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Are You Really an Empath? Meh, Probably Not.

In 2007, I coined the term "empath" as it is currently used today. I have since come to regret it; the word is grossly misused and abused.

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I wrote the very first article introducing the modern empath concept to the world in 2007. Before that, everyone was lumped into the "sponge people" definition that psychologists used, which included people who were obviously not empaths. I borrowed and repurposed the word "empath" from a classic Star Trek episode, although the woman in that episode was not quite the same as what I described in my first article. Still, I felt the word suited this collection of traits, and thus the modern definition was born. In 2007, the only other mention of the word empath to be found on the internet was a video game with an "empath" character that could restore lives. Not unlike the woman in Star Trek, but definitely not what the word empath means today.

Almost immediately, my original article was stolen and copied and pasted across the internet by unscrupulous people who credited themselves with my work. It's currently 12 years later and everyone and their mother claims to be an empath. Emotionally unstable and neurotic people claim to be empaths when they are unable to take responsibility for their own disturbing behavior. Even worse, many people claim to be empaths in an effort to make themselves sound more credible when peddling fake psychic readings, fake energy work, and more. This is actually the original article, but I have just completely rewritten it because I can no longer sit by silently and watch people take advantage of others using my work as a foundation. I have come to truly regret creating this monster.

The original list I created to help people determine whether or not they are an empath is below. Some of you are empaths. Those of you who are can find help elsewhere on the internet. Most of you are not empaths, and you should rejoice in that knowledge because this is not a club you should want to join.

Seven Signs You're an Empath

  1. In public spaces, you feel overwhelmed with inexplicable emotions.
  2. You physically experience other people's physical ailments.
  3. You feel overwhelmed and incapacitated when watching something horrible, even if it's only on television.
  4. You always know what someone really means, even when they're lying.
  5. You feel compelled to care for anyone in pain, no matter who they are or what they’ve done to you.
  6. People open up to you—even if you don’t want them to.
  7. You have a calming, soothing, restorative effect on people. You might even be able to heal them

1. When in public, do you constantly feel overwhelmed with inexplicable emotions for which you can find no reason?

Example: It's Saturday morning. You feel great. You drop by the mall, walk past a crowd of people, and start feeling strange—very down, very angry, very sad, or very excitable. The key word here is very, and you won’t have any explanation for it, you'll just feel it. In other words, you’ve had a mood swing so drastic that you feel bipolar. And what’s worse, you can’t stop it. You can carry on, trying to ignore it, but eventually it will be so overwhelming you'll have to go home and be alone.

This is the reality of an Empath—one who hasn’t yet learned how to block out other people’s emotions. Being in crowds is such a harrowing experience that most Empaths prefer to keep their own company, living the life of a hermit.

2. Do you experience other people's physical ailments?

This experience occurs mostly when you're with those you have an emotional connection with, but it can occur with anyone. After being around people who are not well, many empaths report feeling lethargic and fatigued and have to go to bed for a day or two. You’re not sick—not really. You’re not ill, yet you feel that you are. Profoundly. Symptoms can also manifest in the form of chest pains, cramps, migraines, etc. You basically experience it all, without contracting the actual illness.

3. Do you feel overwhelmed when watching something horrible... in real life or on television?

This may sound silly, but watching the news or seeing those depressing or guilt-inducing commercials can debilitate an empath for several hours. For example, while most people worry about strays, an empath who sees a wounded and homeless dog might feel like their heart has been lanced. The feeling is not something as shallow as sympathy or even ordinary empathy. It’s a feeling of profound guilt and moral agony that cannot be easily assuaged.

4. Do you ALWAYS know what someone really means?

In other words, can you always, always, always tell what it is someone meant to say, even when they're lying? More importantly, can you tell why they didn’t tell the truth?

If an empath has been lied to, they will know. And they will know why. They will know if the other person is trying to spare feelings; they will know if malice was involved. In other words, they will know the intent. You cannot lie in the face of an empath and not be caught. While they will sometimes be unable to suss the specifics of what you’re hiding, they will know if you mean them well or not. No exceptions. This is more than good intuition, and this isn’t a hunch; this is knowing.

