Being Empathic versus Being an Empath: Crucial Differences

by Caroline van Kimmenade

This article is about the seemingly negligible distinctions between being empathic and being an empath. Seemingly negligible because the practical distinctions are huge! If you know you’re Highly Sensitive, you might have been wondering: “am I an empath?”. Well, this article will help you understand the differences.

As an HSP, you’ll likely identify with being empathic. For various reasons, it can even be a preferable word to Highly Sensitive. Being empathic means that you are able to relate to how other people are feeling. So how is this different from being an empath?

drawing of an empath with swirly emotions moving through and past their body

Empath is a specific kind of clairsentience. With that, we’re moving from the world of psychology to the world of spiritual healing. An estimated 2-4% of the population is clairsentient (I suspect those numbers may be much lower, but that is a separate discussion) and about 15-20% of the population is HSP.

Many (not all! *) empaths identify with the HSP label, and those are the empaths I’ll be addressing here. To that purpose, the empaths I’m addressing here can be seen as a very specific “subset” within the HSP category.

many thanks to Peter Messerschmidt for fleshing out this issue with me !

So what is the difference?

First off, the distinction is not that black and white. There are people who are clearly an empath and an HSP (empathic), others who are clearly HSP (empathic) but not an empath, and there are people who are somewhere in the middle. Lines can get blurry. So the bigger question is, why does the difference matter?

 Why Does the Difference Between “Empathic” and “Empath” Matter?

The difference matters because empaths generally need specific training to learn how to work with their clairsentient ability without getting overwhelmed.

They experience a huge emotional overload because they are literally carrying other people’s emotional burdens in their body. As a result, they experience overwhelming emotions that no amount of therapy can fix.

Labels matter because they make it easier to know where to get the support and understanding you need and also know who you are in relation to others. We’re all a mix of various labels and categories, yet precisely because of that it’s important to keep them separate when discussing them.

For someone who is HSP and also an empath, the two labels will of course blend together in practice, but discussing them in this way is not helpful because not all HSPs are empaths (in fact, most are not).

Hence, it’s likely that you’ll find some empaths in a group of Highly Sensitive People, but the general consensus will tend to not be in alignment with specific empath issues. Or, alternatively, the HSPs who are not empaths themselves may assume that you’re using different words to describe what they already know. It’s a little like talking about the ocean with someone who’s only familiar with lakes and who believes lakes are all there is. You’ll achieve a seeming consensus but, on deeper prodding, it won’t really hold up.

The difference also matters because it can be uncomfortable to truly address the empath ability. Hence, it’s tempting to gloss over the crucial distinctions between being an empath versus being Highly Sensitive ‘only’. In other words, it’s tempting to “tuck away” the empath ability into the increasingly accepted and discussed HSP label. Or to water down the word “empath” until it means the same as being a Highly Sensitive Person.

Here’s why: many empaths, due to their upbringing, find it easier to accept that they are HSP than consider that they might be an empath too.

It’s easier to accept that you’re exceptionally good at reading faces, noticing body language, picking up on tone of voice, noticing subtle social cues and imaginatively putting yourself into others’ shoes, than it is to accept that you have an actual and badly understood intuitive ability that functions in a way that
goes way beyond any of the commonly accepted ways of relating to others.

The funny thing about that is though that is usually takes actual empaths a very long time to accept that they are different. While, in the last few years, there has been a massive surge of people who are not empaths, using the word empath to describe themselves. Pfew, talk about confusion!

As mentioned earlier, with being Highly Sensitive, you are still navigating the psychological world model. You need to accept that you have a more sensitive nervous system, and that this has implications for how you lead your life, but you don’t need to accept a radically different worldview. Once you move onto empath territory however, all that changes.

Some empaths are perfectly OK with that. Things finally click into place (yay!). Others struggle to fit what they are learning about being an empath into their religious, academic or other worldviews. Often times, it takes time to integrate these different worldviews into a new and personal all-encompassing model.

Empaths and Worldview

So how does your worldview need to radically change to accomodate being an empath?
There are a few things:

  • Energy is real and perceivable with your physical senses
  • Emotions and physical sensations are energy that can move from one person to another
  • Energy can be thrown at people, stick at you, blend with that of other people, and be given away

In psychological terms, this would all be “symbolic” at best. If you’re an empath, however, you need to deal with the fact that this is real. With a capital R.

When you are obsessing about someone as an empath, it’s not just “in your head”, you likely have all kinds of subconscious energy exchanges going on with the person in question. When you feel deeply affected by someone as an empath, you’re not just “empathizing” and “imagining what it’s like to be that other person” you are probably actually literally picking up this other person’s energy.

How is this different from mentally obsessing over someone? Here are some pointers:

For someone who is HSP ‘only’, a shift in attention, or talking through a situation can be enough to get “unstuck” from obsessing over someone. Sure, letting go can be tough, but psychological approaches tend to work quite well.

As an empath, however, no matter how hard you try to let go and talk it through and shift your perspective, something keeps nagging. Even when you know you’ve taken all the psychologically required steps to move on, you’re still stuck. It’s because you’re not just thinking about someone, you’ve actually taken on the other person’s energy somehow, and hence need to address this at the energetic level, not merely the psychological one. This is why empath training is important. It’s specific, and goes way beyond psychological models for letting go.


Empaths and Energy

Just as HSPs are wired to respond to stimuli more intensely, more sensitively, empaths are wired to process other people’s energy more intensely. HSP wiring is arguably biological and psychological. Empath wiring is energetic and psychological, affecting the body in numerous ways. Hence, when we’re addressing the empath ability, we need to bring the “energy body” into the conversation.

Just as Highly Sensitive People have sensory processing sensitivity, you could say that empaths have a psychic energy processing sensitivity.

I’ve compiled a list below of situations that you might recognize as an untrained or, as of yet, unidentified empath. Please note that trained and experienced empaths won’t necessarily relate to this list, but then they don’t need this list in the first place! (If you’re an experienced empath, please think back to your early indicators: how did you find out that you are an empath? Feel free to share in the comments).

Please also note that, if you do think you are an empath, chances are slim that the other HSPs that you know are empaths too. Statistically, empaths are simply more rare. (It can be tempting to “see empaths everywhere” when you’re just realising you are one yourself).

Signs (not proof!) of being an empath

  • People tell you that they feel better after talking to you about their physical and/or emotional pains, but you tend to feel worse after such conversations.
  • You’ve experienced having aches and pains, odd physical symptoms, or intense emotions out of nowhere, only to find out later that someone you love is going through exactly that.
  • When you’re in a room with many people, your emotions and/or the physical sensations in your body often change extremely from one moment to the next. You’re worried that you may be crazy somehow. Yet, when you’re by yourself, things tend to calm down.
  • You have trouble concentrating when other people are around, but you’re able to concentrate just fine when you’re by yourself.
  • Some people get extremely uncomfortable around you, because they feel that you see right through them. You might have noticed that people avoid you when they want to hide what they are going through somehow.
  • You know a lot about other people, without knowing how. You used to think that everyone knew this much about everyone, but are coming to the realization that this is -strangely- not the case.
  • You feel extremely responsible for the well-being of the people around you. People have told you to let go, or not take things so seriously, but you just can’t.
  • When you’re around certain people, you suddenly find yourself feeling, thinking and/or acting out of character. Without those people there, you revert back to your usual self. Depending on how you feel influenced, this can either be interesting and liberating, or a little scary and worrisome.
  • You have trouble knowing what you want and need. To figure that out, you usually need to be by yourself for a stretch of time, and even then it may be much easier to voice what others want from you than to say what you want for yourself.
  • You struggle with setting boundaries because the disappointment, anger and grief (and other emotions) of other people impacts you deeply. It seems that, no matter what you do, it’s always lose-lose for you. Either you stand up for yourself and get overwhelmed by the negative reactions of others, or you do what they want and don’t feel good about yourself.
  • Your body often feels icky, murky, dark and unpleasant, even if you have no childhood trauma or medical condition to attribute those feelings to. For that reason, you like to do things which take your attention away from being physically aware of how your body feels.
  • You can feel and act drunk, simply by being around other drunk people, without having had a drop of alcohol yourself.
  • You notice that you’re more directly impacted by other people’s energy when looking someone directly in the eye, being in close proximity to someone or having a strong personal bond with someone (that can influence you over long distances).
  • People tend to tell you things that “they’ve never told anyone before” even if they hardly know you.
  • Crowds tend to be overwhelming and draining for you, unless they’re an exceptionally feel-good bunch.

