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Are You Really an Empath? Meh, Probably Not.

Updated on October 16, 2019
Isabella Snow profile image

In 2007, I coined the term "empath" as it is currently used today. I have since come to regret it; the word is grossly misused and abused.

Buyer Beware

I wrote the very first article introducing the modern empath concept to the world in 2007. Before that, everyone was lumped into the "sponge people" definition that psychologists used, which included people who were obviously not empaths. I borrowed and repurposed the word "empath" from a classic Star Trek episode, although the woman in that episode was not quite the same as what I described in my first article. Still, I felt the word suited this collection of traits, and thus the modern definition was born. In 2007, the only other mention of the word empath to be found on the internet was a video game with an "empath" character that could restore lives. Not unlike the woman in Star Trek, but definitely not what the word empath means today.

Almost immediately, my original article was stolen and copied and pasted across the internet by unscrupulous people who credited themselves with my work. It's currently 12 years later and everyone and their mother claims to be an empath. Emotionally unstable and neurotic people claim to be empaths when they are unable to take responsibility for their own disturbing behavior. Even worse, many people claim to be empaths in an effort to make themselves sound more credible when peddling fake psychic readings, fake energy work, and more. This is actually the original article, but I have just completely rewritten it because I can no longer sit by silently and watch people take advantage of others using my work as a foundation. I have come to truly regret creating this monster.

The original list I created to help people determine whether or not they are an empath is below. Some of you are empaths. Those of you who are can find help elsewhere on the internet. Most of you are not empaths, and you should rejoice in that knowledge because this is not a club you should want to join.

Seven Signs You're an Empath

  1. In public spaces, you feel overwhelmed with inexplicable emotions.
  2. You physically experience other people's physical ailments.
  3. You feel overwhelmed and incapacitated when watching something horrible, even if it's only on television.
  4. You always know what someone really means, even when they're lying.
  5. You feel compelled to care for anyone in pain, no matter who they are or what they’ve done to you.
  6. People open up to you—even if you don’t want them to.
  7. You have a calming, soothing, restorative effect on people. You might even be able to heal them

1. When in public, do you constantly feel overwhelmed with inexplicable emotions for which you can find no reason?

Example: It's Saturday morning. You feel great. You drop by the mall, walk past a crowd of people, and start feeling strange—very down, very angry, very sad, or very excitable. The key word here is very, and you won’t have any explanation for it, you'll just feel it. In other words, you’ve had a mood swing so drastic that you feel bipolar. And what’s worse, you can’t stop it. You can carry on, trying to ignore it, but eventually it will be so overwhelming you'll have to go home and be alone.

This is the reality of an Empath—one who hasn’t yet learned how to block out other people’s emotions. Being in crowds is such a harrowing experience that most Empaths prefer to keep their own company, living the life of a hermit.

2. Do you experience other people's physical ailments?

This experience occurs mostly when you're with those you have an emotional connection with, but it can occur with anyone. After being around people who are not well, many empaths report feeling lethargic and fatigued and have to go to bed for a day or two. You’re not sick—not really. You’re not ill, yet you feel that you are. Profoundly. Symptoms can also manifest in the form of chest pains, cramps, migraines, etc. You basically experience it all, without contracting the actual illness.

3. Do you feel overwhelmed when watching something horrible... in real life or on television?

This may sound silly, but watching the news or seeing those depressing or guilt-inducing commercials can debilitate an empath for several hours. For example, while most people worry about strays, an empath who sees a wounded and homeless dog might feel like their heart has been lanced. The feeling is not something as shallow as sympathy or even ordinary empathy. It’s a feeling of profound guilt and moral agony that cannot be easily assuaged.

4. Do you ALWAYS know what someone really means?

In other words, can you always, always, always tell what it is someone meant to say, even when they're lying? More importantly, can you tell why they didn’t tell the truth?

If an empath has been lied to, they will know. And they will know why. They will know if the other person is trying to spare feelings; they will know if malice was involved. In other words, they will know the intent. You cannot lie in the face of an empath and not be caught. While they will sometimes be unable to suss the specifics of what you’re hiding, they will know if you mean them well or not. No exceptions. This is more than good intuition, and this isn’t a hunch; this is knowing.