5. Do you feel compelled to care for anyone in pain, no matter who they are and what they’ve done to you?

A true empath cannot walk past someone suffering and not feel a need to stop and help that person. Homeless people can be particularly difficult, as they are everywhere, and it's hard to make a meaningful difference in their lives. A true empath feels compelled to go to anyone who is in pain, be it emotional or psychological angst or something physical. And a true empath's compassion will usually be accepted on the spot: People in pain, regardless of how they might normally react to strangers, will receive an empath with open arms. They know instinctively that their pain matters to them.

6. Do people open up to you—even if you don’t want them to?

Some empaths are the new-agey peace-loving types who want to hold hands with everyone, but many just want to be alone because they have difficulty processing everything they absorb from other people. (This is usually because they have yet to realize their abilities or haven’t learned how to handle them yet.) For an empath, however, even if they're careful not to show any emotion, people they barely know will draw near, seeking compassion and empathy. The ill, the suffering, the weak: They are all drawn to the unconditional understanding and compassion an empath emits. And empaths emit empathy whether they want to or not. That’s not to say that empaths can’t be mean and nasty people—they surely can be, but those particular empaths tend to be those who don’t understand and have no control over their abilities.

7. Can you heal?

Most empaths have the ability to heal. Yes, that means physically. This isn’t about reiki or any other alternative modality, although those may be similar in concept. An empath heals instinctively, usually by drawing the pain or ailment out and accepting it into their own bodies. For obvious reasons, this is not recommended for anyone who doesn’t know how to keep from becoming ill in the process.

More Signs You May Be an Empath

  • If people have always told you that you are a good listener—and you often find yourself listening rather than speaking.
  • In relationships, you are often the giver, the listener, the supporter. People often want to unload their pain and problems on you.
  • Watching traumatic or violent programs is difficult. You might even experience physical reactions.
  • You might often find yourself so profoundly moved by things that you start to cry.
  • Selfish, self-centered, or narcissistic people are particularly attracted to you.
  • You have a hard time relaxing completely with others. When others are near, it's hard for you to focus on your own needs and desires. You might even prefer to sleep alone.
  • Not offering help—and saying "no" to anyone in need—is extremely difficult. As a result, you spread yourself thin and experience a lot of guilt.
  • It's sometimes hard to leave the house. Most empaths have introverted tendencies.

Are You an Empath?

In today’s day and age, everyone seems to want to be special: empathic, psychic, etc. Many people reading this want to call themselves empaths. That’s probably due to humanity's evolution of consciousness. But being an empath is not something most would really want, so don't get upset if some of this doesn't apply to you. Everyone's got "otherworldly talents," and you needn't be an empath to excel in the realm of conscious endeavors.

I cannot stress the following enough: There is nothing fun about being an empath. It’s often a very draining and miserable existence in which you feel like you have to be entirely alone in order to survive. It is not glamorous, it is not exciting, and it is painful more often than not.

If you *are* an empath, you will know this is you. You will not be saying, “Hmm.. maybe… hmm….” If you feel (without hesitation!) that these apply to you, then you should know there are ways of coping. With a little self-awareness, you can turn your curse into a gift, especially when it comes to being able to ease the emotional and physical pain of others. For now, take consolation in the knowledge that you are not crazy!

© 2007 Isabella Snow

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Ruby McGuire from Tennessee on April 25, 2020:

After reading this, I'm more sure than ever.

Robert-M on January 27, 2020:

To: Medicntx1995:

I'm pushing on in years myself. Like you, this thing that possesses me was an affliction as far back as I can remember and then some. I'm also "blessed" with a Sun/Venus conjunction in Scorpio right on my 7th House cusp and a Pisces moon. My chart is waterlogged, and that equates to, appropriately enough, an abundance of feeling.


As stated below, I'm not sure how I turned off the receiver that was taking in the emotional bombardment I suffered as a child. Perhaps I grew out of it; maybe I found some way to let it pass thru me without dwelling on it (this sounds like 'grounding'). I know I lacked a solid sense of a "Self" when I was young. Today I pretty much know who I am and on normal days I choose to select emotions that best fit me without letting others that come along from outside attach themselves to me.


I don't go around advertising or demonstrating the talents or abilities I have. This statement is what comes up for me in response to reading about your talents to heal thru touch.


Thirty some years ago my back was injured in a car wreck. It's never fully recovered and I've chosen to restrict my activities in favor of remaining mobile. As part of the healing process I put myself thru, I've explored quite a few alternative forms of body-oriented therapies. This includes post-graduate certifications in techniques I was quite good at. Fortunately, I was aware of certain changes that took place within me as a result of touching another person's body and placing my hands in the energy fields they were creating.