Please note that the indicators above are meant to be points of recognition for untrained empaths, but by no means do you need to nod your head at all of them if you actually are an empath. Nor is this a self-test. Even if you recognize many of the points above, you may still not be an empath. That’s because there are a few different ways you can be sensitive to energy and other people’s moods. You can read more about that here.

If you recognize a lot of the points above, be open to the possibility that you might be an empath, and look into that further before drawing any definite conclusions. I have a special audio course here that walks you through the steps to do that.

Also please note that these indicators do not necessarily define the empath trait. Hence, if you meet people who tell you that being an empath is awful, crazy-making, painful etc etc, chances are that they are simply untrained empaths who lack the awareness to effectively work with this ability. You don’t need to suffer as an empath but you do need to learn how to work with your empath ability. This takes work and time, but is very worth it.

When you commit to the training necessary to become a proficient empath, you’ll be able to handle crowds and other previously overwhelming situations, simply because the way in which you internally respond to all that energy has been rewired.


Does Elaine Aron’s HSP-test test for being an empath?

No, the HSP test measures general HSP attributes, which are often shared by empaths but are not enough to figure out if you are an empath or not. I’ve created an audio course for you though if you want to figure out on your own if you’re an empath or not. You can find it here.

Does becoming a trained empath make me an HSP?

No. Empath abilities are distinct clairsentient abilities. The clairsentience itself doesn’t go away but you can learn to stop the energy exchanges. This makes a massive difference. Imagining it like holding a 20 pound weight above your head, or just lightly resting your hand on it while it’s on the floor. You’re probably on this page (and site) because you know you are HSP. You may be an empath too. Either way, being highly sensitive is not “a different form” of being an empath. They are quite distinct things, yet may overlap in the sense that many empaths are both HSP and empath.

Can an empath lack empathy?

Yes. Though typically, people lacking empathy who seem like empaths, are actually psychic narcissists. I have come across a few empaths who are empaths, yet lack empathy though.

Usually this is because while they absorb negative emotions from other people, they have no understanding of what those emotions are or mean. For example, grief doesn’t register as “grief” to them, but just as random ick. So while they are very sensitive to emotional energy, their EQ is too low to understand it as a meaningful emotion. In other words: they don’t understand “what it all means” and they just want “that icky energy to go away”.

They don’t feel that someone has a lot of grief. They feel that someone has a lot of heavy ick.

As a result, they tend to be much less understanding and compassionate than you’d expect! So yes, empaths can actually have a lack of empathy, though this is quite exceptional.

Are empaths born or made?

Empaths are born in the sense that their clairsentience is a natural intuitive gift. However, they are made in the sense that what makes them an empath is the way they have learned to work with that clairsentience.

Isn’t all this just about active mirror neurons?

Mirror neurons help explain some parts of the empathic spectrum. However, mirror neurons do not explain what life is like for an empath. Empaths do not just mirror emotions or understand them by proxy, they understand them energetically by feeling and absorbing them. I don’t mean that in a symbolic way.

What is the difference between an empath and a people pleaser?

All kinds of people can become people pleasers, for many different reasons. You can become a people pleaser because deep down you feel that what other people need is more important than what you need. You can also become a people pleaser when you desperately want the whole world to like you (this is a covert narcissism kind of people pleasing).

Empaths become people pleasers when they try to manage tricky social situations or toxic people by trying to fix everything for everyone. This is a way to try to shift the general vibe back to positive emotions all round, so the empath feels better.

Is being an empath a personality disorder?

No. In fact, true empaths tend to be very even-keeled despite the mood swings that come from their empath sponging. Often, they manage to keep a lid on all the overwhelming symptoms for many many years. They end up being the rock and advisor for those around them, despite their own overwhelm, keeping their struggles to themselves. This takes a great amount of inner strength and balance to manage.

Inevitably, empaths will eventually crash in one way or the other. When they do, this can in rare cases look like a psychotic break but more often it looks like depression, anxiety or fatigue.

When people with personality disorders are sensitive to energy, they are typically on the other end of the empathy and energy spectrum. Yes, they feel affected by other people’s moods, but it’s for very different reasons. Read more here.

Why do empaths attract narcissists?

Untrained empaths are wired to anticipate and take responsibility for other people’s needs and feelings. Narcissists love this. It’s like having their personal servant who is so well trained to support and provide, that they don’t even have to ask for what they want!

As a result, empaths tend to “get along” with narcissists very well, at great cost to themselves.

Can someone be both a narcissist and an empath?

No, but it can seem that way.

Narcissistic people with strongly developed psychic abilities can display the same kind of self-absorbed and manipulative behaviour on the energy planes, as they do psychologically. When they do, you can be sure that they do not absorb other people’s pain or emotional burdens… not unless the payoff for that is many times bigger than what it’s costing them!

These psychic narcissists will walk into your aura, the same way they will walk into your room without knocking. They will attack your weaknesses psychically, as much as psychologically.

They will take what they want without asking and they will complain about how sensitive they are and how everyone else is such a burden to them. Or conversely, they will boast about how much of a healer they are and will use that as a “reason” to do unsollicited healings on people. It’s like a narcissistic parent who will walk into your room and go through all your things to “clean it up” after you expressly asked them to please not go through your things.

Tu casa is their casa. They feel entitled to everything you have and are. They will do whatever they believe they need to do but they are either blind to their own true motivations, or they lie on purpose.

These are not empaths, but they do operate on the same energy planes that empaths do, just in an opposite way. (explained more here) While they manipulate and exploit others, they do actually understand other people better than most.

So you might feel like this person both “gets you” deeply, and is also – after a while – the biggest asshole you know. That’s because they use their psychic abilities to gather intel about how to influence others. They use that both to charm, and to manipulate others.

It’s a strange thing to encounter in someone because while it seems that they understand you, they do not actually care about you at all (not beyond how you are useful to them anyway).


Why it’s Confusing to Be an Empath

Because dealing with empath abilities requires a radical world-view turn-around, and because there is little general understanding of how this ability works, many empaths struggle without any tools, the wrong tools, or insufficient tools to make sense of and handle their abilities.

In addition, many empaths who consider themselves to be experienced and trained, are not aware of how much of what they are feeling is in fact other people’s stuff. Empath “sponging” (absorbing other people’s energies) happens for a bunch of complex reasons. Yet, in a way, it’s a confusion around what is what. This is not surprising. We all get taught that whatever we feel is necessarily our own stuff. If you feel sadness, then you’re sad, right? Yet, as an empath, feeling sadness does not necessarily mean being sad. Rather, you could be feeling the sadness of someone else.

Even if you do have the awareness that certain things you are feeling are not your own, empath sponging runs deep, and chances are that you are still confused about what is and isn’t yours on deeper levels of your being. Our energy body consists of many layers, and sorting out what is what is an ever deepening process.

It’s not just what you’re picking up from others right now that plays a role, it’s also other people’s feelings and opinions that you adopted in the past that are still impacting you now. So much so that you may be utterly convinced that YOU want something when, in fact, this was a desire passed onto you by someone else, potentially many years ago.

What is confusing about the empath ability is that other people’s energies -mostly- feel exactly like your own emotions and physical sensations. There is no dramatic violin music to indicate that someone else’s energy is approaching. Hence, as empaths we can easily “embed” other people’s energy into our own energy body through taking ownership of it:

empath: “I feel sadness. Wow, it’s a lot. I didn’t realize I was that sad! Hmm, perhaps it’s because of what happened to me last week. Ah, that must be it! Wow, I’m so sad right now!”

And voilà, you’ve now securely embedded the sadness into your own energy field, without actually knowing whether it was yours in the first place.

(Please note that sufficient training is needed to avoid using this principle as a cop-out for dealing with your own emotions. To go around saying “oh, this is all not my stuff anyway” puts you into the narcissist camp of “blaming everyone else” for everything. There are no clear “rational rules” about when something is or isn’t your energy, it’s all about practicing very specific mind-body techniques that will allow you to figure this out in the moment each and every time. This is not something I can teach in a blog post but, for more info, please see this page about my From Suffering Sponge to Sensitive Savant – Empath Training)

two fairytale beings and a person are in an odd conversation

The Impact of Beliefs on Empath Sponging

There are a few different belief factors that impact empath sponging.

