How do you know if you’re a highly sensitive empath? Are you wondering “am I an empath or just sensitive?”
- Pick up on other people’s feelings really easily – as if they’re your own feelings?
- Get suddenly overwhelmed or overtired for no discernable reason?
- Have really strong emotional responses to other people’s distress?
- Find it really easy to empathise with plants, animals, or inanimate objects?
- Need a long time to recover after interacting with other people?
- Struggle in crowded or busy places?
- Have difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries?
- Get strong senses of buildings or places, as if you can feel an energy of sorts there?
If you nodded along as you read these questions, you might well be a highly sensitive empath.
I’m an empath – now what?
Here’s the thing.
You’re not “an empath”.
Let me show you. Ready?
Take a parallel: Hearing. Common garden listening to music kinda hearing.
Hearing is an activity. Hearer is a thing. Sound is the sense object of hearing (we’ll come back to this later).
‘Empath’ is a person who empaths.
The activity that goes with ‘empath-ing’ is sensing and interacting.
It’s the feelings you get when you interact with a dog, cat, or horse, and you feel calmer because you pick up on their calm.
It’s the ‘off’ feeling you get when someone in your group is lying.
It’s the vibe you sense in a building, a temple, a forest.
These human capabilities already have a name. It’s called communing.
You’re a person with communing skills. Capabilities. Having interactions.
You’re not a ‘thing’.
You’re a person who’s good at doing something.
Going back to hearing for a moment: to call people ‘hearers’ is a bit overkill, when most people can hear to varying degrees.
Calling people ’empaths’ is also a bit overkill, when most people can commune to varying degrees. It’s just been lost, ignored or deliberately stamped out in Euro-centric cultures, and now we’re reconnecting with it and giving it a special name when it’s not really a special thing at all.
What makes a highly sensitive empath?
Just as people having highly sensitive hearing – being able to hear more acutely, accurately, and perceptively than other people – is a known phenomenon, people have different skill levels when it comes to communing, too.
If you’re highly sensitive to communing, you’re a highly sensitive empath.
Empaths are people who have a talent for communing and notice it. This will be no surprise to any animists reading along.
Some people with a talent for communing won’t notice it. Or they’ll call it a knack. They have a knack with babies. With cats. With gardening (and the green fingers to prove it).
But what’s the sense object? Sight has colour. Hearing has sound. Smelling has scent. But what is empath-ing – let’s stick with communing – actually sensing?
Communing is sensing and interacting with energy.
Your energy, your body, is sensing and interacting with energy from people. From plants. From animals. From rocks. From the land you live on. From the buildings you go into.
You feel things. You know things. You sense things.
In more precise, descriptive and accurate terms:
A highly sensitive empath is someone with highly sensitive communing abilities.
And just as people having highly sensitive hearing might take precautions to protect themselves from overly loud sounds or environments, highly sensitive communers/empaths would be wise to do the same (with certain caveats, like don’t just go be a hermit as that doesn’t actually help, mostly).
Empath is not a well-enough-defined special type of human. It doesn’t warrant a name of its own.
In fact, it gets confusing.
Types of Empath
All these lists of types of empath you’ve seens? Irrelevant.
What if you’re an animal empath, but only with horses? Are you still an animal empath?
If you’re an emotional empath, and an animal empath, but not a physical empath? And you don’t sense the full range of emotions because of your own trauma? Are you still an emotional empath?
Are we going to develop a whole categorical tree of empath types? Does it serve us to do that? Does it actually help us live happier, healthier, better connected, meaningful lives?
Categories are too broad and too limiting at the same time.
Throw them out.
Instead, focus on what’s actually there.
Talk about what you can commune with. Talk about what you sense. Talk about the information you get, how you sense it, and where it comes from.
Talk about the feelings you get when you’re in a certain place. The images that come to mind when you’re reviewing situations. The emotions you feel when someone’s talking you through their story. The body sensations you experience.
You can have the most amazing musical instrument, but if you don’t know how to play it, it’ll sound awful.
Same applies here: you might be exceptionally gifted at communing, but if you don’t know how to discern what you’re sensing, how to set clear and consistent boundaries for yourself, or how to determine and abide by your own values, you’ll hit a more than a few bum notes along the way.
How to deal with being an empath
Now you’re sure you’re a highly sensitive empath – i.e. you have highly sensitive communing abilities – you have options.
These options include:
1. Do nothing
You might be happy with the knowledge that this is a thing, this is your thing, and you’re not alone in it.
Equally, you might be looking for ways to make life easier on yourself! In which case:
2. Do It Yourself
Taking the DIY route gives you a lot to figure out about yourself and how you interact with the world.
Here are the key areas to dive into:
Figure out your sensitivity profile – what are you sensitive to, and in what ways?
Figure out your empath/communing skills – what do you sense? How?
Learn how to moderate and manage your energy (grounding practices, amongst other energy management methods). This makes you more conscious about communing so you get less overwhelmed or unsettled when it happens. These are the skills that take it from talent to gift.
Want to get started with grounding practices? Sign up here to receive my mini ecourse The Basics: Grounding.
Figure out your ethics and boundaries – now you know what you can do, where do you ethics lie? What are the ethical applications of your gift – and what are you clear that you wouldn’t do?
Bear in mind that many people have issues with being a people/emotional empath because they went through trauma as children and didn’t learn how to set proper boundaries. You might have become over-responsible for other people’s feelings, and aren’t in touch with your own, for instance.
Figure out your trauma history and get support from a skilled professional when you want and/or need it.
Want to go it alone but get relevant emails to your inbox to remind you about your innate skills and capabilities? Sign up for emails here:
3. Do It With Someone
Learning, exploring, experiencing with another human usually helps. Whether a friend or a skilled professional, human-to-human interaction speeds up the process, in general.
You may find that you pick up different skills or understandings from different people. Building up a peer group of people with similar communing skills to you can be fabulous. Working with someone who is further along the development path can also help a great deal.
Among the many people available to you, I can support you with:
- Learning the skills of moderating and managing your energy that take it from talent (or burden) to gift.
- Releasing trauma energies and emotions
- Coming to terms with understanding energies and your interactions with them
Subject to demand, I also run workshops on intuition, boundaries, grounding meditation and related subjects. Feel free to contact me with requests.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.
Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, giftedness group programmes, speaking and bespoke support for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.
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