When I was completing my undergraduate degree I took a couple of computer science/programming classes. This was a long time ago; before Bill Gates came on the scene. I was quite good at it. It was quite a solitary activity and forced me to concentrate on what I was doing; I was able to block out the activity going on around me. I could have gone on to invent some powerful computer applications and become very wealthy. Instead, I developed an acute bleeding stomach ulcer from my frustration over trying to sort out the small little mistakes I embedded in my computer code. I decided programming wasn't something I wanted to do. I gave it up. Lo and behold, the ulcer went away.


From what you write I'm glad I followed a different career path for myself. I don't suffer from digestive troubles, and I'm not subject to the after effects that might have come in the wake of subjecting myself to making physical contact with a continual stream of clients on a daily basis.


Instead, I shield myself by being quite selective of those to whom I open myself to. I "don't go looking for trouble." And why should I? The Universe is far too capable of bringing troubles my way. And that's what happens. People come and go, entering my life for brief moments, sometimes days. And then something opens between us. There's an awareness that sneaks up on me; something that bypasses the defenses I've surrounded myself with. Then a knowing of why the encounter has occurred and what my part needs to be. Usually that comes in the form of words of kindness or wisdom spoken, sometimes a simple gesture of goodwill. Always there's an unspoken acknowledgement of who we both are and the reverence we owe to the life we're blessed with. Then we part ways.


My accident forced me to leave behind a home and a life I treasured. But that home and that life were only intended to shelter me while I healed from an earlier, more severe emotional trauma. I didn't want to leave but neither did I listen to the other hints that were being sent my way. Now I cope with the aftermath of having tried to hold on when I should have let go.


Seems to me you've been getting some pretty strong hints informing you what you need to do. It's one thing to comfort your children, your own flesh and blood when they're hurting or ill. It's another thing to use your talents to satisfy the curiosity of acquaintances seeking your judgment so they might avoid a potential pitfall they're afraid to identify all on their lonesome. Same goes for those experiencing the temporary discomfort of normal biological processes that will pass. If such requests were plaguing me, I'd flat out lie and start telling people I'd lost the gift.


You have a duty and an obligation to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your loved ones. Disease and severe illnesses are not a normal fate for any empath to contract from those around them. You're aware of the source of these afflictions. It's there in your words: "8 years ago."


Solitude can be a great friend. It restores and invigorates us. It enables us to face the world. It teaches us who we are. This is the lesson I learned when i was five years old wandering in the woods near my parents' home. It still holds true today.

Robert-M on January 27, 2020:

To Scarlet529:

As was pointed out, calling oneself an empath falsely can be a simple ego aberration thing or a way of making excuses for oneself. But your description of someone who chooses to blame others and project negativity smacks of character traits belonging to a person suffering from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


Putting someone down in order to make oneself appear to be higher up on the ladder is a classic behavioral trait/drive of a narcissist. Same goes for adopting a label that sets one apart with something "special."


Trust me. I've had the dubious honor of being involved with several of this type in my past. Today when I meet one, I RUN the other way. Not that I'm afraid of them, I just choose to occupy a different space from where they're present.


Normal, everyday people who are kind hearted and forgiving are the natural prey of a narcissist. Multiply that by 10-fold for those who are inextricably drawn to the pain of others by a spirit of true compassion. We are their polar opposites and provide exceptionally tasty meals for them once we fall under their spell.


Keep in mind narcissists are highly sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others just as empaths are. They choose or are forced to use their talents in malefic ways because they lack the equipment and capacity to connect to the energy field they're sensing in the other person. They're highly skilled at manipulating others by appearing to be other than what they truly are and the label of empath can deceive others quite well for a season.


Being a "wolf in empath's clothing" provides a convenient disguise, but the negativity and belittling of another creature is something that can't be hidden. They operate from the "dark side of the force."

Robert-M on January 27, 2020:

Thank you for this article. I'm presently going thru a very difficult life-changing process that is only peripheral to the subject at hand. Three weeks ago I wasn't aware the term empath is being used to describe people such as myself. I just happened to look on the internet one day trying to find some help for myself and wound up with the word "empath" plastered all over my computer screen. Makes it seem like a fad to me.


