathy to another person? How do I know if I’m one too? These are the questions I get every time I mention being an Empath to someone. So, here goes…..
An Empath is a person who not only feels empathy for others but who also rates very high on the empathic spectrum. This is due to the fact that they actually feel other peoples emotions and feelings as if they were their own. Although Empaths possess a much greater capacity for compassion and unconditional love for other people, they often times become energetically drained and burnt out after being around overly negative people and after being in large crowds. This exhaustion come from actually “feeling too much.” This then results in a strong and immediate urge to withdraw into solitude in order to recharge their energy. This is why most empaths are misdiagnosed as being agoraphobic, (a fear of leaving their homes) as being highly socially anxious, even with manic depression or bipolar disorders. Empaths need to constantly practice grounding and meditation in order to keep their energy levels from being fully depleted. Grounding is a term used for centering ones mind and body. This aides in shielding themselves from the onslaught of emotional overload they feel on a daily basis.
Ok, by now I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “this just sounds like an overly sensitive person.” In a way we are very over sensitive but there has been scientific studies showing physical and chemical responses in the brain that are unique to that of an Empath. Science has discovered a group of cells in the brain that allow the Empath to share in another persons pain, fear, or joy. Coming from a high response level from the mirror neurons in the brain. Empaths have been found to have hyper-responsive mirror neurons as compared to a persons diagnosed as being psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists. These individuals suffer from a lack of the ability to feel empathy for another, as they have under active, or hypo-active, mirror neurons in their brains. Thus, making them incapable of unconditional love. Where as an Empath is the exact opposite. This is why it is always good practice for Empaths to establish healthy boundaries and to safeguard their sensitivities. Especially from these types of people who seem to almost feed off the high levels of compassion that Empaths possess.
Empaths have also been shown to possess high levels of sensitivity to Dopamine. Dopamine is produced by a neurotransmitter that increases the neurons activity and is associated with the pleasure response. Introverted Empaths tend to have a higher sensitivity to dopamine than extraverts do. This means they need less dopamine to feel happy. This explains why they do not need as much external stimulation as others and are content more with staying in then going out.
Scientists have also discovered a neurological condition in which two different senses are paired in the brain called “mirror-touch synesthesia.” This is when a person can see colors when they hear a piece of music or they can taste words. Isaac Newton, Billy Joel, and violinist Itzhak Perlman were a few famous people said to have this condition. Isn’t that a totally magnificent way of saying, ‘Yes, being an Empath is a scientifically proven theory’ don’t you think?
So, as for how to tell if you yourself are an Empath here’s a list of 20 questions written by Dr. Judith Orloff M.D. How many can you say yes to?
-Empath Self Assessment
- Have I’ve been labeled as “overly sensitive,” shy, or introverted?
- Do I frequently get overwhelmed or anxious?
- Do arguments or yelling make me ill?
- Do I often feel like I don’t fit in?
- Am I drained by crowds and need alone time to revive myself?
- Am I over stimulated by noise, odors, or non-stop talkers?
- Do I have chemical sensitivities or can’t tolerate scratchy clothes?
- Do I prefer taking my own car places so I can leave early if I need to?
- Do I overeat to cope with stress?
- Am I afraid of becoming suffocated by intimate relationships?
- Do I startle easily?
- Do I react strongly to caffeine or medications?
- Do I have a low pain threshold?
- Do I tend to socially isolate?
- Do I absorb other people’s stress, emotions, or symptoms?
- Am I overwhelmed by multitasking and prefer doing one thing at a time?
- Do I replenish myself in nature?
- Do I need a long time to recuperate after being with difficult people or energy vampires?
- Do I feel better in small cities or the country than large cities?
- Do I prefer one-to-one interactions or small groups rather than large gatherings?
The more Yes answers the more likely that you too are an Empath! Congrats, being an Empath is a wonderful thing. Although, I know at times it may feel like a curse, but trust me it is not. This world needs more empathetic people even if you aren’t an actual Empath, the world would benefit greatly if everyone started practicing to be more compassionate towards each other.
So how many yes answers did you get out of the 20? Let me know in the comments below.
As always thanks for reading ‘till next time,
With Love and Light,
Lauren “Willow” Hawk