I’m not an empath, but I know someone who is.
Well, actually, I may know a few people who have such high levels of empathy they’re great at knowing what others are thinking and feeling almost all the time.
But I decided to ask my friend, Tracy, what it actually felt like to be this kind of person. And I have to admit that I found some of her answers quite surprising.
I’d always thought that having a high level of empathy was an entirely positive thing, but it turns out that there are sometimes disadvantages as well.
So if you recognize these eight feelings, you have a high level of empathy, and I’m sure it affects your life greatly.
1) Emotional confusion
If we look at the definition of a person who has a high level of empathy, that being that they can understand and relate to other people’s emotions, it makes sense that they’d often feel confused.
Tracy’s explanation makes lots of sense.
“I used to think that every emotion I felt was my own, and I always wondered why I was always all over the place. Eventually, I realized I was taking in the emotions of all the people around me.”
For very emotionally sensitive people, this swirl of emotions can get very confusing. We all know what laughter through tears feels like, but what about laughter, tears, rage, frustration, and boredom all at the same time?
How can you pick apart the emotions that are really your own from the ones that you soak up and process from other people?
This sounds hugely challenging to me. It’s no surprise, then, that sometimes being an empath seems like a superpower while at others, it can feel like a “supercurse”.
2) Pain that’s not your own
According to Tracy, if you recognize the sensation of feeling paint that’s not your own, you probably have a really high level of empathy.
I’m certainly not without empathy myself. When I watch the news about people devastated by war and natural disasters, I feel a great deal of sympathy for them, and it can sometimes bring a tear to my eye.
But empaths experience this at a much higher level.
Tracy gave me a recent experience as an example to illustrate what this means for her life.
“Last week, I was on the train to work when I heard a woman a few seats down say, “Oh my god!” into her phone in the most terrible, shocked way. I didn’t want to look at her, but I couldn’t help myself. I saw her eyes full of shock and pain just before she sped off the train at the next stop. I started crying and couldn’t forget about it all day.”
And that was just a random stranger.
If you recognize what it’s like to pick up on and really experience the pain of others like this, you know what it means to have a really high level of empathy.
3) Being overwhelmed
Sometimes, my own emotions can overwhelm me, so I can only imagine what it’s like to be affected by so many other people’s emotions all at once.
On the one hand, it can be almost an ecstatic experience if you’re around many people who are all feeling really great, like at a concert.
On the other hand, you can feel completely knocked off your feet by collective despair when all the people around you are feeling terrible, like at a funeral.
Either way, Tracy explains that it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed.
“I don’t feel in control of myself sometimes. The emotions of the people around me take over, and even if I’m actually having a great day, I can be overcome by sadness – or the other way around.”
Does this sound familiar? It probably does if you’re an empath.
4) Emotional depletion
One thing I found surprising about Tracy’s explanation of being a highly empathetic person was when she told me she can feel emotionally spent.
She explained it like this.
“After a period of feeling other people’s intense emotions, I feel like I don’t have any of my own left.”
She says this particularly happens when she’s around really negative people who are constantly upset or angry. She feels these things, too, and has to work hard to separate their negative emotions from her own.
This can leave her feeling exhausted and depleted. She even mentioned feeling numb.
I’d thought that soaking up other people’s emotions would be like being a sponge. I guess it is, but sometimes you have to wring out all those competing, confusing emotions, and you can be left feeling squeezed dry!
5) Craving alone time
All the feelings I’ve mentioned so far sound incredibly intense, so I understood when Tracy told me she often feels a very strong craving for alone time.
I’ve definitely thought of her as an introvert but a total people person instead.
But I also knew she spent a lot of time alone, especially hiking in the mountains by herself.
Now I know why!
According to her, being so high in empathy can be confusing and exhausting, and you need time to recharge. Her way of doing it is going off into nature where there’s a certain purity and only her own feelings to keep her company.
But other empaths retreat in their own ways.
Some go into their dens to recharge. Some throw on headphones and escape into music. But it seems that most definitely need this time away from people to keep their sanity.
If you recognize this feeling, you probably have your own way of coping with having a high level of empathy.
6) Loving people
When I told Tracy, I always thought of her as a people person, but now I understand that she wants to escape people, she thought that was hilarious.
She said that she is, of course, a people person. She simply needs time apart from them to help her be able to deal with the burden of so much emotional energy.
“I love people, but they can also be too much. It’s just like chocolate or wine or anything else!”
So, I guess it’s a complicated relationship.
While you might need time alone, you might also really love making connections with people because the ones you make can be really emotional and deep.
On the other hand, you can find yourself attracted to the wrong kinds of people if you’re not careful, like users, narcissists, and emotional vampires who will suck the joy out of you.
One more really surprising thing I learned from talking to my empath friend, Tracy, was that having a really high level of empathy can actually make a person lonely.
While this wasn’t exactly her experience, she told me about a guy friend of hers, Ethan, who was an empath who has always struggled with loneliness.
The reason why was not something I would have expected.
As a guy, he always felt strange for being so in tune with other’s emotions. It made him something of an outcast because people didn’t understand how affected he could be by the feelings of others.
He also felt pressure to “man up” and behave in a way that was expected of him as a guy. All of these conditions made him feel different and removed from others, and that made him lonely.
Tracy says she has definitely also experienced the feeling of not being understood, but not to the same extent. That may be because women are expected to be naturally more empathetic than men.
8) Physical response to feelings
The last thing I found out about people with high levels of empathy is that their feelings can be incredibly visceral.
Tracy explained that she often experiences physical responses to emotions.
“When someone around is full of joy, I can feel a sort of electric, nervous energy in my fingertips. But sometimes a person who’s really dark or sinister will truly give me a disgusted, sickened feeling.”
That made sense when I remembered breaking up with my junior high school girlfriend and how seeing her cry made me nearly vomit.
Many highly empathetic people report a deep feeling in the pit of their stomach when they come into contact with strong negative emotions.
For many, it can feel like a curse because it’s something they can have a hard time avoiding.
But others, like Tracy, feel like this is an integral part of being highly empathetic and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
If you recognize these eight feelings, you have a high level of empathy or are an empath.
Thanks to an in-depth explanation from my friend Tracy, I now know that this doesn’t make life easy. But at the same time, it gives your life a texture and a whole other dimension that most of us hardly ever experience.
If nothing else, your empathy makes you a unique and very desirable person to have around!