It took me a couple of decades and much talk and experiential therapy to be able to understand and explain why things have always happened around me the way they do.


The catch-all label of empath does explain the solitude in which I chose to live the bulk of my childhood, and the fits of rage I'd fall into when circumstances and situations prevented me from having that. Somehow, somewhere along the way I managed to learn how to block out most of the pollution. Blocking out some of the other experiences that conform to the items on your lists isn't so easy and I've had to develop a "thick skin" when it comes to confronting the plight of the homeless and passing by some of the pain I come across. I simply can't cure what ails the world and any guilt or regret that comes my way is the burden I have to bear.


It's been a difficult life in many respects. And you're dead on when you say people who don't have this "gift" should thank their lucky stars.


Then again, there are those relatively rare moments in life when the heart opens and the compassion that comes from out of somewhere flows thru. That experience can make the rest of it seem nearly worthwhile.


Thanks again.

Medicntx1995 on November 11, 2019:

Thank you Isabella Snow for writing this article and creating a word for people who possess these traits. While I have not researched the origin of the word as it pertains in this article, I have been seeing it recently while looking into personality types. I feel sorry that someone stole your hard work. This is the first time I've visited this site. I registered to specifically thank you, and to tell you that I think you are right.

Not that anything about me matters, but I'd like to give a little insight as to how or why I found your entry.

I'm an old man who has had to deal with this list of things and then some since I was a small child. Growing up I just figured there was something wrong with me. Being a boy, showing sympathy, or having empathy is not advantageous. I had to be tough or face dire consequences. Later on I realised I had an advantage in some ways, especially when dealing with women. Apparently men aren't supposed to be (or just aren't) very good listeners or "in tune" with the women in their life, or women in the produce isle for that matter. Joking aside, people are not supposed to be able to take migraine headaches and menstrual cramps away with a touch. People who are close to me call me a human lie detector. They routinely bring acquaintances, boyfriends, and employees around me just to see what "feeling" I get from them. I am a very leo man who married the quintessential aries woman. I met her in my 20s and she is years older. Not only have I learned just recently that this zodiac paring is for the most part perfect. When we met, I knew she was "the one" due to a vision of her persona I had when I was 15 years old suffering a very high fever. After being married I immediately bought rural property with a private road and no neighbors to keep the world away. Our friends call it our compound. I have been a firefighter and a paramedic for 25 years, and a medic in the army before that. We have raised a couple of super smart and beautiful children together. It used to be sort of a neat trick when they would get hurt or sick and come to daddy to lay his hands on them to absorb the pain. I used to think it was mind over matter, or purely psychosomatic until I did it to people who had no reason to believe.

As I've gotten older, this thing, has become more of a curse. I can no longer be around groups of people without horrible side effects for days. This includes grocery stores, and restaurants.

Something happened around 8 years ago which caused me to start being affected physically by the negativity I felt I was absorbing. The newest manifestations are a type of derealizing anxiety, palpitations, and rashes. Before all that it was fatigue, depression, and cancers. All unexplained when tested by the docs and made worse by their drugs. I've undergone every test you can think of. From blood and biopsies to multiple CTs and MRIs. I've tried all kinds of things to block out the bad, but the only thing that seems to work is being by myself in the middle of nowhere by a stream in the woods or on a river. This is a problem since it is hard to make a living from atop a kayak. I ended up using in excess off 2000 hours of sick time in the last couple of years to beat the above health problems and to stay away from the misery of the patients I deal with on a daily basis. I literally get the symptoms of those I am around. My doctors have tested me for ptsd, and I was kind of hoping that it was. It ain't. They told me maybe I should retire anyway.

I live a super blessed, happy, and successful life otherwise. This doesn't consume me or anything. It is just a part. What I've stated here is merely a glimpse.

I periodically search for anyone out in this world on the web with even a similarity to my experience. With the hopes of maybe a solution besides total isolation from the suffering of others.

This time, I found your article. Thanks.

Isabella Snow (author) on October 17, 2019:

Lusian, if you are concerned that you are bipolar, please visit your doctor and ask for a referral to specialist who can determine if you are or not. I'm sorry I cannot give more advice than this. Good luck.

