On Being An Empath

If you often feel over-sensitive, highly emotional, and exceptionally intuitive, then you may just be an Empath.

For many of us living with heightened sensitivities, emotional acuity, and deep intuition, we struggle to find the relevance, meaning, and acknowledgment we so deeply yearn for. Instead we are often met with comments such as, “You’re so sensitive!” or “Just toughen up!” or “Stop crying!” For those of us born as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), that’s far easier said than done. The consequence of other people’s opinions often mean that we internalise, feel shame, or try to hide our baffling emotions, and the intense sensations we experience.

Thankfully, there is a classification for people like us, determined by a Psychologist, Dr. Elaine Aron in 1996. Initially scientists believed that heightened sensitivity, shown in a sub-group of the population categorised as ‘Highly Sensitive People’, were behavioural, or due mainly to personality types. Further research discovered that that sub-group were genetically different. Research established that this was not an anomaly, as it appeared in 20% of the overall population, but rather a type of evolutionary advantage. Highly Sensitive People can see what others miss, feel what others don’t, and respond before others know to. HSP have increased levels of neurological activity, along with hypersensitive, and hyper-vigilant nervous systems. The upshot of this increased sensitivity is displayed through their thoughts, feelings, motivations and behaviour. That’s why HSP cant ‘toughen up’; we’re simply not born that way!

When I discovered this information for myself, I found an immense sense of relief, as typically, I knew there was something very different about me. I didn’t have the support or understanding from my family, which is quite common, and as a consequence, I experienced confusion with how I felt, thought, and what I could easily sense from people, places and objects (that no-one else seemed to notice). My natural coping mechanism was to cry, and I cried a lot, every single day, growing up. This was the only way I knew how to regulate the excess of information and feelings I absorbed, like a sponge, from the outside world. I also understood that as hypersensitive as I was to my environment, equally, I perceived the world from a hyper-perspective. I began to understand that this was because I was not only a HSP, I was an Empath.

In my estimation, within the 20% sub-population who identify as HSP, there are about 5% of that group who would also classify as an Empath. There is no scientific research to back this up, yet, but I have hypothesised this number after working with more than 10,000 clients over 15 years, and living as, and recognising other Empaths, myself. The term Empath is derived from the word empathy, and it seems to be right on trend at the moment, often used without a clear understanding of what it actually means, spreading mis-information.

Empaths are literally able to experience what others experience, and I mean literally. Like emotional and physical pain, and suffering, and joy, and fear, and trauma, and happiness. This makes it pretty hard to navigate the world, especially if we are perplexed by what feelings belong to us, and what belong to others. It can be confusing and debilitating, and most Empaths I know are seeking answers. Unfortunately if the advice, however well meaning, isn’t coming from another Empath, it can do more damage than good

Relationships are at the top of the ‘challenging’ list for Empaths. Empaths connect to the heart and soul of another human being, and can get caught in the, “But he/she has so much potential” trap. We have the ability to see who people really are at their essence, at their core, and we use this to excuse, tolerate, or dismiss poor and abusive behaviour. We have an inbuilt drive to help others, and we feel like we are letting a loved one down, if we reject their behaviour. We can’t stand the thought of another person suffering, so we do the suffering for them.

Empaths are ‘human chameleons’, changing our appearance, mannerisms, language, gait, and personality, often unconsciously, to fit in, so it’s important that we choose carefully whom we spend our time with! Empaths are as a consequence, excellent actors, singers, performers, politicians, media personalities, and entrepreneurs. We enjoy and thrive from sharing our message, and shaking up the status quo, whereas a HSP could think of nothing worse. Empaths are also drawn to work in positions of advocacy for people, animals and the environment. We feel like we are here to do something BIG, to change the world, and we are driven to succeed, to make connections, to educate, even though we suffer with our sensitivities, and struggle to really fit in.

Empaths have the gorgeous ability to embrace people, regardless of colour, religion, or race, and view the world through the lens of compassion, vision, and a deep sense of justice. They are strongly connected to their own spirituality, and if they accept their sensitivity as a super power, they can literally change the world.