  • First off, in the western world there is an assumption (not shared by all societies on earth b.t.w.) that “everything you feel is your own energy”. Our world-view is about seeing people as individual “containers” that don’t really exchange energy with each other, except perhaps through body heat. Hence the “logical” thing to do is to assume that you are in charge of everything you’re feeling.
  • Empaths (like all Highly Sensitive People) have a strong tendency towards self-reflection. Hence, once those “it’s mine” assumptions are in place, things can go from bad to worse once you start to come up with reasons why you are feeling a certain way. Before you know it, you’ve constructed a whole action plan based on an emotion that perhaps wasn’t yours to deal with in the first place.
  • If you’re a woman, then you’re probably used to taking responsibility for “negative things”. If you’re successful, you’ll likely say something like: “well, it wasn’t that hard and I got help” and if you’re unsuccessful, you’ll blame it all on your own insufficiencies. (of course, this could apply to men reading this too, it’s just that, gender-wise, women are more prone to thinking this way). This way of thinking can be a great stimulus to growth and learning (it’s not all bad!) Yet, what this also means is that, as a woman and empath, when you feel something difficult or heavy (emotional or physical) your tendency is likely to first assume that it must be your problem to fix somehow.
  • On top of everything else, empaths tend to have a belief system that is heavily focused upon helping others at their own expense. Please note that this is not a fixed empath trait (it can be changed little by little through healing work) yet it does largely contribute to the sense of burden many empaths experience: whatever you believe, directs the subconscious energy exchanges with the people around you. Deeply convinced it’s your job to make everyone feel better? Voilà, your wish is granted. Just don’t ask how it will make you feel!

Hence, there are various factors that cause empaths to simply assume that what they are feeling is directly about them somehow. Then, through self-reflection, it’s always possible to find a reason for those feelings. Hence, while any particular emotion or sensation may be your own energy, it also may not. Yet, simply by assuming that it must be your stuff somehow, you are actually helping other people’s energy to ‘stick’ to you, and in this way burden you.


Trained versus Untrained Empaths

To recap,  being an untrained empath means having the gift of clairsentience + a whole bunch of inner beliefs and self-care habits that mistakenly stimulate you to take on the energy of others (and give away your own energy too) in an attempt to “help” people.

A trained empath on the other hand has the skills and awareness to take an ever increasing neutral stance with regards to other people’s energy. This means that a trained empath can still feel everything, but there is a choice as to how much is let in and for how long.

For example, a trained empath may be well aware that they are experiencing someone else’s sadness, yet decide to feel the energy for a while in order to help the other person figure out what the sadness is about. This can be helpful in (consensual!) healing work. However, it should not be an everyday stance to take with just anyone. Hence, a trained empath is also able to quickly identify when they are picking up on other people’s energy and let it go without giving in to any need to explore that energy or do anything to help. Obviously, it takes time and practice to get to this way of interacting. Yet, it’s very possible.

Empaths and Self-Esteem

For all the reasons mentioned above: taking too much responsibility, embedding other people’s energy into your own energy field, and not quite knowing how all this works, empaths often struggle with low self-esteem. Put simply, self-esteem requires feeling good about yourself, meaning: feeling good in your own skin.Yet, untrained empaths will have accumulated piles and piles of others people’s energy and embedded it in their own energy field. This causes a lot of discomfort and can even cause physical pain.

It’s hard to feel good about yourself when your body doesn’t feel great, “your” (or so you think!) emotions are all over the place and you don’t have a clue what is going on or what to do about it. Hence, at a certain point, it’s easy for empaths to spiral into increasing self-deprecation. Helping other people, then becomes the only way (or so it seems) to feel worthy at all, even though, ultimately, all this focusing on others only makes the underlying problems bigger.

So let’s move on to the topic of getting help.


Clairsentience and the Other Clairs

Clairsentience is only one of the clairs out there, yet it’s a very specific one. While any one empath may or may not have other clair abilities too (e.g. telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, clair-knowing) it’s important to realize that ways of dealing with those other clairs don’t necessarily do much to help deal with empath abilties.

Hence, for those empaths interested in attending spiritual workshops, it’s important to get a sense of the specific “clairs” that the teacher will be working with. As an empath, you need tools that help you with “feeling”. This is very different from the seeing ability that clairvoyance is all about. Yet, for whatever reason, clairvoyance is a lot more “popular” and common. Thus, empaths seeking spiritual training might easily find themselves in a workshop or course with someone who teaches from the perspective of clairvoyance.

To give you an idea, the difference between clairvoyance and clairsentience is like the difference between seeing other people’s emotional and physical rollercoasters (clairvoyance) versus actually being on those rollercoasters with people (clairsentience/empath). Hence, people with the gift of clairvoyance will not be able to really understand your struggle around being so immersed and enmeshed with other people’s stuff. In addition, any energy tools taught will be taught from the “visual” perspective, when what you need as an empath are tools that appeal to your sense of feeling.


Empaths, Fear and Shielding

Sadly, the topic of being an empath is often clouded in fear. When you start googling, you’ll find oodles of pages dedicated to “shielding” yourself from the negativity of others. I have more to say on the problems with that here. Yet, perhaps most importantly, I don’t think shielding has much of an impact in the bigger scheme of things.

The thing is, as empaths we attract other people’s painful energy because we feel on some deep subconscious level that we “should”. We are a lot more powerful than we think.

Over time, we developed numerous strategies by which to use our sensing ability to keep us safe or do what we thought was right. Unfortunately, nobody told us how to “uninstall” those inner programmes once they lost their functionality. As a result, a lot of very old and outdated emotional and mental inner programmes, that we have completely forgotten about over time, are still running the show (a.k.a. our life).

Hence, when we focus exclusively on techniques like shielding, we are in effect fighting ourself. That is (belief- and goal-wise) one part of us is trying to fight another part of us: one part of us is actively attracting and taking responsibility for other people’s energy, while another part of us is trying to get rid of all that.

As a result, the shielding route increases inner conflict. It may be effective as a temporary band-aid, but it’s definitely not a “cure” for energy overwhelm and energy drain.

Update: over the past years I’ve noticed how more and more people who are not empaths, but who are actually very psychically invasive, learn (and teach!) shielding to “protect” themselves. This is very counter-productive, and also quite creepy! It’s like giving burglars a protective suit so they can jump through other people’s windows without pain. This is yet another reason to be wary of shielding: it’s often used and taught by people who really should learn to butt out of other people’s (energy) spaces but who are way too caught up in all the mysticism and spirituality to notice what they are actually doing. * rant over *


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The Way Forward

It’s much more effective to observe  what dominating beliefs and emotions inside of us surface and play a role in the empath dynamics we experience. When you’re willing to do the inner healing work, you will gain control over both your inner programming and what you allow to happen to your own energy.

By slowly making inner changes, you can stop battling with the outside world. Instead, you’ll discover how the world functions as a reflection, mirroring back to you something important that you believe about yourself/the world and/or a significant past experience that hasn’t been emotionally processed yet. It’s not an easy path, but it’s a fruitful one.

To begin with, start noticing ways in which you feel you “should” be around people who have a negative impact on you. That’s the first level of inner reprogramming: if you uncover resistance to setting healthy boundaries with negative people in your life, then you can try to “shield” all you want, but the real issue is why do you believe that you need to let them into your space in the first place?

So, if for example, instead of closing your office door so you can get some work done, you feel guilty about telling people no, keep the door open and then try to “shield” against all the disruption… what are you really doing?

While subtle energy is real, as an empath, you need to practice self care on multiple levels. Your life strategies will need to include subtle energy know-how as well as practical assertiveness. This is not as easy as it sounds though when your intuitive gift is wrapped up in all kinds of deep feelings of obligation.

Often, beliefs about all our obligations have deep roots in childhood and beyond. They can usually be linked to being raised by a narcissistic parent, or by having a chronically ill parent or some other situation that put you into the care-taker role. Perhaps there is no clear situational link, and you have simply always felt responsible for the well-being of others somehow.

Either way, to stop empathic sponging and suffering requires a role re-evaluation. Who are you and what do you think your purpose is? And how is that working out for you?

Many empaths and maybe-I’m-an-empaths find it really clarifying to talk with me about this. I offer Clarity Calls as a first step. These are designed to deliver… clarity :) Clarity Calls stand on their own. They are not sales pitches. They help you to stop spinning in your head about what kind of sensitive person you are, what being an empath means for your life, and what is real and what isn’t. These conversations often start with “this will probably sound crazy”… to which I typically reply with “not crazy at all”.

