• 10/29/2023

What Is an Empath? Plus 6 Ways to Protect Your Energy

what is an empath

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Does it seem as if everyone comes to you with their troubles? You may have a gift of knowing when someone is upset by facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice. If so, you could be an empath. But what is an empath, and how do you guard yourself against people’s intense emotions?

Let’s define an empathic person and explore ways to protect your energy.

What Is an Empath?

Believe it or not, only 1% to 2% of the population is genuinely empathetic. An empath has a unique gift of feeling and understanding what other people feel, even if they haven’t had the experience. 

Generally, empaths feel more intensely and deeply. For example, a troubling news story about a missing person could trigger them. They might place themselves in the person’s shoes and feel their fear and confusion.

There are three primary types of empaths — emotional, physical and intuitive.

  • Emotional: Absorbs people’s emotions, whether happy, sad or angry
  • Physical: Feels other people’s physical pain, including symptoms that aren’t their own
  • Intuitive: The rarest type of empath with unique perception and psychic abilities

All empaths can build strong relationships, experience the world in technicolor and show superior compassion for everyone. They also possess excellent listening skills. However, feeling everyone’s feelings makes it much harder to set boundaries and can drain you. 

Are You an Empath? Signs and Traits of a Compassionate Person

If you believe you’re an empath, checking in with your feelings and emotions is essential. While there aren’t clinical guidelines to determine empathy, many compassionate people have the following tendencies:

  • You often feel exhausted and physically sick around intense emotions, like angry outbursts and fighting.
  • People tend to tell you personal details about themselves.
  • You’re a highly intuitive person.
  • You feel overwhelmed and burned out quickly.
  • You avoid spending time in crowded places.
  • You choose not to watch emotional news stories or content.
  • You feel you carry the weight of everyone else’s world on your shoulders.
  • You respond to someone’s experiences with tears. 

Some people confuse empaths for highly sensitive people (HSPs). However, while HSPs may show greater empathy than most, empaths’ intuition is much stronger.

Is Empathy a Learned Trait?

It can be. While most true empaths possess this trait innately, it is something you can learn through practice. Psychiatric researcher Helen Riess says observing people makes building our empathetic abilities possible.

Her program — EMPATHICS — teaches physicians how to boost their social awareness to read patients more deeply. Weiss uses each letter of “empathy” to describe what to look for: Eye contact, muscle movement in facial expressions, posture, the affect or emotional state, tone, hearing and your response to the other person. As she states, we tend to mirror the person we talk to. 

6 Survival Tips for Empaths

While it feels good to know you can meet someone in their darkest season, it can be anxiety-inducing and exhaustive. As an empath, you owe it to yourself to prioritize your needs and protect your energy. Here are six survival tips empaths can take to live life for themselves while being there for others. 

1. Set Boundaries

Research professor and author Brene Brown discusses empathy in her book Atlas of the Heart. According to Brown, you must have boundaries to show compassion and empathy toward people.

Many empaths struggle with boundaries, yet setting them is critical for protecting your energy. “No” is not typically in the empath’s vocabulary, but it should be. Likewise, checking in and removing yourself from stressful situations is equally important. 

Honor your empathic abilities by showing yourself the same love, attention and understanding you show others. 

2. Start a Journal

As empaths, we hold onto our feelings and those of others — it’s difficult for one person to manage. As such, journaling is an excellent way to release negative emotions.

A daily journaling practice could even become ritualistic. For example, write out what you’re feeling on paper and throw it away, symbolizing letting go of what’s dragging you down. 

Of course, keep an actual journal to jot down everyday wisdom you gain from your empathic experiences. 

3. Schedule ‘Me’ Time

Empaths tend to prioritize other people over themselves. However, establishing a self-care routine is the best remedy for protecting your energy. If you struggle to make time for yourself, block off a few hours in your weekly schedule and stick to it.

Book a massage, enjoy your favorite hobbies or catch up on sleep. A warm shower can also help to reduce tension and muscle aches. 

Better yet, if you want to make a hot shower even more relaxing, hang eucalyptus branches from the showerhead. Eucalyptus contains an oil called cineol, which reduces inflammation in the lungs and muscles, delivering an “ah” feeling.

4. Spend Time in Nature

Get back to nature when you’re feeling bogged down by negative emotions. Harvard researchers say it takes spending only 10–50 minutes in natural areas to improve your mood and concentration. It also helps lower your blood pressure and heart rate.

Low-impact outdoor activities include swimming, kayaking, walking, biking and gardening. You might also benefit from more rigorous movements to release pent-up emotions, such as tennis, running or rock climbing.

Of course, sitting on your patio and enjoying birds chirping are powerful moments to help you recover.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Speaking of sitting quietly, practicing mindfulness is ideal for protecting yourself from energy vampires. Visualization, meditation, body scans and yoga benefit your mental and physical well-being. 

Some empaths prefer meditating with healing crystals. Certain crystals supposedly contain metaphysical properties to work with your energy. For example, empaths might hold onto crystals that release or absorb negative emotions during meditation. Others are supposed to help calm you and balance you out.

Empaths might want to buy the following healing crystals to ground themselves:

  • Black Tourmaline or obsidian: Repels negative energies
  • Smoky quartz: Provides an emotional detox, helps you settle down and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Amethyst: Enhances calmness and alleviates stress and fatigue
  • Rose quartz: The “love stone” — symbolizes self-love, relational love and universal love
  • Fluorite: A purifying crystal to help cleanse your aura
  • Selenite: Transforms negativity into love and light

6. Create a Recovery Plan

Sometimes, we can’t help absorbing other people’s feelings, be it physical, mental or emotional. However, self-awareness is a powerful tool in letting you know when you’ve had enough. An “empath recovery plan” is an effective way to return to a balanced state of mind.

Incorporate some of the protective strategies above, or find other ways to recharge your batteries. However, recovering alone is vital if you want to show up for people with compassion again.

Empathy Is a Superpower

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you’re a true empath, you’re a rarity — and important. The world needs empathetic people to build connection and understanding. Society thrives thanks to empaths, but these exceptional individuals must protect themselves to keep making a difference. Set boundaries and prioritize self-care so you can show up for others. 

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