Lusian L on October 17, 2019:

I dont find myself in all these signs however i suppose that i have not to, i was always asking myself if i m bipolar or not untill i found this term of "empath" or unskilled emapth which can makes you to belive that you have mental disorder i m kinda mixed up and i m not sure what i m or where i have to go.

i have a lot of up and downs as you said in a previous article about bipolars but also i had in my entire life some experiences which proves that i have a unexpected intuition, i was able to be 100% sure about somthing that will happen in the near future with no solid reasons , also you can not lie to me because i can sens your soul if you tell me somthing happy i can feel that your soul is not and you are lying , also it happens a lot of times when i receive the exact meaning you are gonna to say with 2 seconds earlier ,i always saw this "you feel overwhelmed in crowdy spaces" not necessary ofc i dont like this kind of situations but i have a strategy to talk , i feel that is my responsabilty to change the mood in the elevator for exemple, a joke or somthing that can make them laughing, i m the guy who made all the guys around me laughing and feel happy , i talk a lot because no one does and i do this to bring happiness in their souls because i feel that they are no,t i m the best friend of everyone , even if i m in depression , i feel like i m responsible for a person who s sad ,,, like i made that person sad ...

Also i have that chameleon personality , i can fit everywhere , i can feel the vibe and react at the frequency even if that vibe can harm my soul and because of that i never knew who m i or where i have to go .:(

I dont know if i m an emapth , good , bad , or posses a mental disorder or all of them i m just trying to say that it might be that the pattern you described above might be volatile and not static one or i m just wrong ...

Please reply i m looking forward for your response

tiggy52 on October 13, 2019:

I joined just to make a comment. I am grateful for your article...

Are You “Really an Empath? Meh, Probably Not”. I think at one time that I may have been. The only character I lacked was being overwhelmed in crowded places. However that did happen occasionally. I do feel others pain, physical or emotional.i cannot watch anything cruel or unjust without getting livid. My chest tightens my blood pressure goes up, etc. i could not read to kill a Mockingbird, or uncle Tom’s cabin, because ii could not handle the cruelty. I could not watch the original Roots because it would just make me so mad I would cry .I always seem to know when someone is lying. I may not know what they mean but I do know whether or not they mean But I do know whether or not they’re trying to protect me, Or lying because they are trying to cover something up. Even at my age now I can feel empathy, sympathy, and or sorry for anyone who has done me wrong.

Under your seven signs that you may be an empath I can see how I attract the wrong people earlier in my life and how I was so easily taken advantage of.

Do I claim to be an empath? No. You were absolutely right… It is not fun… It is draining… The emotional pain is excruciating…

I have learned some coping mechanisms to help me get through these times and I have finally got to the place where for the most part I do not get hurt… Only because I realized that what people do to Me is not personal they do it to everyone else as well. Well, in writing this post I have realized yes I am an empath, but with coping mechanisms and the two or three very close friends (my husband also), and do not have to function as an empath. It is a sad thing that people want to wear the title “empath” as a badge when a true empath lives a very frustrating life.

Anyway thank you for the article I think you and Scarlet 529 are right on point. Two things, if I cannot handle my own emotions, how can I handle someone else’s emotions? And if someone cannot handle their own emotions, how do they expect me to help them? Catch 22

Isabella Snow (author) on October 07, 2019:

Scarlet, I think you are absolutely right.

Scarlet529 on October 07, 2019:

Thank you for your quick response!

I think there are a lot of reasons that people want to identify with being an empath. In my experience, a lot of people do it because they don't understand their own emotions, or don't want to take responsibility for their own emotions (or both), and find it much easier to cope when the feelings "aren't theirs."

This is an unhealthy mentality, in my opinion.

Isabella Snow (author) on October 07, 2019:

Empaths are just people. They are not inherently good or bad. Just people who feel other people's emotions as they would feel their own. That's all. You can be a good person or a bad person and be an empath. But as I said above, most people are not empaths. And I truly don't understand how it became such an obnoxious trend. I wish I could go back and time and delete this article before I ever published it.

Scarlet529 on October 07, 2019:

Thank you for this article. I've been interested in the subject of false empaths recently.

What do you think of someone who claims to be an empath, but does nothing but project negativity and blame others for their problems and negative behaviors, instead of self-reflecting and taking responsibility for themselves?

Do you think that someone with such a lack of understanding (of themselves and others) and who shows no desire to understand could truly be an empath?

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