For real and lasting change, I have a programme for empaths called From Suffering Sponge to Sensitive Savant. It teaches you all the essential skills that you need to go from overwhelmed empath, to feeling free and clear.

Empath Healing and What it Takes

Any dismantling of old patterns and roles will bring up inner resistance. Yet, the slow dismantling of old patterns is what needs to happen in order to change from a suffering empath to a happy one.

image of a sponge representing empath sponging

Empath healing work is complex. If you don’t know exactly what to do or how to it, it can take a ridiculously long time (a life time). Time better spent on more fun things!

If you’re fed up with taking on the suffering of the world and you want to learn how to stop sponging (without shielding), BE you and FEEL like you then take a look at my From Suffering Sponge to Sensitive Sanvant Empath course.

It teaches you everything you need to know to take control of your abilities so that you stop getting weighed down by the pain of others, stop censuring yourself and can let other people have their feelings without it bugging you.

Empaths spend a lot of time going it alone. Very few people understand what it’s like and even if they do, most teachers offer solutions that result in “cleansing” your energy for the rest of your life. That’s not necessary! If you like to do deep and thorough work, we can actually get rid of your empath sponging alltogether.

That means that you can still sense where other people are at – but the intensity difference is huge. It’s like living inside a disco (full volume) and then moving out of the disco and hearing a faint droning that is very easy to tune out and forget about.

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1 Rose August 20, 2013

Thank you, once again, for your insights.

2 Mia August 20, 2013

You do a fantastic job of articulating the differences between empath and empatIC. Even after more than 14 years of studying the HSP material I’d not
put together being an empath with being clairsentient. Lovely work, and thank you!

3 Kristin September 22, 2013

I’m having a hard time trying to put this question into words; I will try.
I get the whole idea about reading and feeling people. And taking on others emotions. As I have been doing that my whole life. For years I felt like an empty suit. Not knowing or feeling or having the self esteem to accept or even acknowledge anything about being me. Starting from childhood. So along with feeling other people’s feelings, I also tried forming who I was through other people.
After years of soul searching, learning my likes and dislikes and finally coming to terms and even being ok with ME. The biggest eye opener was; self nurturing comes from within. And NO I HAVEN’T MASTERED THIS TECHNIQUE YET!
MY QUESTION: Even though I am stronger and more grounded with who I am, I still super sensitive with others and it gets in the way with work and Life all the time. But its nothing like it was when I was just an empty suit. How does all of this fit in with empath and clairvoyant topic of your post.
Many thanks,

4 Caroline van Kimmenade September 27, 2013

Hi Kristin,

Everyone’s unique, so this is not something I can answer in a general way.

5 Mos September 29, 2013

Empty from first memories, but also abused and blamed it on that. I just didn’t know. I knew it wasn’t right, so I started taking on personas of good people I was reading about as a child, people I read were happy and were good….it’s been a crazy trip. I’m now fifty, and only accidentally ran across some things, during research recently, that I’ve been trying to explain to those around me for a couple of years, about what is up with me. I even used the word empath on numerous occasions in the past 6 months or so, because being soooo empathetic that it could affect me so deeply that if someone grabbed their neck as if in pain, it would be simply moments before mine was hurting as well…weird, huh? Anywho…. there just seemed to be no other word than empath. I know they think I’m a loony tune, but I’d already accepted it before I began to express it out loud, it sure couldn’t be explained any other way that made sense. Feeling energy on someone’s body and knowing there’s something wrong with them and where their ailment is…..scares them, makes them turn away from me….just more unexplainable stuff, what’s it there for, what do I do with this? No one wants it, understands it….idk. I’m trying really hard to master this thing and as long as I get to spend a lot of alone time, I can deal, because I need time to “shake it off”, after dealing with others and before dealing with the next set of emotions/physical pains. Multi tasking this thing is tough!! LOL I am often told I need to get out more…HA! Even the grocery store is a nightmare at times, who am I kidding….it drains me. Buffers help sometimes, and by that I mean, someone who engages closely with me and that I am in close proximity the whole time when out and about, and who also isn’t feeling pain or negative stuff at the time, so it makes them a buffer from others. parties, are mostly good, because they are usually upbeat with folks having a good time and feelin’ good! But…. issues at those at times too. I talk a lot and that helps, and ok, maybe I’m kinda funny….that nervous energy put to good use, no? LOL Positively engaging others before eye contact or they begin to speak and emoting your own energy first can block it some if ya feel it coming into, thru (not sure what word to use here) you. (I’m still researching, just started finding all this info, so bare with me on the technical terms and educated knowledge, I’ve been handling all this alone til now and simply try to express it as best I can) My kids also have some gifts that have been just kinda brimming on the surface most of their lives, and now I can help them better understand. I’m not positive it’s the exact same as mine, but I’m trying to get a handle on theirs and how strong theirs are. Thank goodness I’m starting to “get it”. There’s so much information now that is readily available which fits and makes sense when nothing else ever has. I have some other stuff going on that I completely freaked with as a child and didn’t develop keenly, but lingers and kinda scares me to be honest….anywho, something, somehow, someway it has been kept at bay, but that’s another site, I suppose, and not sure I’m ready to delve into. I’m a chicken and I admit it! LOL About 5 years or so ago, I subconsciously felt something and this empathy thing started getting a lot stronger for me. It was actually a person that triggered it, and it was just dreadful and something else I can’t quite find a word for…I don’t know how to explain. I don’t have cable anymore and watching the news is a thing of the past for me. :-( Something BIG is going on, isn’t it? Stay strong, help those ya can and educate yourselves, so you can educate others. Is there a forum somewhere for this ….where we, the “unexplainables” can communicate and learn from one another and have some kinda daily support if necessary? I feel like I’m taking over the page here….sorry. I needed to “spill”.

6 Caroline van Kimmenade October 7, 2013

Hi Mos,

I get the forum question regularly. So I’ll answer in full here also for the benefit of others reading this.

There are forums for sure, yet what I’ve seen on empath forums is a variety of shades of drama: people telling each other that you just have to “suffer through it”, coping tips shared that don’t really effect any real change, lots of high school kids for whom being an (untrained) empath has some kind of cult status, and lots of energy bouncing around and snowballing into unpleasant interactions because people are picking up each other’s energy and taking it all personally.

Sharing stories can help to feel more “normal” but it doesn’t change what is happening, or how to deal with it. So the question is, what do you really want, and need?

As empaths, we’re used to putting ourselves last. This can show up in the kind of help we’re willing to invest in for ourselves. Forums seem like an accessible option because they’re usually free, and at least we’ll meet kindred spirits, right? Yet, the problem is that the kindred spirit who is no longer a suffering empath, will have little incentive to be on a forum. Forums are incredibly ineffective ways to teach real skills (believe me, I’ve tried!) and they take up oodles of time (just typing everything out in and of itself is laborious!), there is (usually) no financial compensation so guiding others through a forum is a crazy task of sorts and in the end…we all have to eat and pay our bills.

So in short, I don’t recommend a forum at all. To change empath suffering requires a radical shift on many levels, and forums where people share their own stories tend to rather entrench the idea that as an empath it’s your job to carry other people’s burdens and put yourself last, as opposed to help you change that.

There’s nothing wrong with saying: “wow, I’m totally fed up with all this and just not coping!” It seems like weakness, but actually, when we “keep on keeping on” we often prolong our suffering by pretending that it’s o.k. and that we’ll manage somehow. I don’t believe empath suffering o.k., and I don’t believe it requires managing. It requires healing and radical change, so that, empaths can lead pleasant lives and help other people if they enjoy it and not out of an entrenched sense of obligation and “purpose”.

7 Marie D. Tiger October 9, 2013

This is thought provoking. I learned a lot from this article, will come back and read it one more time. I love your drawings and you way of explaining these issues.

8 Jessica November 19, 2013

I have been sensitive all my life and now I am exploring more of the empath because I have had stronger, unavoidable experiences that have troubled me. I often would dream of people, their thoughts and feelings, but I would move and travel. My experience now is of feeling just one person all day and in the dream world. This has gone on for along time and I am exploring all areas for help. I think I have definitely opened up to a life changing feeling here as I learn the best way to handle this. Any advice for experiences that seem to go beyond empath and into other realms?

9 Caroline van Kimmenade November 19, 2013

Yes. pick someone to work with. I am a firm believer that these kinds of things cannot be adequately expressed or resolved through text. We’re in a bit of a forum-generation time, but forum-like interactions have severe limitations. These kinds of experiences are very individual, and require individual attention in order to be adequately addressed.

