Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

How to Know if You're an Empath

Dr. Orloff - Monday, July 25, 2011

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Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s New York Times Bestseller, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2011)

Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers.

The trademark of empaths is that they know where you’re coming from. Some can do this without taking on people’s feelings. However, for better or worse, others, like myself and many of my patients, can become angst-sucking sponges. This often overrides the sublime capacity to absorb positive emotions and all that is beautiful. If empaths are around peace and love, their bodies assimilate these and flourish. Negativity, though, often feels assaultive, exhausting. Thus, they’re particularly easy marks for emotional vampires, whose fear or rage can ravage empaths. As a subconscious defense, they may gain weight as a buffer. When thin, they’re more vulnerable to negativity, a missing cause of overeating explored in my book Positive Energy. Plus, an empath’s sensitivity can be overwhelming in romantic relationships; many stay single since they haven’t learned to negotiate their special cohabitation needs with a partner.

When empaths absorb the impact of stressful emotions, it can trigger panic attacks, depression, food, sex and drug binges, and a plethora of physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis from fatigue to agorophobia. Since I’m an empath, I want to help all my empath-patients cultivate this capacity and be comfortable with it.

Empathy doesn’t have to make you feel too much all the time. Now that I can center myself and refrain from shouldering civilization’s discontents, empathy continues to make me freer, igniting my compassion, vitality, and sense of the miraculous. To determine whether you’re an emotional empath, take the following quiz.

QUIZ: AM I AN EMPATH?

Ask yourself:

  • Have I been labeled as “too emotional” or overly sensitive?
  • If a friend is distraught, do I start feeling it too?
  • Are my feelings easily hurt?
  • Am I emotionally drained by crowds, require time alone to revive?
  • Do my nerves get frayed by noise, smells, or excessive talk?
  • Do I prefer taking my own car places so that I can leave when I please?
  • Do I overeat to cope with emotional stress?
  • Am I afraid of becoming engulfed by intimate relationships?
  • If you answer “yes” to 1-3 of these questions, you’re at least part empath. Responding “yes” to more than 3 indicates that you’ve found your emotional type.

    Recognizing that you’re an empath is the first step in taking charge of your emotions instead of constantly drowning in them. Staying on top of empathy will improve your self-care and relationships.

    Emotional Action Step. How To Find Balance

    Practice these strategies to center yourself.

  • Allow quiet time to emotionally decompress. Get in the habit of taking calming mini-breaks throughout the day. Breathe in some fresh air. Stretch. Take a short walk around the office. These interludes will reduce the excessive stimulation of going non-stop.
  • Practice guerilla meditation. To counter emotional overload, act fast and meditate for a few minutes. This centers your energy so you don’t take it on from others.
  • Define and honor your empathic needs. Safeguard your sensitivities. Here’s how.
  • If someone asks too much of you, politely tell them “no.” It’s not necessary to explain why. As the saying goes, “No is a complete sentence.”
  • If your comfort level is three hours max for socializing--even if you adore the people--take your own car or have an alternate transportation plan so you’re not stranded.
  • If crowds are overwhelming, eat a high-protein meal beforehand (this grounds you) and sit in the far corner of, say, a theatre or party, not dead center.
  • If you feel nuked by perfume, nicely request that your friends refrain from wearing it around you. If you can’t avoid it, stand near a window or take frequent breaks to catch a breath of fresh air outdoors.
  • If you overeat to numb negative emotions, practice the guerilla meditation mentioned above, before you’re lured to the refrigerator, a potential vortex of temptation. As an emergency measure, keep a cushion by the fridge so you can be poised to meditate instead of binge.
  • Carve out private space at home. Then you won’t be stricken by the feeling of too much togetherness. (Chapter 8 discusses nontraditional living settings compatible with an empath’s comfort zone.)
  • Over time, I suggest adding to this list to keep yourself covered. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you’re on emotional overload. With pragmatic strategies to cope, empaths can have quicker retorts, feel safer, and their talents can blossom.


