Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

Top 10 Traits of an Empath

Judith Orloff - Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book,“The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” (Sounds True, 2017)

The trademark of an empath is that they feel and absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of their high sensitivities. They filter the world through their intuition and have a difficult time intellectualizing their feelings.

As a psychiatrist and empath myself, I know the challenges of being a highly sensitive person. When overwhelmed with the impact of stressful emotions, empaths can have panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, food, sex and drug binges, and many physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis.

But an empath doesn’t have to feel too much and be overloaded once they learn how to center themselves. The first step is to acknowledge that you are an empath. Here are the top 10 traits of an empath from my book, The Empath's Survival Guide. See if you can relate to them. 

10 Traits of an Empath

1. Empaths are highly sensitive
Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually open, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers. But they can easily have their feelings hurt. Empaths are often told that they are “too sensitive” and need to toughen up.

2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions
Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme. They take on negativity such as anger or anxiety which is exhausting. If they are around peace and love, their bodies take these on and flourish.

3. Many empaths are introverted
Empaths become overwhelmed in crowds, which can amplify their empathy. They tend to be introverted and prefer one to one contact or small groups. Even if an empath is more extroverted they prefer limiting how much time they can be in a crowd or at a party.

4. Empaths are highly intuitive
Empaths experience the world through their intuition. It is important for them to develop their intuition and listen to their gut feelings about people. This will help empaths find positive relationships and avoid energy vampires. Read Five Steps to Develop Your Intuition to learn more.

5. Empaths need alone time
As super-responders, being around people can drain an empath so they periodically need alone time to recharge their batteries. Even a brief escape prevents emotionally overload. Empaths like to take their own cars when they go places so they can leave when they please.

6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships
Too much togetherness can be difficult for an empath so they may avoid intimate relationships. Deep down they are afraid of being engulfed and losing their identity. For empaths to be at ease in a relationship, the traditional paradigm for being a couple must be re-defined. For strategies see my article Relationship Tips for Sensitive People.

7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires
An empath’s sensitivity makes them particularly easy marks for energy vampires, whose fear or rage can sap their energy and peace of mind. Vampires do more than drain an empath’s physical energy. The especially dangerous ones such as narcissists (they lack empathy and are only concerned with themselves) can make them believe they’re unworthy and unlovable. Other vampires include The Victim, The Chronic Talker, The Drama Queen and more. To help you deal with the drainers in your life read 4 Strategies to Survive Emotional Vampires.

8. Empaths become replenished in nature
The busyness of ever day life can be too much for an empath. The natural world nourishes and restores them. It helps them to release their burdens and they take refuge in the presence of green wild things, the ocean or other bodies of water.

9. Empaths have highly tuned senses
An empath’s nerves can get frayed by noise, smells, or excessive talking.

10. Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much
Empaths are big-hearted people and try to relieve the pain of others. A homeless person holding a cardboard sign, "I'm hungry" at a busy intersection; a hurt child; a distraught friend. It's natural to want to reach out to them, ease their pain. But empaths don't stop there. Instead, they take it on. Suddenly they're the one feeling drained or upset when they felt fine before.

As an empath myself, I use many strategies to protect my sensitivities such as fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries with draining people, meditation to calm and center myself, and going out into nature. Being an empath is a gift in my life but I had to learn to take care of myself. Empaths have special needs. It’s important to honor yours and communicate them to loved ones.


Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

Elizabeth commented on 21-Sep-2016 06:47 PM
Thank you for such a wonderful article. I am hoping my husband will read it and get a better understanding of me. I am absolutely everything you mention. The introvert/nurturer-listener part is a challenge for him in particular. He can't =understand why I - the person who loves being able guide those in need and who EVERYONE (strangers included) wants to pour their hearts out to, and they do, all the time - doesn't like to socialize. Aside from loathing small talk and other meaningless dialog, I like being able to choose when and how I interact. And I wish I could make our home an "everyone-but-us free zone". He says "But you are so good with people and they love you." I need to be away from people and home is my sanctuary. He thinks I'm being contradictory. He also doesn't understand why, when he gets suddenly upset about something and gets short or snaps, that I feel like I've been hit with a million little darts, even though it wasn't directed at or about me. So I will have him read this and hope it helps somewhat.
I do have one question, if you reply to comments... Could this be why I get so easily startled? I can't stand people coming up behind me, I need to sit facing outward toward where people might come from, etc. Once, shopping with him at our local market in October, a life-sized witch suddenly came to life behind me and very loudly began cackling. I guess it was motion sensitive and we triggered it. But it startled me so badly that I had to quickly leave the store because I burst into tears. Is that part of being empathic?
Thank you for your time and insight.
Anonymous commented on 30-Oct-2016 10:24 PM
I am an empath I believe, but it is so difficult to be in other person's shoes cause it makes me deal with what they are feeling and their emotions. So as a defense to it I tried to be the opposite of an empath. I always tried to close myself to the world. What do you think about that?
Mel commented on 05-Jan-2017 04:19 AM
I too relate to every aspect you have mentioned in your article. Thanks for the insight, i just thought i had mental health issues 😂 or is thT what others tnink? So i knew from a very young age i was different from my brother and sisters. I am very emotional, am very nurturing, kind, considerate, gentle. I have had anxiety and panic attacks all my lif. I care deeply, more so than others and cry if i am spoken to, too harshly. I am very sensitive and take on a lot of the energies around me, prefer to be alone, dispise crouds , lots of noise, smells. Its just amazing... thank you so much
EC commented on 20-Jan-2017 11:24 AM
I am so grateful to Dr. Orloff. I feel people's emotional stats as if it is mine, and this is the first time I have found something practical on how to deal with it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will buy the Survival Guide - I need it desperately. I am a giver, but I had to shut off myself. And then people say I am cold and withdrawn. At one point I thought I was going crazy!
Dude commented on 17-Mar-2017 10:19 PM
This is so accurate that I'm freaking out. Where I come from empaths are really rare and tbh I thought I was the weird one. Nice to know that there are people like me all over the world.
Tasja commented on 23-Apr-2017 02:41 PM
I've just listened to your talk with Justine Willis Toms from New Dimensions for the second time. What a fantastic interview. I thank you SO MUCH for answering several questions I've been pondering for years--at least for the past 25+ years; such as why and how I innately avoid intimate relationships; why I eat although I'm not hungry (I also love the meditation pillow on/at the fridge strategy!); one of the reasons why I bicycle everywhere I need to go to in order to avoid feeling trapped; etc. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! My relief is immense. Now I know what I (also) am--i.e. an empath--and not some crazy oddball. I look forward to reading your book on empath survival strategies and hopefully now learn how to better move forward in my personal development...including being able to open up and "take on" an intimate relationship! With much aloha, Tasja
Anonymous commented on 23-Apr-2017 09:31 PM
So, was Jesus an empath? I find strength and grace in my relationship with God.I don't know any other way to be. I love being a Christian/Minister, and through my spiritual growth, I have learned to set boundaries with others. "Not my battle!" keeps me sane!
Debbie commented on 26-Apr-2017 12:48 AM
I am an emotional empath and had a secluded typing job which suited me very well. One of my colleagues in the other office used to produce a whistling sound every time she pronounced the letter "S" on the end of her words. It was ear-piercing and she never stopped talking. She was an energy vampire and the other two were the prickly pear and the enabler. I am so glad I don't work there anymore.
Rick commented on 11-Jul-2017 09:11 AM
Let me start by saying thank you. I was recently working an overnight job and I had been wanting to listen to Coast to Coast. I hadn't listened in years btw. The radio did not pick up the local station that carried the show. I downloaded the iHeart radio app on my phone to listen. Not by coincidence you were on the show that night. I think it was March or April of 2017. What a revelation! Something drew me to take those actions on that night.
I was nearly in tears of joy as I realized after 43 years that I was not just an overly sensitive man. I started to research more and the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I have long sensed that I was different. I know that. I just know things, the intuition, the gut feelings, the desire to help others, etc. I often wondered why all these things were in me.
I really feel that it is time for me to hone and understand my skill(s). I definitely am on the path to a deeper understanding of who I really am and how that will effect the rest of my life and of those that I love.
Thank you so much for your insight Dr. Orloff. I now feel that I can get on with my life as my true self.
Anonymous commented on 14-Sep-2017 09:45 PM
I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was after reading this. Everything I have felt most of my life makes sense now. Being an empath has been exhausting. I love my husband but he is a borderline narcissist and drains me. I'm hoping he will read this and understand more about me and my gift and why I sometimes need alone time. I feel the constant need to rebalance and refocus. He loves big crowds and I feel absolutely drained going out with him. The slightest noise such as a specific pitch in a voice or even a piano slightly out of tune is like nails on a chakk board. Perfumes leave me gasping for air. I only truly feel calm and at peace outside in nature. I go for walks or go hiking to come back down. Thank you Dr. Orloff. I thought I just had anxiety or a panic disorder.

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