10 Becky November 21, 2013

I’ve recently found Karla McLaren’s work with emotions and being an empath. She has written two books on this: Language of Emotions and, this fall, The Art of Empathy. Her explanation and interpretation of emotions is different from any I have seen before but so helpful! And her definition of boundary is simply our individual personal space (the same size as our energy field/aura) within which we can feel safe, centered, grounded….not a wall to keep others out. She is essentially teaching how to accept the gifts of our flowing emotions and channel them to live empathically in the world. Really lovely work for us who identify as empaths!
I love your insights and your humorous compassion, Caroline! I’d be curious what you think of McLaren’s work.

11 Caroline van Kimmenade November 23, 2013

Hi Becky,

I think it kind of depends on where we’re at exactly, with regards to “empath” being a bit of a scale, not a fixed way of being, and different people are in different places with regards to boundaries etc and where they get stuck with that, and last but not least, the role of our individual personality and approach to things.

Karla’s current definition of empath/empathic is incredibly broad. Her work is definitely interesting. Overal, I find I’m on a different wavelength with regards to what works for me and how I’ve needed to rewire my understanding of things, versus how she sees things and what seems to work for her and the people she works with.

Like you mention, I find that people in the “shielding” (wall) camp overemphasize keeping people out, yet on the other hand I find that approaches that take the need to defend ourselves out of the equation completely, underestimate the impact that “foreign” energy can have on our own energy field. As said, the precise balance between those two will depend on many things. If someone is absorbing and holding onto other people’s energy, then a “just let it flow” doesn’t really address the issue. Yet, if someone has the ability to feel other people’s feelings without letting them “stick” then an attitude of letting things flow can be perfect, and all that is needed.

So it comes down to further refining the specific empath struggles that need resolving, and then working with an approach that addresses those specific things. There are also choices to be made about what “picking up other people’s feelings” actually is. If someone chooses to see that as simply a kind of mirroring, but essentially, it’s all personal energy, then that means being an empath is -in the end- just about handling your own energy. The shamanic perspective- which I subscribe to- is different, and says that emotional energy actually is something in and of itself which can flow from one person to another, hence it can also be something “foreign” that needs to be dealt with as such.

So what I’ve noticed in Karla’s work (and I haven’t read all her books) is that I differ somewhat in what I think is at stake – or at least, what is at stake for me and the specific group of people I work with. That being said, she also has quite a diversity of approaches in her own body of work, which has gone from healer to academic, so to really answer your question, I’d have to do a lot of research first!

Yet, I do feel that there is generally a big lack of precise concepts and words, to describe many relevant different nuances concerning empaths and empathy. Hence, there is a big risk of discussions that seem to talk about the same thing, but are actually referring to subtly (or not so subtly) different things, for lack of more precise definitions, and also because subtle emotional energy is so intangible in the first place that putting it into words is a challenge in and of itself.

12 Matt November 28, 2013

Good post. I wonder if it might be helpful to use the word “empathetic” instead of “empathic” when you want to clearly refer to the non-empath type, since the word “empathetic” is less directly associated with the word “empath”.

13 Bobbie December 6, 2013

Thank you so much Caroline for this very helpful post. You are a gift to humanity. Have a great weekend! ^_^

14 Kathryn December 11, 2013

Wow! A friend shared the link to this article and it was so incredibly helpful. Just exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you so very much!

15 Michelle March 17, 2014

I am a bit speechless. It seems that I have a lot of the signs of being an empath. But as you say, this is not a clear proof. I find it interesting because I can say that all of the above relate to me. I don’t really want to be an empath. It explains a lot of why I don’t like crowds, can’t stand sad news, can not shop at a grocery store alone in a weakened state, ( which is all the time, now) . I literally cannot concentrate around people. It explains why in the past, when I was feeling better, people whom I barely knew would share personal stories with me, (except the ones who have something to hide), and maybe why I am shutting down and shutting out so much. It may explain why I am fatigued and have pain all the time. I noticed that when I have an emotion that I can’t deal with, I can suppress it, but it seems to go straight to my body (bones). I am married to a narcissist, at least, I believe I am, and I am tired. Even positive crowds are too much at this point. So, maybe I am not an empath, and that would be fine. I know spiritual energy is real and when I am strong, I can deal with things better. But IF I am an empath, the work I need to do is to get better. I suspected in recent years that I might have the ability to empathize in this way. When I think of individuals that I have met, I don’t just get their face or name, I get a feeling..I have a sense of the person I am thinking about, it is as if each person is a unique musical note, but maybe that is normal for everyone. I am sure I have been under N influence all my life.( My father, my sister, and my husband.) I feel like I need to get back to me and I often wonder if there is a me to get back to. I think that healing might entail me getting away from the N influence, but the fear of the pain of leaving my family is strong and I know how my kids will feel. It is hard. The question remains… how do I find out if I am an empath? It seems important to know. Thank you, so much.

16 Caroline van Kimmenade March 21, 2014

Hi Michelle,

What you describe is most definitely not normal for everyone to experience. It’s a lot to wrap one’s mind around for sure.

So far, I haven’t met an actual empath yet who said “yay, I am an empath!”. I have received messages from a few people who thought that being an empath would be sooo cool. My guess is that they are teenagers watching too many anime cartoons, or something like that. The actual untrained empath experience is far from fairytales and unicorns.

17 Erin April 9, 2014

Hi. Thanks for existing!
Boy, I wish I lived in an age where humanity embraced all this and there were training centers and wide-spread social acceptance. Won’t that be nice?! I’m 45 and finally at the point where I have to deal with being an empath. I’ve gotten very isolated! Being raised Catholic by over-educated N’s and being one of those empaths who has made it my job to care-take people who had no intention of healing themselves… over and over in relationship after relationship…. OY!

I’m now trying to distinguish my feelings, goals, needs, beliefs from the multitude I have taken in or taken on. It’s bizarre not to know which is which after all these years… very slow going and a bit (!) upsetting/unsettling to see how much I don’t live for me/don’t know what IS me. I read a quote yesterday about how others don’t ‘feel’ like we do… something that has been said to me repeatedly. My reaction was always one of confusion and annoyance… like: “Duh… we all have our own feelings”… then I read on and the person explained “when I say ‘feel’… I mean having the physical and emotional sensations of someone else’s emotions” Holy crap… lightbulb moment. I don’t know why it took me 45 years to get it, but whatever… but because that was what I experienced, I assumed that other people experienced that too, and that they were just being ugly, or stubborn, or deliberately obtuse. I thought this was how it was for everyone! I’ve been so frustrated and clueless and alone and exhausted all the time! Spent the bulk of my life thinking I must be crazy… or so it seemed! Sigh. I will not miss that!!!

The part of me that knows it’s a gift wants to own it, develop it and use it to help myself and the world around me. I want to believe that I’m like this for a reason (that God don’t make no junk) I have seen and felt the awesome power of it sometimes. No way of un-ringing those bells… and I wouldn’t want to because it’s pretty amazing and awesome…

But… the part of me that suffers all the angst and trauma drama (!!) wants to rip it away and never have to deal with it again. “Can’t I just be ‘normal’… whatever that may be?!” Not an option, I’m guessing…. OY/LOL.