    Judith Orloff MD is a psychiatrist, intuitive healer, and NY Times bestselling author. Her latest national bestseller is The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your life. Dr. Orloff's other bestsellers are Emotional FreedomSecond SightPositive Energy, and Intuitive Healing. Dr. Orloff synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. She passionately believes that the future of medicine involves integrating all this wisdom to achieve emotional freedom and total wellness. To learn more about the power of surrender visit www.drjudithorloff.com

    Comments
    Paul M commented on 27-Jul-2011 01:21 PM
    This is a great article, Dr. Orloff, and something that could help others.
    Judy A. Kessinger commented on 30-Jul-2011 03:47 PM
    Hi Miss Orloff, Thank You for writing Positve Energy. I have now learned by reading this book why I have felt "different", taking on the energy of others, etc. I recognize and pay attention to my own intuition and know it is not me. I plan on reading your
    other writings to get me to my best own self!! Thank You and God Bless Judy
    Midwest M.D. commented on 30-Jul-2011 07:20 PM
    Eureka!!! Amazing! Thank God that I "chanced" upon your work while searching Amazon! You may have just saved my life, and I'm not understating in the slightest. I've been told since my Medical School years in the Southwest that I'm "empathic." I thought
    it just meant that I could really connect with my patients, but other times it seemed to be observed as a drawback. Now I finally get it. Take an empathic person, put them through years of childhood abuse, dissociation, forced intellectualization, and then
    watch them try to maintain when their natural bent puts them in the healing professions! This makes more sense to me than anything I've learned in my lifetime. Thank-you. I'm now a fan for life. PS: Wanted to leave an email address, but afraid it might be
    published.
    Denise Grenhart commented on 31-Jul-2011 09:32 AM
    Ms Orloff, thank you for your explanation of an empath. How long I have wondered what is "wrong" with me! I seem to attract those people who absolutely drain my energy. People see me as the strong one, but on the inside, I am absorbing the sadness and
    chaos that is all around me. Your empath quiz was a real eye opener - I could not have described myself better if I tried! Thank you for your work!
    Leanne commented on 06-Aug-2011 07:48 AM
    This is a breath of fresh air to me. I've been trying to figure my boyfriend of 3 years out. This really sums him up and knowing about some of his past I understand how this can be relative to him. We are moving in together and he wants a separate room
    and needs his space. I pesonally am a people person and would be happy together all the time and think nothing of it. He has always said that he can't explain it and does not understand himself so doesn't expect me to. If I can understand him, I can compromise
    more. Knowing what the issue may be helps. This blog my just turn my relationship around.... Thank you.
    Ann commented on 06-Aug-2011 05:44 PM
    69yrs it has taken me to realize I am an empath- now I can understand my relationships and the events in my life, my choices - and most of all how to deal with emotions and accept myself and enjoy being me. Thank you
    Carolyn commented on 27-Oct-2011 11:40 PM
    A chance comment and a quick search led me here and I am so relieved.
    kathleen commented on 01-Nov-2011 09:20 PM
    I am so stunned after reading this, I cant stress enough how a weight has been lifted of my shoulders,six months ago i went to the doctor in tears fearing i was losing my mind as i fitted in to so many categorises including depression, anxiety, antisocial
    and over sensitive,its so strange,i have taken time of work to try and figure out what is wrong with me and by pure chance i stumble across this page!! thanks so much!!
    Anonymous commented on 14-Nov-2011 02:07 PM
    Thank you!!! I now know what's "wrong" with me!
    Anonymous commented on 04-Dec-2011 07:14 PM
    Im your average teenager. And I found out about being an empath a few weeks ago. I guess learning I was an empath and how to control it really help me understand myself better! Thank You For Having This Website! It was one of my resources!
    Anonymous commented on 08-Jan-2012 06:01 PM
    I am thirteen and apparently an empath. Your website really helped me to manage it better.A thousand thanks!
    Toni commented on 22-Feb-2012 01:07 PM
    WOW now I know why I feel like I do! My mother use to say I would cry while watching the Lassie show yet when I got older she told me I was "acting" and called me Sarah Burnheart... I knew I wasn't acting and I told my friend before I moved in I cry at
    the drop of a hat. Later we became b/f & g/f and his ex told him my crying was a way I manipulated him. Since everything goes his way I asked him how am I manipulating him? He had to admit I was right and the ex was wrong. She still tries to assinate me by
    telling him lies, I believe it is because even though she is married she still wants him (she told me that) and would do anything to get him back... Thank you Dr Orloff
    Kye Sangha commented on 14-Apr-2012 05:37 PM
    My entire life, by people who were being complete abusive creeps, I've been told that I'm "too sensitive"... To me now, that phrase means, "I'm emotionally abusing you & don't like it that you're not just sucking it up." My partner now tells me this, at
