I have spent my entire life telling people I am not an empath. I knew the answer to the question “what is an empath?” Long before I should have.
An empath was my mother who took on everyone else’s problems, let random people stay in our home or sleep in camper vans in our driveway.
She stayed with abusive men for too long because she saw the good in them.
She lived in constant doubt of her own strengths because her strengths felt like weaknesses.
She still does, in fact.
I have known many empaths in my life; I am married to one. My daughter is one.
It took my decades to realize that being an empath did not have to be a bad thing.
Indeed, it could be a strength.
But you have to know how to use your strengths, and not allow them to become your weaknesses.
So then, what is an empath?
Table of Contents
Let’s start with empathy.
To have empathy for someone is the ability to feel someone’s feelings. To share their feelings. To relate.
If you empathize with someone, you feel hurt when they hurt.
You cry when they cry.
You laugh when they laugh.
You feel joy when they feel joy.
This emotion can be great when people are happy.
It is devastating when people are sad, angry, or hurting.
First, I felt like so lucky that I had no empathy for people.
I could separate my feelings from their feelings.
I had sympathy, of course, which is to feel sorry for someone, but a lot of people don’t want sympathy.
They’ll take your empathy; they’ll share their burdens and their pain, but sympathy feels too much like hierarchical pity to them.
And I could see their point.
But empathy always seemed like too much of a sacrifice, like martyrdom.
With the exception of motherhood, I never understood people’s need to throw themselves in front of a bus for someone else, or to take the blame for something someone else did to save that person.
I am a caretaker, but not a savior.
I never wanted to be a martyr. It was all around me.
I was raised by an empathetic mother, five aunts, and two grandmothers, most of them empaths.
There were very few women in my life that were able to set boundaries, who had developed a strong sense of self care and self love, and those who did have boundaries, seemed to only have boundaries around their hearts.
The price to pay, it seemed, for not being empathetic to was to be cold, narcissistic.
And while I did not want to be shut off or self involved, it certainly seemed like a better option than getting stepped on, abused, and neglected for the rest of my life.
Then I began to feel bad for not being more empathetic.
It seemed there was this period of time in the early 2000s where everyone was “an empath.”
“I’m an empath.” They would say. “I attract abusers.”
Well, thanks, therapy.
But it is not so cut and dried as that, and again, empathy felt like a badge people wore that justified them not having boundaries.
What Is an Empath?
Now we’ve defined empathy, you can understand what an empath is.
Someone who absorbs the feelings of those around them.
They feel all the feelings.
They tend to not be great in crowds because they absorb the energies of the entire crowd.
They tend not to go into medicine or caretaking because, if and when they do, it breaks them.
The reality is that we live in a society that does not teach us emotional intelligence or self development.
We do not learn how to work with our gifts, and being an empath absolutely is a gift.
Empaths can in fact make the best doctors, can thrive in crowds and other spaces.
There’s this great scene in the latest version of the Superman movie, Man of Steel, with the oh so hot Henry Cavill, where he is developing his gifts as a little boy.
At first, he can hear everything, every sound, the beating hearts around him, body fluids, every pin drop, and he is overwhelmed.
He locks himself in a closet at school and feels like he’s going crazy.
His mother arrives to soothe him and tells him, through the door, “just listen to my voice.”
She teaches him how to harness his gifts, how to turn them into strengths, and how to use them for good.
That’s the trick for an empath.
Being born an inherent empath is a genuine gift, one I have learned to appreciate in so many people around me, and clearly I tend to attract them as I am surrounded by them, so there is something about my ability to not empathize that attracts empaths.
My gift is one of clarity and sight; as a claircognizant, I just know things. I understand things with little explanation; I am curious, and I engage with other people’s stories.
And that must be incredibly reassuring and safe for empaths trying to find their way.
At first, it is challenging to understand your role in the world as an empath. It feels like that Clark Kent moment.
You feel everything, and because you can feel it, you have the urge to fix it.
You want to take in every lost animal or person, you want to heal wounds, and you want to reach out and save people.
It is tricky for an empath to not do that. It feels like a betrayal of your gift.
It is not.
What to Do if You Are an Empath
If the description of an empath resonates with you, trust that there is great work to be done here in this lifetime for you.
You came into this life with a clear set of intentions, and somehow, some way, being an empath plays into those intentions.
You are an empath for a reason.
You must trust that it is a good one.
But there are some steps you have to take to be sure you do not break yourself trying to use your gifts.
The very first thing you must do as an empath is engage in ongoing and vigorous self love. You have to love yourself so much that everyone around you knows how you need to be loved.
I tell everyone who will listen to love themselves, but I tell it to empaths twice as often.
You may end up being the best doctor, veterinarian, firefighter, therapists, counselor, coach, mother, wife, or any other position where you care for and help and even heal people.
But if you do not love yourself first and foremost, hardest and longest, life will destroy you.
Empaths who do not engage in self love end up on drugs, drunk, overeating, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, victims of abuse, or any other number of harmful practices because the feelings are too much.
You need lots of time alone, time to be quiet, to meditate, to be still, and to be free. You need to exercise regularly so you can move the feelings through your body physically.
And you need to let other help you, give to you, and love you.
Truly love you.
Empathy is a very feminine trait, and that means you need to be able to receive.
You are likely strong in your divine feminine as an empath, so you will need to be sure you only choose a well balance, strong divine masculine to balance you out when you choose your life mate.
Until you do, you will need to allow strong masculine friends and family to support your feminine.
The masculine wants to give, to protect, to provide.
Take heart in those around you who want to do that for you unconditionally.
Have Compassion and an Energetic Wet Suit
You don’t have to have your empathy on at all times.
When you sit to meditate in the morning, imagine yourself putting on an energetic wet suit.
This will allow you to head out into the world, engage with others, and be present, without taking on all the energies around you, like how a surfer can put on a wet suit, swim in the ocean, feel the water, but not get cold.
You can have compassion with most people rather than empathy.
That discovery helped me so much in my investigations of empathy and why I was not an empath.
You can feel for people without actually feeling everything they feel.
You can be there for others, be present, without draining yourself.
It will take practice, but it is worth it.
Then, when you need to turn up the empathy, say to diagnose or to heal in your profession, you can turn the dial up until it feels right.
This process is one everyone has to go through as they discover their gifts, and you can do this and become a true master of your amazing quality.
Have faith, and trust in the process.