5. Do you feel compelled to care for anyone in pain, no matter who they are and what they’ve done to you?

A true empath cannot walk past someone suffering and not feel a need to stop and help that person. Homeless people can be particularly difficult, as they are everywhere, and it's hard to make a meaningful difference in their lives. A true empath feels compelled to go to anyone who is in pain, be it emotional or psychological angst or something physical. And a true empath's compassion will usually be accepted on the spot: People in pain, regardless of how they might normally react to strangers, will receive an empath with open arms. They know instinctively that their pain matters to them.

6. Do people open up to you—even if you don’t want them to?

Some empaths are the new-agey peace-loving types who want to hold hands with everyone, but many just want to be alone because they have difficulty processing everything they absorb from other people. (This is usually because they have yet to realize their abilities or haven’t learned how to handle them yet.) For an empath, however, even if they're careful not to show any emotion, people they barely know will draw near, seeking compassion and empathy. The ill, the suffering, the weak: They are all drawn to the unconditional understanding and compassion an empath emits. And empaths emit empathy whether they want to or not. That’s not to say that empaths can’t be mean and nasty people—they surely can be, but those particular empaths tend to be those who don’t understand and have no control over their abilities.

7. Can you heal?

Most empaths have the ability to heal. Yes, that means physically. This isn’t about reiki or any other alternative modality, although those may be similar in concept. An empath heals instinctively, usually by drawing the pain or ailment out and accepting it into their own bodies. For obvious reasons, this is not recommended for anyone who doesn’t know how to keep from becoming ill in the process.

More Signs You May Be an Empath

  • If people have always told you that you are a good listener—and you often find yourself listening rather than speaking.
  • In relationships, you are often the giver, the listener, the supporter. People often want to unload their pain and problems on you.
  • Watching traumatic or violent programs is difficult. You might even experience physical reactions.
  • You might often find yourself so profoundly moved by things that you start to cry.
  • Selfish, self-centered, or narcissistic people are particularly attracted to you.
  • You have a hard time relaxing completely with others. When others are near, it's hard for you to focus on your own needs and desires. You might even prefer to sleep alone.
  • Not offering help—and saying "no" to anyone in need—is extremely difficult. As a result, you spread yourself thin and experience a lot of guilt.
  • It's sometimes hard to leave the house. Most empaths have introverted tendencies.

Are You an Empath?

In today’s day and age, everyone seems to want to be special: empathic, psychic, etc. Many people reading this want to call themselves empaths. That’s probably due to humanity's evolution of consciousness. But being an empath is not something most would really want, so don't get upset if some of this doesn't apply to you. Everyone's got "otherworldly talents," and you needn't be an empath to excel in the realm of conscious endeavors.

I cannot stress the following enough: There is nothing fun about being an empath. It’s often a very draining and miserable existence in which you feel like you have to be entirely alone in order to survive. It is not glamorous, it is not exciting, and it is painful more often than not.

If you *are* an empath, you will know this is you. You will not be saying, “Hmm.. maybe… hmm….” If you feel (without hesitation!) that these apply to you, then you should know there are ways of coping. With a little self-awareness, you can turn your curse into a gift, especially when it comes to being able to ease the emotional and physical pain of others. For now, take consolation in the knowledge that you are not crazy!

© 2007 Isabella Snow


Submit a Comment
  • Isabella Snow profile imageAUTHOR

    Isabella Snow 

    3 months ago

    Lusian, if you are concerned that you are bipolar, please visit your doctor and ask for a referral to specialist who can determine if you are or not. I'm sorry I cannot give more advice than this. Good luck.