    times, and it makes me so sad, because I am starting to plan to leave...and I don't want to, but I just can't seem to learn the skills to protect myself. Maybe, for some of us, being alone is just better.
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    girl commented on 31-Jul-2012 12:55 AM
    Thank you so much for writing this. Im a 14 year old girl. I have been emotionally stressed sinse around 2nd grade. People are some how drawn to me and trust me with everything but i never knew why. But i did know that I had an ability to help people that
    I could not pass up. But Just a few years ago, i started physically hurting along with becoming stressed about other peoples problems. I seem to have a friend who emotionally drains me with his very many issues. I talked to my aunt and it turns out she is
    an Empath as well and suggested i look into it because i may be too. And based ob what i have read i am most deffinately an Empath. Thank you so much for giving this knew knowledge, hopefully I can fix my emotional stress while still being able to continue
    helping people.
    Alauna commented on 01-Aug-2012 11:59 PM
    I'm pretty sure after reading this that I'm an empath. I'm really sensitive (very!) But I force myself not to show it to fit in. And I can feel others emotions and see right through any "acts" or "ulterior motives" they do. Also, my mom is a very angry
    and psychologically unstable person. She depresses me and puts me in a foul mood unless I force myself to brush it off. Sometimes she really gets to me and tires me out. I really need to learn more about being empath. Because I really think I am one.
    More Info commented on 02-Aug-2012 07:19 PM
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    Stella commented on 10-Aug-2012 09:25 AM
    Amazing. 8/8 score. Have been going through life thinking everyone would score 8/8 in these questions, and i was the weirdo for not being able to cope as well as other people. So turns out i am the weirdo, but not because i cant cope, just because my experience
    to other people's hardships is different. Now i can do something about it. RAN to the bookstore to get your "Emotional Freedom" That title sounds like heaven on earth.
    Bernadette commented on 14-Aug-2012 11:55 PM
    I actually feel like I've found myself. Like I'm figuring out my reason for existence kind of. I feel of importance, as though I have a power. I always though I could sense emotions, I just never knew it was true. Thank you for the article, it has helped
    me tons :))
    Anonymous commented on 15-Aug-2012 10:48 AM
    Thanks so much! This was really helpful to me, and I finally kow why I eat so much when Im stressed out. Thanks again!
    paulette commented on 16-Aug-2012 06:16 PM
    i am empath and got married to a passive aggressive man, because i did not know i was picking up his emotion, i keep feeling angry for no reason , then started to be sick all the time, then i started to hear his thoughts, which i thought i was imagining.
    Now i stop, playing out his emotion, if he was angry with something at work ,he will talk about it with no emotion, like it was not a problem, and I will get visible angry, but he can't show his emotion ,so he was feeding of mine, i have stop responding like
    that. i said to God I really thought i married the right person, and he said, say the pray of St Francis.Dr Judith thank so much for your sharing if i did not see your youtube video on empath, i will not know my soul,and spirit , i came alive ,conscious .
    I love you
    Anonymous commented on 29-Aug-2012 07:29 PM
    im a 14 year old girl and am aparentaly an empath. all i can say is thank you for making this it helped me so much
    Humberto commented on 09-Sep-2012 03:17 AM
    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the great spirit.
    Natasha commented on 11-Sep-2012 09:58 AM
    I have every single one of those. I've always wondered why the sound in someones voice can bring me such sadness and make me cry. It happens with everyone I come in contact with. It's like I'm feeling their emotions and not my own. How can I stop this?
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    Wendy commented on 22-Sep-2012 12:32 PM
    I have always known I was different and felt I was even born into the wrong family. I thought there was something wrong with me. I could feel other people's feelings as if they were my own. I've known since I was a little girl, around age 10, that I was
    different, but never understood how. At 48 years old I am just learning about "being" an Empath. I'm sitting here in tears reading these comments and understanding I am not alone and that I have a unique gift that I am eager to learn more about. Thank you
    from the bottom of my heart.
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    Celeste commented on 19-Dec-2012 11:16 PM
