12 signs you genuinely feel empathy for others, according to psychology

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We hear the term “empathy” tossed around all the time, but do we really understand what an empath is, according to psychology?

Scientifically speaking, research suggests that a highly specialized network of brain cells known as mirror neurons may influence how you perceive and react to the emotions of other people.

The theory is that people who exhibit empathic behavior have more active mirror neurons than those who don’t possess empathic tendencies.

There’s also evidence that empathic behavior could spring from hypervigilance, which is the state of chronic alertness that can result from past trauma.

Many people become finely attuned to the moods of others because it’s a survival mechanism.

So, how can you know if you’re naturally empathetic?

Well, psychology has some tips for you. Here are ten signs that you may be a genuinely empathic person.

1) You’re a square peg in a round hole

Even though empaths are tuned in to the emotions of those around them, they often struggle with relating to others.

You might find the emotions and feelings you’re absorbing from others perplexing or even frightening.  

You may suspect that you aren’t “normal.”

People in your life question why you’re always stressed out and exhausted.

This scrutiny may lead you to self-isolate more often.

The feeling of weirdness might mean you avoid talking about your empathic abilities so you’ll feel less like a fish out of water.

It’s tough to take when you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. There’s no denying it.

But if you can see your ability to empathize as something special, and maybe even a gift, you might be able to reframe it in your mind.

Empathy is an important part of who you are. Try embracing it instead of bemoaning it.

2) You literally feel other people’s pain

According to psychology, empathy is the ability to understand the experiences and emotions of others outside of your own perspective.

Here’s a useful scenario to explain feeling someone else’s pain.

Imagine that a good friend just lost their 17-year-old dog.

You sympathize with the emotional agony they’re going through, whether you’ve ever lost a much-loved pet or not.

But if you’re an empath, you can sense the emotions of others and it feels like it was your own lived experience. 

This can be exhausting.

3) Big crowds aren’t for you 

Empaths absorb positive and negative energy like a sponge.

In crowded places, this sensitivity can become almost unbearable as other people’s energy bombards you from all directions.

Empaths become overwhelmed because they feel everything so intensely.

When you’re an empath you probably find it difficult to deal with all the emotional “noise” from a crowd of people over an extended period of time.

Picking up on everyone’s negative energy or their physical distress can cause an empath to become overwhelmed or even ill themselves. 

As an empath, you may be most comfortable being alone or in the company of a few select people at a time.

4) You vibe with nature

We know that pretty much everyone benefits from spending time in the great outdoors. 

But empaths are particularly drawn to natural surroundings and living in remote areas.

A natural environment provides a calming, peaceful place to recuperate from secondhand sensations and emotions.

Not all of us have access to wide-open natural settings, but that’s OK.

Even a walk through a public garden or an hour reading a book under a tree can be enough to improve your mood and help you chill for a bit.

5) Some downtime is a must

As we’ve learned, heightened sensitivity to other people’s emotions can be exhausting, so empaths often find they’re easily fatigued.

Remember, even a deluge of positive feelings can tucker you out if you’re an empath, so you must take some time to reset.

If you don’t give your senses a break, you’re setting yourself up for burnout, which can have a negative and long-reaching impact on your mental health.

Needing time alone to decompress doesn’t automatically make you an introvert.

People who are extroverts can also be empaths.

Perhaps being around a lot of people energizes you — until you’re suddenly overwhelmed.

Extroverted empaths have to be extra careful to protect their energy.

They need to find the perfect balance between extreme people-ing and restoring their emotional batteries in a peaceful atmosphere. 

6) You have exceptional listening skills

Scientific research tells us that empaths tend to be great listeners.

How do you know?

Because they’re not tuning you out just waiting for their chance to reply. 

An empath not only focuses on the words you say, but also your demeanor, tone, and body language. 

We communicate with more than our words.

Empathic people engage in active listening by showing genuine interest in what you’re saying and by asking questions to further their understanding.

7) People confide in you

Sensitive empaths tend to be exceptional listeners.

You’ll find that you’re everyone’s go-to person when their life is going down the tubes. 

I can back this up, as I don’t remember ever hanging out a therapist shingle, and yet total strangers confide in me like I’ve taken an oath of silence.

This was my first clue that I had empathic tendencies.

Aside from suffering everyone’s pain secondhand, everyone in my orbit, from family members to complete strangers, acts like I’m hearing their confession.

If you don’t create boundaries as an empath, the deluge of secondhand emotions coming at you all at once can be too much to handle, even overwhelming.

Empaths need to to aware that they are magnets for manipulative or toxic behaviors.

Your sincere desire to help people can leave you on the receiving end of maladaptive behavior.

Your empathic nature gives you deeper insight intoa0 their underlying pain, and your first instinct is to offer your support.

8) You’re a loner

Now, being a loner doesn’t always mean that someone is an empath.

But it’s true that empaths often struggle with frequent close contact. 

As one can imagine, this can make maintaining romantic relationships a daunting prospect indeed.

It’s not that empaths don’t want a deep connection with someone and live happily ever after.

The problem is, that spending too much time with someone, even someone you adore, causes stress and even overwhelm.

An abundance of physical affection or excessive chattiness can cause sensory overload and the feeling that every one of your nerve endings is on fire.

It’s a no-win situation because if you try to communicate your need for time alone you could hurt your partner’s feelings and you’ll end up feeling even crummier than you did before.

9) You’re susceptible to sensory overload 

We’ve talked a little about the empath’s sensitivity to emotions, but there are other, more mundane ways the empath is sensitive to the world.

Some of these include:

  • You’re more sensitive to strong odors and people wearing heavy fragrances.
  • Sudden loud sounds and jarring sensations probably affect you more than most.
  • You like to keep your media’s volume on the low side, and certain noises can trigger a traumatic emotional response.

10) You tend to self-isolate

And, quite honestly, who can blame you?

Not me, because a nice dose of isolation is just what an empath needs to decompress and stave off their old friend overwhelm, so occasionally ghosting the world can be a time for healing.

But it’s important to note that prolonged periods of isolation can negatively impact your mental health.

Remember to get outside and lose yourself in nature. It can be amazingly restorative. 

11) Conflict isn’t your thing

If you’re empathic, you probably will do just about anything to avoid conflict.

Your high level of sensitivity makes you more susceptible to getting your feelings hurt, and even mild teasing can cut you like a knife.

Arguments cause empaths anguish because along with dealing with your own emotions, you’re also absorbing the feelings of the other people involved.

12) Your intuition is on point

Do you ever get a strong gut reaction to someone or something, or just know that something is not right or “off”?

Maybe you can hone in on the covert narcissist in the group or sense when something is a good (or not-so-good) idea.

This is a strong indication that you’re on Team Empath.

As an empath, you might rely heavily on your instincts when you make decisions.

Even though others might deem you impulsive, in reality you’re trusting your intuition to guide you to the best choice for you.

Final thoughts

Remember empath, your emotions are just as important as the ones you absorb from the people around you.

You are just as entitled to big feelings as anyone else is.

And remember – if you’re an empath, learning to set clear personal boundaries can help you reduce your stress levels.

It’s also crucial that you learn how to protect yourself so your energy levels and emotional reserves aren’t constantly being depleted.

Kathleen Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden lives in a New England forest paradise with her cats, kid, and trusty laptop. She has been writing since age 8 and is such a pack rat she can back that up with physical evidence. Music is her solace and words are her drug, so her house is strewn with records and books. Watch your step.

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