I’m old enough to realize that it isn’t going away, but that I need training to be okay and have it be more of a gift and not a nightmare curse. My avoidance, ignorance, and lack of acceptance about the whole thing has really not served me. (!) First I have to clean out my Catholic family’s beliefs that this is all hooey —nonsense. Fun fun fun! If we are healers… healers heal thyselves! I want peace and balance and to learn not engage with/be overwhelmed by/ dragged to hell by N’s and negative people (God, there’s a lot of crap out there!)… I guess I have a lot to learn!
Day 2… LOL…
Blessings and good luck to all, and thanks so much for the discussion! Emails welcome… :) I wouldn’t mind not being alone…
– E

ps: I don’t dislike the idea of a screen door shield that lets in who and what I choose, keeps out what I don’t… I feel like I can’t always be walking away, you know? If the purpose is to filter what, when, why, and who we empath (if you know what I mean) … not to fight that we are empaths… the screen door filter would be so that I’m not letting in that which would cause me to fight, confuse myself, or get sucked into hell… wouldn’t it? Isn’t the idea of a filter or screen kind of necessary? I don’t see it as “the cure” … but isn’t it part of the cure? When you deprogram, you have to reprogram as well. Isn’t “leaving” a type of shield? Doesn’t “leaving” = “choosing to filter out”? What takes the place of “blindly attracting and taking responsibility for other people’s energy?” Wouldn’t a consciousness of what you allow yourself to take in and what you filter out be uber-helpful here? I have no interest in “frantically trying to “block” things”… That sounds like an exhausting full time job… and I identify with your list of “Noticing Automatic Empath-Reactions.” But, in looking for a balanced approach… don’t we have to both find and heal ourselves from the inside and also regulate what we let in/ allow ourselves to be around (aka: have a filtering screen)?

pps: Thanks for the humor! I burst out laughing at the “There is no dramatic violin music to indicate that someone else’s energy is approaching” … that would be fantastic… (“The screeching violin tells me that this is not mine…!”) LOL!!! There oughta be a law… :)

Thanks again! – E

18 Caroline van Kimmenade April 10, 2014

Hi Erin,

So true! And there are no training centres that I know of, which is why I created the online empath training programme. I believe the way forward for us empaths is to heal ourselves, before we try to heal the world :)

19 Whitley April 28, 2014

I just typed an incredibly long comment and accidentally submitted it without doing the security thing… :/ I’m really kind of embarrassed about this stuff because I personally feel like I’m crazy. I didn’t want to talk to any of my friends about it because I was worried they’d feel weird around me, or think I had some mental disease.

Let me see if I can sum it up in a shorter version. Basically I’ve been having more episodes the last few months. By episodes I mean I can be driving/walking/eating dinner and see someone out of the corner of my eye, or lock eyes with them and then I get flooded with images, and sometimes just a single image. Either way it brings on an overwhelming flow of emotions. It’s like I can see them mourning over something or being really depressed or being really happy. whether it be happiness or sadness, the feelings always bring me to tears because it’s so strong. The most recent was me driving my car to the store and seeing someone in the car next to me, and my head was filled with images of them holding a picture of some one I presume to be a lost loved one, because I was overwhelmed with just absolutely dreadful sadness. I didn’t feel right the next two days because of it. I couldn’t get it out of my head just thinking what was wrong and if the person was going to kill their self. It was awful. I was alarmed at everything happening so I went online to look for answers. That’s what brought me to believe I may be an empath. When I first googled what happens to me it brought me to an article talking about Empaths, and I kind of had an Aha! moment. It was like everything that didn’t make sense to me, finally made since. And I have to say, this is the best and more accurate article of my feelings that I’ve read so far. Every thing on that checklist for “untrained” empaths is accurate in my life. I know that doesn’t exactly mean I’m an empath.

I am a female, and I was dating this girl. ( I hope this won’t make you not reply to me. I know some people don’t like that kind of thing.) From the day I met her I felt like she needed me. Like I felt a connection with her that was like another world hit me. I get like this sometimes, but it was extremely strong with her. So I just had to go talk to her. We really hit it off and I was just overjoyed, but I felt this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right with her. Like she needed help. I felt the deep need to just help her with whatever was wrong. About a week into us talking she opened up to me about her home life. Her mom used her for her money and mistreated her. Gave special attention to her sisters and spoke badly about her to everyone she met. I felt so sad for her. It really hurt me. Anyway, a lot of stuff happened between us. She started getting really jealous over nothing, and didn’t want me talking to any of my friends. I couldn’t tell anyone we were dating, bcause if her mom found out about it, she’d get kicked out. Finally, after a lot of internal struggle and trying to make everyone happy, I gave in and chose her over my friends. I felt like I NEEDED to do this for her. She ended up getting a boyfriend as a “cover up” but I knew this wasn’t the case. Long story short she lied to me about a lot and I knew she did. I knew she was going to break up with me long before she did. She put me through a whole lot. She ended up getting pregnant by this guy, but I stuck around. I told her everything she had done was okay and that she wasn’t a bad person. I really felt that she needed to hear that. I did anything and everything I could to keep her from being depressed, but it only ended up hurting me badly in the end. I had been sick of the mornings for a whole week before she told me about her suspected pregnancy. I even skipped school to buy her the test that told her she was. No matter how horrible she was to me, I still felt like I needed to stay in her life. So I did. She finally started ignoring me more than normal until we just stopped talking all together, even though I tried hard to stay in her life. And as bad as I want to be mad at her, I can’t seem to do it. It’s like I knew what she was feeling. Like she did what she did, and let me down slowly because she didn’t want me to hurt either. She didn’t want me to feel bad and be depressed, so she tried to hide her feelings about him and all this other stuff. But I knew anyway. It’s been well over a year now and I still cannot get her out of my head. I think of her every day and sometimes I’ll get really bad feelings and just know something is going wrong in her life. But, I can’t text her to see if she’s okay. I also feel like I ended up taking all of her bad energy and depression, and she just seen me as a reflection of her former self and she didn’t like that. She put me in a horrible spiral down. Worse than anyone has.

Some more info for you:I was always the go to person when someone had a problem. I have a bad habit of prying at people until they tell me whats wrong, and that bothers some people. But they always tell me. I even have stranger strike up conversations with me and talk about things in their lives that I’m sure shouldn’t be shared with a complete stranger. I basically don’t go out anymore because I just get too overwhelmed in public. I can’t think straight and I even get headaches sometimes because I feel so exhausted from it. When my “episodes” happen it’s crippling to me. And embarrassing to be crying for “no reason” in public and around friends. I have strong connections with all my pets. And I even feel emotions from people or pets that I see on tv. Also, sometimes when I walk into old places I’ll get chills and cry, because it’s like I can feel.. something there? I guess a spirit. In my old house specifically, I felt like something there was watching me all the time, and it gave me an awful feeling like something didn’t want me there. Like it had bad intent on me. It was really scary, honestly. I don’t tell people though because I don’t want anyone to think I’m weird. Now I know it sounds really crazy, but that’s truly how I feel. So it brings me to the question I have to ask. I’ve done a lot of soul searching lately to see if this thing is real, and all the stuff I’ve read leads me to believe that it is without a doubt real. I’ve never really felt right in my skin I guess you could say. I mostly just play video games anymore because I’m scared of being around people. Do you think I’m an Empath? Or I may just have some mental illness? I know I’ve left out a bunch of information, but I really don’t want to type everything I typed before again. If you have any questions for me that would help you with your answer, then I’d be glad to answer them. I really hope you reply to this because I could use some real help from someone experienced.

20 Caroline van Kimmenade May 1, 2014

Hi Whitley,

This doesn’t sound crazy at all, you’re very precise about your experiences. It’s exactly the kind of observation and self-awareness needed to start becoming a trained empath.

What you mentioned about looking people in the eye- for empaths especially, eyes really are a portal to the soul.

Helping others at all costs usually comes with the empath “subconscious programming”, not because we must live like this, but because we learned to do it, to be accepted/appreciated/tolerated/liked/feel of value etc. Again, these are things that can be trained, they’re patterns we can let go of.

Being an empath can be like reading a novel: being inside someone else’s experience and then reasoning from their perspective. That makes it incredibly hard to get angry and set boundaries, because to do that we need to be tuned in to our own perspective – which is still there, but often covered up with other people’s energy.

If you’re fed up with this kind of energy sponging and you’re ready to do something about it, please take a look at the empath training programme. As I’m writing this there’s a few days left to join (late). For anyone reading this at a later date, current course dates are on the programme info page.

Being an untrained empath touches on so many parts of your life, in such profound ways, it’s well worth investing in learning how to have a very different experience with it.

21 Anna May 16, 2014

Wow, what a mind-opener! I’ve been a regular psych-client for the past 25 years, diagnosed with depression and anxiety and all kinds of things since the age of 18. and until now no one – least of all me – ever saw that this might just be my issue. I recently started seeing a new psychologist who suggested that maybe, just maybe, I’m picking up on other people’s feelings more strongly than “normal” people do, and that that’s why I’m depressed and anxious.

I found this site while desperately googling what the heck is going on with me and am SO relieved because I identify with all of the pointers you provided. It’s so exhausting. I’ve had countless bad experiences and they keep getting worse, my biggest problem is that I just automatically take on the mood of whoever I’m with (I’ve always done it but never realized it until now, looking back it’s appalling). Today my boss was stressing out and I almost had a complete meltdown after a few hours, even though I should have been fine with my work I couldn’t do ANYTHING because my nerves were fried. It doesn’t help that I’m a journalist and interview people every day, I get angry when they are, I cry if they are sad and I just generally adopt whatever they are feeling. I’m tired.

