If you have empathy, you can understand and even feel what other people are going through when they are up against grief, hardship, disappointment, pain, and a host of other harrowing emotions. The word “empathy” comes from two Greek words: emaptheia, which means “passion,” and pathein, which means “to experience.”
Why are some people more empathetic than others? Research by Dr. Elaine Aron of Stony Brook University of New York shows that the brains of empaths have a stronger reaction when faced with certain emotions.
“We found that areas of the brain involved with awareness and emotion, particularly those areas connected with empathetic feelings, in the highly sensitive people showed substantially greater blood flow to relevant brain areas than was seen in individuals with low sensitivity during the 12-second period when they viewed the photos [of happy and sad faces].” — Dr. Aron.
If you are empathetic, you show you understand, you listen and you are compassionate. You may even take action and reach out by being sympathetic and helpful.
But when you are an empath, you are in a whole other category. You are so sensitive that you may actually absorb people’s emotions and suffering, even to the point of actually feeling them yourself. This is so intense that empaths have a hard time trying to put up shields so that they can actually survive without becoming engulfed. Here are 6 struggles that we empaths have to cope with on a daily basis. If you are one of us, you will have no trouble relating to these. If you are not, you might appreciate us even more.
1. We feel overwhelmed
If we are close to a person who is suffering a bereavement, we may feel that person’s sorrow so intensely that we will want to cry with them. The only problem here is that this prevents us from taking helpful action or being useful in some practical way. We are paralyzed and we wish we could do more.
2. We are shock absorbers
When it comes to witnessing harrowing scenes of migrants drowning while fleeing war, we cannot control the flood of emotions we feel. This is a highly desirable state in many ways because it makes us more compassionate human beings. The downside is that we become sponges for the world’s suffering and injustice. Every time we turn on the TV news, it is dragging us down and making us exhausted.
3. We have to learn to say “no”
We realize that there is a limit to getting drawn in when people who are negative and toxic try to suck us into their worlds. Empaths have to realize that true happiness, joy, and contentment come from within a person. It is not our job to make other people happy, but this is so hard when we have to set the limits and boundaries. A good tip is to play for time and not respond immediately to a cry for help — we all need to assess whether our energy and space are at risk.
4. We may be physical empaths
The problem here is even more acute because if we are physical empaths, we seem to absorb other people’s pains, illnesses, and stress. It often means we are hypochondriacs. We seem to have a very thin protective shield, which means that other people’s negative energy is getting through to us much more easily. Nobody is quite sure why this is so. The best way we can protect ourselves from this is to learn to practise mindfulness, breathing exercises, and to surround ourselves with friends who emanate positivity and healthy energy.
5. We can spot the fakes
Our empathic antenna sometimes have to work overtime. You know those people who praise you to the skies or those filled with anger or hate but who are charming on the surface? Being an empath helps us to spot these ones. It also helps us to be on our guard when certain people want to exploit our sensitivity and compassion.
“Empaths often possess the ability to sense others on many different levels.” — Christel Broederlow
6. We are super sensitive
This goes for everything from being aware of what a person wants, thinks, and desires to being super sensitive in the physical sense. This usually means that we are easily startled and are disturbed by bright lights, rough fabrics, and our sense of smell is extremely sharp. Now you know why we rarely watch police shows and other violent stuff on TV.
Are you an empath? Why not take the quiz here to actually find out? Remember these are labels and that life is for living and helping others when we can.
Featured photo credit: Sympathy/Javier Kohen via flickr.com