    I know someone who describes themselves as an empath, but I didn't know what it really meant. I know what empathy means but I checked a dictionary and there was no listing for the word empath. But I couldn't leave it alone. It had to mean something, so I Googled it and ended up here, and boy, am I glad I did. Not only do I have a better understanding of this person's lifestyle, but after taking the quiz, I believe I too am an empath. My answer to all but one of the questions above was "yes." I've always known that I'm wired a bit differently than most other people, but I didn't know that it's a real condition with an actual name. Now I know why I often dread attending social events; why there are some friends I can't even talk to because I fear being all-consumed by the drama of their lives in addition to my own. Even though I'm not at all sad about it, I now have a good idea why the only way I think I could ever possibly be married again is if we could lived in separate homes. Wow. The info here has really opened my eyes to a lot of things. Thanks.
    lizzie commented on 22-Dec-2012 04:43 PM
    i have just come across this because i have been struggling for awhile with myself, i know i am different and i certainly dont feel things in a normal way. i do struggle in crowds and i come across unsocialable but im not. i feel things from other people and i pick their moods up very easily which is draining and slighty scary sometimes. i can tell instintly if there is something wrong with someone and feel the need to help but then i find it difficult to let go off.i feel slighty better knowing there are other people that have this as i do feel very alone sometimes. i am just begining to realise what and who i may be , and maybe i can put it to some use once i know how to keep myself well and safe , i will be back soon xxx thanks for the insight you will never realise what this information has done for me . i am not strange or over emotional ,, i am an empath who needs to find her way x
    Hedy commented on 25-Dec-2012 10:32 AM
    I, too am glad I came across your website. For years I have not understood why my emotions would overwhelm me. My sister is a sociopath and now I understand why we have had problems getting along with each other. She always took advantage of what she perceived as weakness. She has convin ed my mother and my three daughter's that I am not a good person. She has done this for her own benefit. I never understood why I couldn't confront her but now I see everything much more clearly. I have always withdrawn when there was confrontation that I could not deal with, and that extends to my adult children. I have allowed them to disrepect me to the point that we now do not speak.
    I now know that I can't change who I am and how I deal with uncomfortable situations, but I can learn to like myself and not blame myself for things I cannot control.
    Thank you,
    Nicole commented on 05-Feb-2013 10:04 AM
    For years as well I wondered why I was so sensitive. Why I'm able to sense things that others can't, why I don't like crowds, why I get physically sick when people talk about/when I see gruesome situations. I was extremely extatic to find this website and put a name to my being. My being an empath is a good reason why I want to be a psychologist; because I know how to heal people emotionally thanks to this gift. Sometimes it gets really uncomfortable, especially when I'm in crowds and have an overwhelming sense of everyone's emotions, and when I take on other people's problems, but I know just to spend more time to myself to calm all that down. This article really gave me a new outlook on how to control it all. It makes me feel like I have a little superpower or something haha
    terri commented on 24-Mar-2013 09:03 PM
    Thank you Judith. I answered yes to all of your questions. But I spend way too much time in my head and wonder if that is contradictory to being an empath? I guess I've lived from "the neck up" for most of my life and am now trying to reconnect with my body. I loved "second sight". Read it years ago. I've had "Intuitive healing" on my bookshelf (but haven't read it) for years and just felt drawn again to it a couple days ago. After the first few chapters I've had some interesting "instructional dreams" - telling me how to stay grounded while talking to my mother. And other interesting info has come too in single sentences in my sleep life. Thank you!
    Sahra commented on 25-Mar-2013 01:42 PM
    Thank you, I have been going through some extremely hard times and I had no reason to be an emotional wreck, but now I understand why. If I hadn't found this I don't know where I would be right now!
    Ernie commented on 21-May-2013 01:40 AM
    I am 33 and receive SS disability for diagnosed Bi-Polar disorder. Being an empath describes me to a T except for the over eating. The traits of an Indigo child also describe me. What about the lights when you close your eyes and continue to "see" with your actual eyes not your minds eye? I would appreciate any help...
    jayseduncann@gmail.com
    Anonymous commented on 25-Nov-2013 01:28 PM
    I always thought I was just grumpy in crowds and wondered why I felt the mood in the room when I walked in. When I am in a group with people or even just with one person sometimes I feel totally drained after and need quiet time to myself after to 'unwind' and re center myself. being a mother has certainly woken me up to this ability as well, I can sense my kids feelings pretty accurately and I know when my mother or husband is upset without even them telling me. This has happened around strangers as well. I thought it was me imagining things but some of my observations are dead accurate and it can be quite a pain in the rear end sometimes. I am a loner a lot of the time because crowds overwhelm me. So quiet time is essential in my daily routine and I find I can be back in tune with myself.
    Margaret commented on 26-Nov-2013 09:49 PM