Yesterday I had a GREAT time with a colleague who is very jovial and happy. We laughed and laughed. Earlier I interviewed someone who is sick. I cried and cried.

My biggest problem, that I have not been able to find through google, is this: when I’m alone, I feel NOTHING. I’m completely empty, and would rather just do nothing. Food tastes like nothing, music means nothing, I can’t read a book (used to love reading) because it’s just meaningless, don’t want to shower, nothing feels good or bad, it just feels empty. This has been going on for YEARS and I can’t call it depression but could it be that I have no energy of my own, I can only feel when someone else is feeling something? That’s what I’m worried about!

And yes, I’m single and have no close friends but hundreds of amicable acquaintances who love to tell me things and share their feelings with me. I bend over backwards to please people, worry about others constantly and suffer from “collective global angst” as I like to call it – when someone is suffering it KILLS me. I cry a lot about these things.

Well, hopefully my new psychologist can help me. I really just wanted to say thank you for this information, it really hit home for me. Now I know there are some completely new aspects I’ve never even thought about before, on some level I guess I feel hopeful?

Thank you so much!

22 Caroline van Kimmenade May 18, 2014

Hi Anna,

With empaths, it usually takes a while of digging and letting go of other people’s stuff (not just recent things, but everything accumulated over time, which can be a lot, obviously) before there’s a sense of “ah, this is what ME feels like!” Until then, there can be a sense of lack, or confusion, or numbness.

Often, with clients who need help in this area a certain amount of old “shutting down” patterns will show up during coaching sessions to be addressed and let go of. It’s one of the body’s desperate ways to try and cope with the onslaught of energy: try to block it all by shutting down somehow. This can be undone, but first, the energetic sponging needs to be addressed.

In short, your core energy is there, but it may well be hidden under a layer of “shut down” in an attempt to protect yourself – unfortunately, thereby also creating a temporary disconnect from your deeper sense of self.

23 Kare May 28, 2014

“Hence, when we focus exclusively on techniques like shielding, we are in effect fighting ourself. That is (belief- and goal-wise) one part of us is trying to fight another part of us: one part of us is actively attracting and taking responsibility for other people’s energy, while another part of us is trying to get rid of all that.

As a result, the shielding route increases inner conflict. It may be effective as a temporary band-aid, but it’s definitely not a “cure” for energy overwhelm and energy drain.”

After YEARS of working on shielding and feeling even more drained from the exercise, this is the first time I’ve read something that touches on how drained & conflicted I feel when shielding.

24 Jonna T June 4, 2014

Thank you. It all makes sense now. Instinctively good at massage therapy and energy cause I “knew” what to do. Feeling like I had to help anyone I knew was having a hard time. Suffering for the last 4 years when someone I barely knew reached out to me and I “failed” (he killed himself). Blaming myself when friends or acquaintances I tried to help before they got hurt did anyway even though I realize I cannot affect their decisions. Now to figure out where to go from here.

25 kev June 21, 2014

I have been, I guess you can say emotionally attached to so many different people and animals my whole life. I am 40 now and I have never been able to control the rushing waves of emotions that come over me when I see someone or something or an animal. I have also had other things happen to me as far as hearing and seeing things. My whole life I’ve had what they call paranormal experiences. I do feel like I’m losing it at times. But I do know this is not the case. I want so much to learn to use these abilities because I was always told as child that it was all “satan” trying to beat me down and take my soul. BS! There is something special here and i need help trying to understand it and hopefully use it for good.

26 Alex June 23, 2014

Also! Another thing, when I am pretty stoney bologne, when listening to music(specifically house) with my close friends, we get weird “vibrations” or “feelings” of undeniable grooveness that we feel at the same time. If energy is transferable, and say I am an empath and feel music in a different way, would they indeed feel it the same way I am feeling it? I know it sounds insane, but possible???????????

27 Wendy July 7, 2014

I am so happy I found this site! For years I’ve felt that something is just so different with me. Being in public is overwhelming sometimes. Lately I’ve been trying to try a different approach when in public and it seems to be working a little better. I’ve struggled with jobs/careers and particularly bosses. I can pick up on something so different than the spoken word and I have never been able to understand. I have literally felt as if I’m going crazy!!! My most recent relationship, who broke up with me, has been extremely hard for me to move on from. He told me I was too sensitive and no one ever told me that before. He told me I could see through him like an x-ray machine. I loved him so much, so much so that it scared me. Like I was linked to him spiritually as well. Now since the end of the relationship, I can feel more connected with others. I don’t know why, but it’s causing a lot of anxiety in me. Lots of ebbing and flowing. So much so, I feel like I need a seat belt just walking down the street! And as someone else mentioned above, I can to sense paranormal, or the energy in a home or living person, and it freaks me out sometimes. I don’t tell many people because most will probably think I’m crazy and I know I’m not…

28 Samantha Selby July 28, 2014

THANK YOU!!!!! For 44 years i have believed i was : Too sensistive, over emotional, quirky…………at least that is what i was told by almost everyone. Recently i had a small breakdown and ended up in bed at 7 pm on a friday night, exhausted and bitter………only, nothing was wrong with me. When i woke up the next day, it hit me………I had spent 8 hrs at work fielding calls from people who were mad, scared, and confused over a letter we had sent out asking for information on thier personal property. My good friend had just found out that her mom has cancer, my best friend was going through a break up, my co-workers dad had a heart attack, and my boss was depressed over a financial issue. When i went to bed the night before, all of that was wieghing on me like a ton of bricks and i realized that i had internalized all thier grief. I am constantly asking people what is wrong and can i help and they say they are fine. then i spend the rest of the day in shambles, because i can feel that icky feeling they have. Most of the time they will come back later when they arent feeling confronted and tell me everything. I am not sure exactly what i am, but this page has given me a glimpse on how i can begin my journey on finding out. Thank you so much……….I have always felt that everyone was wrong about me, and that there was a reason complete strangers constantly tell me thier life stories and hug me when they leave. I may be wierd, but at least it is for all the right reasons……….lol

29 Caroline van Kimmenade July 30, 2014

Hi Samantha,

Yes, your experiences make a lot of empath sense!

30 Susanna October 29, 2014

” Recently i had a small breakdown and ended up in bed at 7 pm on a friday night, exhausted and bitter………only, nothing was wrong with me. When i woke up the next day, it hit me………I had spent 8 hrs at work fielding calls from people who were mad, scared, and confused over a letter we had sent out asking for information on thier personal property.”

Wow. That hit me.
Maybe that’s why I went home everyday after work and laid on bed feeling crippled and just crying and crying. I didn’t know why I felt like this. It was every single day…
I worked in a call centre.

31 Caroline van Kimmenade November 1, 2014

Hi Susanna,

Yes, a callcenter is one of those places. And the odd thing is, the more you take in other people’s emotions, the more they will start dumping on you. Because it feels good to “get it off their chest”. That’s why changing that dynamic starts with us. That said, a call center is probably one of the worst places to work for empaths, even when skilled at dealing with people’s energy.

32 Aishwarya Gupta September 20, 2014

Hi ,
I am so glad I read this article. I nodded on all the points you stated under signs of being an empath. For a long time I assumed I was harbouring some form of mental illness but could never fully understand.I now know that this is something that exists and is normal and I need not worry about it. For a long time I felt frustrated, depressed,nervous to the point of having a breakdown. I have had many experiences that I could not make sense of and was left confused and now reading something I can relate to gives me relief.
Thank you.

33 Caroline van Kimmenade September 20, 2014

Hi Aishwarya,

Glad to hear that!

34 Saoirse October 18, 2014

Hi, I just have a question about working with your own empathy and how to heal better. I’ve heard of a method where you learn how to send the energy you absorb back to the sender, and there have been many people who say that it works well, but I feel like this is a bit off. I’m not sure, and would love to hear your opinion on it. I feel that simply sending that energy back is not the healthiest way to deal with it for both myself and for the person I’d be sending it back to. I also feel that I should be able to learn how to not absorb that energy in the first place, while still being able to sense other people. Thank you for your time. :)

35 Caroline van Kimmenade October 24, 2014

Hi Saoirse,

That’s not a quick or simple question to answer, but I’d be happy to discuss it in a clarity call.

36 Christine October 28, 2014

When I found out I was an HSP and an Empath I started joining all the empath and hsp groups and some empath pages on facebook.. After a couple of months I dumped them all. I didn’t learn one thing from them at all and if anything it made me more confused, because everyone seems to have their own interpretation of what an empath is.

