Empaths are people who are deeply attuned to the emotions and experiences of those around them. As interest in empathy grows, psychologists and therapists have increasingly studied this personality type to understand how empaths tick.
Defining the empath
Empaths are distinct from ordinary, compassionate people. An empath intensely feels other people’s emotions as if they were their own. This leads to an exceptional ability to understand what other people are going through.
Psychologists describe a few key traits of empaths:
- High emotional intelligence
- Absorbing others’ emotions
- Connecting with strangers quickly
- Strong intuition and perception
- Getting overwhelmed in groups
Essentially, an empath has a “porous boundary” between themselves and others. This exceptional sensitivity lends empaths both their powers and vulnerabilities.
Explaining the empathic ability
The popular view is that empaths are born with a special personality. But psychologists propose empaths aren’t a separate personality type – their skill is an extension of normal empathy.
Nature and nurture
As psychologist Karla McLaren notes, empathic abilities have both biological and social roots. We’re born with varying levels of empathy.
- How this develops depends on our early life experiences.
- Neglect and trauma can heighten empathy, for better or worse.
A key theory is that empaths lack emotional regulation. When they absorb external emotions, they have trouble distinguishing them from their own feelings.
- This merger leads to emotional flooding.
Mastering regulation techniques helps empaths control their sensitivity without losing their gift.
As psychologists say, “The problem is not the strength of empathy, but underdeveloped coping mechanisms.”
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Psychologists believe empaths have talents that we undervalue.
Reading people’s subtle cues lets empaths excel at connecting, communicating, and resolving conflicts. This makes them gifted friends, partners, and leaders.
Absorbing different vantage points and emotions stimulates an empath’s imagination. Many of history’s great artists, writers, and innovators displayed high empathy.
By developing emotional hygiene as psychologists recommend, empaths build self-knowledge. Their journey to understand emotions makes them sages.
Health risks facing empaths
The empathy-altruism link breaks down when empaths become distressed. Without coping skills, psychologists warn of several risks, including:
- Emotional exhaustion – Absorbing stressful emotions daily leads to fatigue and burnout.
- Codependency – Empaths can lose themselves trying to help or “fix” others.
- Isolation – Being overwhelmed by groups and stimuli, empaths retreat.
Building emotional resilience, while retaining their gift, is key to empaths thriving. Holistic wellness and community support makes this possible.
Empaths have an augmented form of a universal human capacity. While empathy itself is healthy, empaths need help regulating the intensity of their experiences.
- Providing empaths with emotional skills training and purpose could make them the visionaries of mental health.
At the least, understanding what makes them tick can allow empaths to convert their trait into a tremendous gift.