    Thank you. All my life I have been labeled over emotional, but now I understand why. This explains why I can't sleep over at friends houses (I am a freshman in high-school). Hopefully now I can control this and improve my life.
    Michelle Paton commented on 15-Jan-2014 01:10 PM
    I have battled for years with a drug addiction I lived in the city for a while and then the drugs began I felt it helped me get through the day without loosing my mind just sitting in my apartment on the busiest Main Street in Melbourne Australia was too much but as things in the city go on all night I couldn't get rest either constantly awaken by the anxiety and emotions of others. A wall may stop you from seeing crowds it doesn't stop the emotions. I have one question though I have read a bit online about empaths and it fits me all too well I was put through so many medical tests for not daydreaming not paying attention at school not being normal my grandfather was the only one who accepted me for who i am and used to say to people that I dance to the beat of my own drum I wonder now if he knew I was an empath. Anyway my question can empaths feel positive feelings too as well as the negative such happiness joy a sense of excitement the feeling you get when you look forward to something ? Also when I feel anxiety is it normal for an empath to be able to workout what the anxiety is about even when in the beginning of the feeling they don't know why there anxious for example a number of times I have felt anxiety and I go through all the things going on for me that I may be anxious about when none of them feel like there the reason for my anxiety it is then that I look to those around me starting with the person I'm with after prying a little into there personal life I can usually pin point the exact reason I have had a sudden attack of anxiety I can do the same for myself if the reason is coming from me is this normal for an empath? Thanks for your fantastic article it has given me much enlightenment
    Kira commented on 23-Jun-2014 06:09 AM
    Thank you for this, I am 15years old and I can feel when my close friends/family are feeling negative and I just thought everyone could do it as well but I've found out that nobody else can and it is actually hard to wrap my head around tbh, thank you
    deanna commented on 05-Aug-2014 11:05 AM
    This answers so many lingering questions for me - talk about a lightbulb moment! I've often wondered why certain emotional vampires in my life continue coming to me and me only and now I know - empaths are natural targets! Working with a therapist now on learning how to protect myself. Thank you Dr. Orloff!
    Kevin commented on 18-Nov-2014 07:59 PM
    A little about myself I have always thought that I was just a person who liked to be alone. A person who just never got most people. In time I learned that I was just different from most people somehow, although I could never put my finger on exactly how. I learned to accept it. I am 43 now and I am good with it. However as I get older and a little wiser hopefully I find myself asking a lot of questions about why although I have tried my hardest I just can’t be quite as successful as I would like to be but not just for me but for my family. So I have begun to ask myself what is it about me that keeps me from doing what I want to do in life. I have always done this thing were I critique myself in every way and when I look at myself I have to admit that I have always felt like I am a person who is just way to emotional and I don’t mean in like a cry at the drop of a hat sort of way but more like I feel things very deeply and sometimes I don’t know why and I always feel like "Why do I always feel like I am so scatter brained". However when I am alone and thinking about what I want to do I have all the confidence and clarity of thought in the world. So to make a long story short I started to do some research and as I started to research I found my way to learning that I might be an empath quite a few of the traits really fit. For instance I thought I was just really good at deciphering body language but when I started to think about it I always seemed to know when someone is lying or holding back and people ARE ALWAYS!! talking to me about there problems and I can’t help it I feel like I am supposed to listen and help them if I can. In time I kind of learned that it is ok to kind of excuse myself from this sort of thing. Also I have always been a loner as I have said with not a lot of friends because most people just sort of get under my skin but its not just being alone. I also have the need to put myself in a mental state of what I can only describe as an incredible need to be centered. I do this by taking a hot bath preferably with scented candles if I can. The funny thing is that I feel like I think the best when I am in or around water. I know that sounds weird but that is how I feel. I consider myself to be a person who considers all the angles I don't want to be one of those people who JUST THINKS THAT THERE SOMETHING THERE NOT. So I have a lot of questions as some things seem to fit and some things don’t and I am a person who likes to be sure. So I guess I would like to know how can I know for sure and I would like to be able to talk with you a little more directly I am a truck driver so email works best for me if possible. I would very much like to know what you think.

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