One page regarding empaths on facebook which I really liked a lot, who has a huge following, is saying that we are all born with empathy and are empathic.. so we are all empaths. I disagreed with her and she was condescending to me and she even blocked me from her page. I lost respect for her ever since.. I blasted her with another account and called her fake and then she unblocked me. I find her narcissistic and very controlling over her page. She wants you to believe what she believes or take a hike.. sadly these kind of people are trying to teach others and they have no clue themselves!

There is a lot of copy and paste garbage online and misinformation about empaths, that it has my head spinning.. and I have read it all.

I love your blog!

Thank you for all your hard work!

37 Candice Mallicoat November 4, 2014

I’m interested in knowing if there is a way to protect my energy from empaths? Due to some health problems I would like to keep a lot of my feelings and energy to myself. Plus I don’t necessarily like my moods being advertised to people whom I would rather keep that information from.

38 Kevin November 5, 2014

A little about myself I have always thought that I was just a person who liked to be alone. A person who just never got most people. In time I learned that I was just different from most people and I learned to accept it by realizing that for some reason I never really fit in. I am 43 now and I am good with it. However as I get older and a little wiser hopefully I find myself asking a lot of questions about why although I have tried my hardest I just can’t be quite as successful as I would like to be but not just for me but for my family. So I have begun to ask myself what is it about me that keeps me from doing what I want to do in life. I have always done this thing were I critique myself in every way and when I look at myself I have to admit that I have always felt like I am a person who is just way to emotional and I don’t mean in like a cry at the drop of a hat sort of way but more like I feel things very deeply and sometimes I don’t know why. So this to make a long story short I started to do some research and as I started to research I found my way to learning that I am most definitely empathic but not sure about being an empath although quite a few of the traits really fit. For instance I thought I was just really good at deciphering body language but when I started to think about I always seemed to know when someone is lying or holding back and people ARE ALWAYS!! talking to me about there problems and I can’t help it I feel like I am supposed to listen and help them if I can. In time I kind of learned that it is ok to kind of excuse myself from this sort of thing. Also I have always been a loner as I have said with not a lot of friends because most people just sort of get under my skin but its not just being alone but I also have the need to completely remove myself from what I can only describe as an incredible need to be centered. I do this by taking a hot bath complete with scented candles and bath scents. My Daughter jokingly says that I must have been a girl in another life. The funny thing is that is exactly how I felt for years like I just had all these emotions that kept me from being like everyone else and I consider myself to be a person who considers all the angles but I never seem to get it right . So I have a lot of questions as some things seem to fit and some things don’t and I am a person who likes to be sure. I don’t want to be the guy that can do a few tricks and call myself a magician if you take my meaning. So I guess I would like to know how can I know for sure and I would like to be able to talk with you a little more directly I am a truck driver so email works best for me if possible. I would very much like to know what you think.

39 Caroline van Kimmenade November 9, 2014

Hi Kevin,

I don’t hold conversations like this over email, because it takes a lot of typing back and forth (very inefficient!). This is exactly the kind of topic that the Clarity Calls are intended for. Would be happy to explore and clarify this further with you there!

40 Kevin November 18, 2014

Thank you for your response,

However I am a truck driver and it is not very easy for me to do something like that. Look how long it has taken for me to respond to you from the last time I wrote. This is why I was asking about the whole email thing. However I do understand where you are coming from and I am sorry that we will be unable to talk. Thank you for your response but I guess I will have to look else where for answers and hopefully find somebody that can help in a way that works a little more with my schedule. Again your article was very insightful and I learned a lot.

Thank you very much.

41 Jeremy November 6, 2014

Your post certainly has a refreshing amount of in-depth information on what it means to be an Empath, and what it generally entails. As someone who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD at 5-7 years of age (I’m 21 now), I often wonder; could Asperger’s Syndrome—and possibly other Autism Spectrum Disorders—be a natural catalyst for a person to develop as an Empath?

My own personal struggle has been one that never really ended or stopped in the least; it has only slowed down, at times. I often found myself subjected to painful “sensory overloads” every time I went to school; from kindergarten to grade 12. That, in turn, forced me to maintain a perpetual “suppression mode”, as my emotional capacity continued to develop after elementary school.

It’s only been over the past two years that I’ve been able to begin “unsealing” my mind, and my self-awareness. I doubt that I’ve ever been this clear in mind, and certain of my own feelings. It was certainly…relieving.

But my sanity? I cannot say, with any confidence, that it survived intact…

42 Liz November 7, 2014

Thanks so much! this is the most thorough site I have found. Also everything is explained so well. As long as I can remember, I have always been extremely sensitive. I was always drawn to anyone who could use a friend (I actually don’t have a great memory of my childhood unless I am reminded somehow). I do know, I always had(have) a feeling/thinking of a (older/more experienced) wiser person whenever I gave advice to anyone (It was very natural thing/feeling to do/have). More recently, I was sitting by my friend(I’ll call her Friend A) in class(She was freaking(extreme) out about a missing assignment) a few sec/min later, I felt, like literally could feel how she felt, and even felt like breaking down and crying, but thankfully I was able to pull myself together(I was totally shaken by this experience because it was the first time actually feeling someone else’s emotion so dramatically). I am wondering If I could be an empath? Whenever I am with friends I always want to cheer them up, except I never have had that same experience as I had with Friend(A). Although I am a great listener an have a sense of how my friends feel, I am always at a loss of words when they talk to me(and I feel different somehow, than when I gave advice to people when I was younger) I never know how to respond. Furthermore, this may be just a confidence thing(although for the most part I have pretty high self esteem whether I show it or not) i’m not really sure why I don’t like looking people in the eye, it makes me soo uncomfortable. I do love looking into my pets and animals eyes because it gives me a warm and calming (fuzzy)feeling(I have actually rescued 3 cats, sat outside and(hard to explain) but I really wanted them to trust me(didn’t keep them cause of the pets we had). And when I think of my cats I am overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness and joy, almost too much to explain in words(happy flutters in my stomach). (I know this is getting long so I will wrap up). I don’t want this to be a turn off but If you do happen to respond I would like you to know I am young, possibly very young to be looking up about empaths, but I would really like to find out if I could possibly be an empath or just highly sensitive person. (oh, also similar to a comment above I also went through a strange shut down faze a while ago where I didn’t feel like I felt anything, but the feeling went away, I am much better now). Ok I will stop typing now.

Thanks again this site is amazing!

43 Caroline van Kimmenade November 9, 2014

Hi Liz,

Glad you like the info here!
A direct conversation is the most effective if you want to know what’s what and get also get questions about sensitivity answered.

44 Barbara November 13, 2014

Wow! Finally a non entertainment site about HSP/ empathic. No gimiky tests. Just good practical information. Really helpful.
Have personally known for a while that I felt things VERY deeply. Everything above thouroughly resinated with me. My counselor told me I was a highly sensitive person. I have had physicians ask me to talk other patients who were scared. I have a life long physical disability. In school a guest speaker and medium told me I used peoples energy to make my own energy stronger. I didn’t even ask her a question. She just to me. Hopefully can find educational material on subject. Would like to learn how to use energy to heal.
Enjoying the journey,

Hope can find good educational material on subject. Maybe can learn how to use energy pe can find educational book on subject. M

45 Simi November 18, 2014

I saw the term “empath” a while ago somewhere, than started to feel like it was more about “psychics”, it seemed so spiritual based and unreal, so I ignored it. Especially since there is less science behind it, at least so far. However I started getting those unexplained murky feelings for reasons I couldn’t explain to others but I still knew deep down. I was scared people would think I was crazy So I did most research and began to look for more advice to ground myself emotionally especially in the crazy emotional environment of high school (I’m 17), and I needed help and after searching HSP I saw empaths pop up again. I became more assured, though it still question myself, because it’s harder to accept

46 Nanci November 20, 2014

I am not quite sure if I am HSP or something more. I did take social work classes and the co-coordinator of the program told me I want to fix people and to reconsider the degree. I am always the go to person for advice, to vent, for anything and everything that may be a problem for someone. I’ve had to keep a distance from mostly everyone, since I have a difficult time telling people no- and I get caught up in their emotions and I feel the need to want to make things right. Even if it puts my best interest at the bottom. I would love to know for sure how to help myself … I am somewhat exhausted and tired of being in seclusion- because I just can’t deal with it all.

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