  • profile image

    Lusian L 

    3 months ago

    I dont find myself in all these signs however i suppose that i have not to, i was always asking myself if i m bipolar or not untill i found this term of "empath" or unskilled emapth which can makes you to belive that you have mental disorder i m kinda mixed up and i m not sure what i m or where i have to go.

    i have a lot of up and downs as you said in a previous article about bipolars but also i had in my entire life some experiences which proves that i have a unexpected intuition, i was able to be 100% sure about somthing that will happen in the near future with no solid reasons , also you can not lie to me because i can sens your soul if you tell me somthing happy i can feel that your soul is not and you are lying , also it happens a lot of times when i receive the exact meaning you are gonna to say with 2 seconds earlier ,i always saw this "you feel overwhelmed in crowdy spaces" not necessary ofc i dont like this kind of situations but i have a strategy to talk , i feel that is my responsabilty to change the mood in the elevator for exemple, a joke or somthing that can make them laughing, i m the guy who made all the guys around me laughing and feel happy , i talk a lot because no one does and i do this to bring happiness in their souls because i feel that they are no,t i m the best friend of everyone , even if i m in depression , i feel like i m responsible for a person who s sad ,,, like i made that person sad ...

    Also i have that chameleon personality , i can fit everywhere , i can feel the vibe and react at the frequency even if that vibe can harm my soul and because of that i never knew who m i or where i have to go .:(

    I dont know if i m an emapth , good , bad , or posses a mental disorder or all of them i m just trying to say that it might be that the pattern you described above might be volatile and not static one or i m just wrong ...

    Please reply i m looking forward for your response

  • profile image


    3 months ago

    I joined just to make a comment. I am grateful for your article...

    Are You “Really an Empath? Meh, Probably Not”. I think at one time that I may have been. The only character I lacked was being overwhelmed in crowded places. However that did happen occasionally. I do feel others pain, physical or emotional.i cannot watch anything cruel or unjust without getting livid. My chest tightens my blood pressure goes up, etc. i could not read to kill a Mockingbird, or uncle Tom’s cabin, because ii could not handle the cruelty. I could not watch the original Roots because it would just make me so mad I would cry .I always seem to know when someone is lying. I may not know what they mean but I do know whether or not they mean But I do know whether or not they’re trying to protect me, Or lying because they are trying to cover something up. Even at my age now I can feel empathy, sympathy, and or sorry for anyone who has done me wrong.

    Under your seven signs that you may be an empath I can see how I attract the wrong people earlier in my life and how I was so easily taken advantage of.

    Do I claim to be an empath? No. You were absolutely right… It is not fun… It is draining… The emotional pain is excruciating…

    I have learned some coping mechanisms to help me get through these times and I have finally got to the place where for the most part I do not get hurt… Only because I realized that what people do to Me is not personal they do it to everyone else as well. Well, in writing this post I have realized yes I am an empath, but with coping mechanisms and the two or three very close friends (my husband also), and do not have to function as an empath. It is a sad thing that people want to wear the title “empath” as a badge when a true empath lives a very frustrating life.

    Anyway thank you for the article I think you and Scarlet 529 are right on point. Two things, if I cannot handle my own emotions, how can I handle someone else’s emotions? And if someone cannot handle their own emotions, how do they expect me to help them? Catch 22

  • Isabella Snow profile imageAUTHOR

    Isabella Snow 

    3 months ago

    Scarlet, I think you are absolutely right.

  • profile image


    3 months ago

    Thank you for your quick response!

    I think there are a lot of reasons that people want to identify with being an empath. In my experience, a lot of people do it because they don't understand their own emotions, or don't want to take responsibility for their own emotions (or both), and find it much easier to cope when the feelings "aren't theirs."

    This is an unhealthy mentality, in my opinion.

  • Isabella Snow profile imageAUTHOR

    Isabella Snow 

    3 months ago

    Empaths are just people. They are not inherently good or bad. Just people who feel other people's emotions as they would feel their own. That's all. You can be a good person or a bad person and be an empath. But as I said above, most people are not empaths. And I truly don't understand how it became such an obnoxious trend. I wish I could go back and time and delete this article before I ever published it.

  • profile image


    3 months ago

    Thank you for this article. I've been interested in the subject of false empaths recently.

    What do you think of someone who claims to be an empath, but does nothing but project negativity and blame others for their problems and negative behaviors, instead of self-reflecting and taking responsibility for themselves?

    Do you think that someone with such a lack of understanding (of themselves and others) and who shows no desire to understand could truly be an empath?


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