If you’re an empath, you probably already know that you see and feel things in a unique way. Empaths have the innate ability to truly understand other people, whether they know them well or not. With their unprecedented abilities to be selfless in a self-serving world, empaths might often feel used by others or out of place. But empaths, I’m here to let you know there are more people like you out there than you think. Upon discovering the term “empath,” it really helped explain a few things about why I am the way I am. There are a lot of ways I can describe my personality: introverted, INFJ, or a highly sensitive person (HSP), but I think being an empath is really at the core of who I am. (What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality test.)
So, here are 11 things that helped me explain some of the out-of-the-ordinary parts of my personality I didn’t understand before. They may not be true for every introverted empath, but they are definitely true to the empath in me:
1. Empaths walk in other people’s shoes with little effort. One of the easiest things for an empath to do is understand what another person is going through. That is, in essence, the definition of the word “empathy,” which Merriam-Webster describes as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” In short, empathy is walking in someone’s shoes even if they’ve walked a completely different path than anything you’ve experienced. Now, this isn’t to say that empaths have a supernatural ability to comprehend any human situation, experience, or feeling — we’re just better at it than most.
2. We feel deeply. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it’s as if my emotions seem to be more heightened than others around me. This can be both a blessing and a curse. On the upside, people will know I care about them without me even having to really say it. However, there are times where a greater tendency towards apathy would make my life easier; it’s tiring to constantly be experiencing strong emotions. For example, when I’m grieving — whether it be the loss of a loved one or a dramatic and unpleasant change in my life — my insomnia worsens, my moods plunge, I listen to a lot of sad music, and it becomes all too easy to choke up and lose myself.
3. We can be brought to tears over seemingly insignificant things. I’ve cried while looking at an exhibit in a museum, reading books, listening to someone tell a story, and especially while watching or reading the news. Tears come easy to me but when they do, I often need to assess where they’re coming from: the empath in me or the HSP. Both aspects of my personality can lead to an emotional response, but it’s important to identify in myself where the emotion is coming from in order to move on from that moment.
4. We are passionate. One reason we may get emotional easily is that we have a large capacity for passion. If there’s a subject, people group, or situation we truly care about helping, we will throw ourselves into the effort. If we believe what we’re doing will truly help someone, we may even be willing to go out of our comfort zones to get it done — even us introverted empaths.
5. We listen because we truly care. It’s against our nature not to care. We go beyond the shallow definition of “people-pleaser” because we not only place a lot of value in how others perceive us but also in that we don’t want to let anyone down. We have a passion for other people, and one thing about people is they love to feel heard. As empaths, we know this and look to offer a listening ear.
6. We love serving. Empaths have servant hearts: It’s hard for us to see suffering and not want to help. When we’re choosing how to spend our time, we often look for activities that have a purpose and meaning behind them. While I’ve been a student, I’ve always been drawn to organizations surrounding volunteer work. Maybe it’s partially nurture — how I was raised — but I think it’s also definitely a part of my nature, linked to the empath I am. Looking after others is also one of the ways we ourselves feel fulfilled because it’s often easier to focus on the struggles of others rather than ourselves.
7. We get other people’s feelings but not always our own. It’s kind of like having the ability to know who is crushing on your friend but being completely oblivious to the possibility that someone likes you. Reading other people’s feelings? For an empath, that’s a piece of cake. Sorting out our own inner turmoil? More often than not, a complete and utter fail. You’d think self-awareness is a fundamental human trait, but for some of us, it’s a bit trickier to figure out. Empaths feel and understand so much that sifting out their own feelings from the feelings of others can be a daunting task — albeit a necessary one.
8. We read people well. Empaths often consider the effect their words will have on the listener, because they want to know that what they’re saying or doing isn’t going to negatively impact someone. This mode of calculated conversation and action can provide empaths with a large store of knowledge as to what makes people tick.
9. We have strong, lasting connections with people we may not have interacted with in years. Once we bond with someone, it can often take on a “till-death-do-us-part” type of existence. Distance, separation, and time may cause our surface level relationship to corrode, but we still feel a strong affinity for the person who meant a lot to us at one point in time, even long after we’ve parted ways.
10. We’re often labeled as being overly sensitive or emotional. Telling someone that an emotional response makes them weak is an argument people have been using against various groups for ages. They may not be singled out in this, but empaths often fall into one or more of the groups under such reproach. Especially if you’re a male empath, people might see your sensitivity and tell you that you need to “man up.” Our culture associates masculinity and power with rationality — as if an emotional response is never the rational one. (Personally, I think there are many scenarios in which it could be construed as highly irrational to lack any emotion.) So empaths, stay strong in your own uniquely sensitive way; the world could use a whole lot more people like you.
11. Empaths are sought after but often underappreciated. Not all empaths are introverts, but the ones that are tend to be affected more by this one. When you’re a genuine, attentive listener who gives good advice, people and their problems tend to flock to you. It doesn’t even matter if they know you hardly at all, but something about empaths makes people decide to bare their souls. It’s not really that much of a shock that this happens if you consider how good at being understanding empaths are, though it can at times become frustrating. We do care immensely about the well-being of others, and that’s why we may bite our tongues and sit down to listen to someone rant about the same things again. However, empaths need to beware of one-sided relationships where they’re giving all of themselves and not receiving anywhere near the same in return.
A Final Note to Empaths
My dear empaths, you were born hard-wired to put others first. Your selfless attitude is both courageous and compassionate. Just don’t forget that it’s important to take care of yourself, too. There will be people who won’t appreciate your sensitivity or will seek to use your empathetic demeanor for their own gain; and these are the people that are not worth anguishing over. Instead, seek out the people and the places that will value you and support you as much as you support them. And don’t let someone convince you that caring for other people isn’t worth it. But then again, I’m sure you know that already.
Suzanne Yost is a college student from the Chicago area studying for a degree in writing in Texas. She is a lover of warm weather, a self-proclaimed chocoholic, and an introvert. Suzanne is an INFJ, an empath, and a highly sensitive person. It’s her dream to one day write and publish a novel (about what, she has no idea yet). Suzanne has also had work published on The Mighty, where she writes about her experiences with migraines and POTS. Twitter