What Does It Mean to Be an Empath?

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empath holding hands with someone

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An empath is a person who absorbs and experiences the emotions of others. Empaths are often very in tune with how someone is feeling at a deep emotional level. It might be easy to confuse the term "empath" with "empathetic"—which means to understand how others feel. Instead, empaths take empathy a step further by taking in the emotions of others as if those feelings were their own.

Signs of an Empath

There is no exact science to prove you're an empath—or if empaths even exist. However, studies have found that brains have neurons that help some people mirror the emotions of others. Some people may have more of these "mirror neurons" than others, which could make it easier for someone to be an empath, as opposed to being empathetic.

Regardless of your brain's makeup, you don't need a brain scan to determine if you're an empath. Rather, you might be an empath if you align with any of the following characteristics.


Empaths internalize the feelings of others as if they've also experienced their emotions. You may have the ability to instantly read how someone else is feeling and feel deeply connected to their sadness or happiness, among other emotions. You may also notice that you start feeling symptoms of illness or pain that someone else is displaying, even if you don't have those symptoms yourself.


An empath is similar to a highly sensitive person. When someone is experiencing heightened emotions (e.g., extreme sadness or elation), you might feel overwhelmed by those feelings. As a result, you might feel overly emotional when someone is telling you something sad. You might also feel so overjoyed by someone's happiness that you cry.

It's also normal for empaths to be sensitive to their environment and absorb the energy of a crowd. You might feel like you are sensitive to loud sounds, pungent smells, or disturbing images. This can sometimes lead to sensory overload—or a state in which your brain is taking in too much information from your senses than you are able to process.


Empaths are often great at reading other people. You may unknowingly pick up on ways to help support the wants or needs of others because you understand how they think. You might also have a hunch when you feel someone isn't being honest with you. Empaths tend to have a gut feeling and tend to follow their instincts.


Because empaths can feel others' emotions and intuitively understand what they need, they often want to help others find happiness and safety. Empaths are often natural caregivers and tend to be thoughtful and kind.

However, you might feel like you care too much or put the needs of others over yours. This could make it challenging for you to set boundaries with people who tell you too much personal information or unload emotional baggage.  


Being overly attuned to others' feelings and emotions can be exhausting and stressful, causing some empaths to avoid social interactions. You may be more private and like to keep to yourself. When you do socialize, you might feel very exhausted after the social gathering and need time to recharge on your own.

In some cases, you may feel like you're out of place or don't fit in with others because you tend to be more sensitive and emotional than the average person. 

Types of Empaths

  • Emotional empath: Sensitive to the emotions of others and may feel the emotions of other people as if they're your own feelings.
  • Physical empath: Empathetic to the physical pain of others and may feel ill or hurt when you're around people who experience illness or injury.
  • Intuitive empath: Hyperaware or perceptive about what other people need or want, almost as if you have a sixth sense. 

Pros and Cons of Being an Empath

Being an empath can have positive and negative consequences on your health and relationships. Empaths are often extremely compassionate and intuitive, which can improve your relationship with yourself and others. But because empaths can feel so deeply, they may be more prone to mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

Some positive aspects of being an empath may be that you:

  • Are a good listener and people like to open up to you
  • Offer friends and family emotional support
  • Form meaningful relationships with others
  • Recognize the wants and needs of other people, making them feel cared for or understood
  • Follow your gut, which typically never fails you
  • Can tell when someone deceives you

However, some negative aspects of being an empath may mean that you:

  • Have trouble setting boundaries with others
  • Tend to isolate yourself or avoid social interactions
  • Feel drained after emotional conversations
  • Are prone to feeling burnout
  • May feel stressed or overwhelmed easily

Taking Care of Yourself as an Empath

As an empath, it's important to set boundaries with others. Setting boundaries can help you avoid absorbing negative emotions or feeling overwhelmed when people overshare their thoughts and feelings with you.

Like most people, empaths may also benefit from stress-reducing and emotion-regulating activities like meditation, journaling, being physically active, or spending time on hobbies that bring you joy. If you often feel overwhelmed by the emotions and feelings you absorb from others, talking with a mental health professional can also help. 

Conditions Associated With Empathy

While being an empath is not considered a psychological disorder, there are conditions associated with a lack of empathy.

People who lack empathy do not understand or notice the emotions or feelings of others, which is often linked to psychopathy. Psychopathic behavior describes someone who lacks the ability to emotionally react with empathy, which can often result in antisocial behavior or criminal activity. However, psychopathy isn't its own disorder.

Some disorders linked to psychopathy and a lack of empathy (known as empathy deficit), include: 

People with autism spectrum disorder—a condition that affects one's ability to communicate, learn, and participate in social interactions—may also have trouble showing empathy or reading emotions. Keep in mind: autism is not a personality disorder, it's a developmental condition that can make it challenging for someone to express themselves or articulate their emotions.

A Quick Review

An empath is a person who experiences other people's emotions and feelings so intensely that they absorb their sadness, happiness, pain, or stress. People who are empaths may have more mirror neurons, which help them understand and reflect other people's emotions. But research to prove someone is an empath is currently limited.

As an empath, you may feel like you care too much or become emotionally drained from social events. However, empaths can also form solid relationships with people and are great at following their instincts. If being an empath makes life difficult or emotionally overwhelming, consider talking to a mental health professional for ways you can honor your empathetic nature, while taking care of yourself.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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