Empathic people have been in the spotlight a lot lately, and as is inevitable, a whole lot of misconceptions have popped up as to what they are and are not capable of.
Now, no two empaths are the same. Although many share abilities and traits, each individual is different, with sensitivities that may range across a very wide spectrum. If you’ve met one empathic person, then you’ve met just one empathic person: another you meet might be quite different.
In various articles on this site, we’ve touched upon what empaths are and what gifts they tend to share, but we haven’t yet delved into what empaths are not.
Since many people with empathic abilities tend to experience similar situations, such as being asked to share winning lottery tickets or read people’s minds, let’s look into a few abilities that empathic people tend not to have, so they can be treated with compassion and respect rather than ridiculous requests.
1. Empathic People Are Not Insane
You may not believe that a person can feel other people’s emotions, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t. You can choose not to believe that the earth revolves around the sun, but that doesn’t make it any less true either.
Many (most?) empaths have struggled with their abilities for years, both being overwhelmed by what they sense and by others not believing or supporting them, and the last thing they need is someone berating them for what they feel is “imaginary.”
If you choose not to believe that an empathic person can sense what they do, then that’s absolutely a valid opinion, but it’s one that you should keep to yourself.
Many empaths struggle from what is often referred to as “baggage dumping” by other people, and that can in turn affect the empathic person with issues such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, and countless other health problems.
Since empaths make such great counselors and listeners, they tend to draw people who are suffering in one way or another. The empath will draw out the person’s negative emotions and can occasionally replace them with strength and light… but then the empath him/herself will end up totally emotionally drained and overwhelmed. They may deal with crying spells, or have to sleep for the better part of the day in order to recuperate.
Please be understanding and compassionate, and if you find that you often turn to an empathic friend for a recharge (because they’re positive and sparkly and you enjoy or “need” their light), reconsider those actions. Empaths are not batteries, but can get very, very depleted and end up suffering with mental health issues when other people use them for their own personal wellbeing.
2. Empathic People Are Not Self-Absorbed
This label has been affixed to many empaths because they seem to spend a lot of time being quiet, or thinking about what they think or feel. This does not mean that empaths are self-absorbed: it’s quite the opposite, actually. Since empathic people can sense the emotions of most (if not all) the people around them, it can be very difficult for them to discern their own thoughts and feelings from those that they’re bombarded with.
By taking some time to journal, or even just to sit and think in peace and quiet for a while, they can sort out their own emotions from the maelstrom swirling around them.
Think about this for a moment: If each of your limbs was exposed to a different temperature or type of weather, it would be difficult for you to feel whether you were hot, cold, etc. You’d have to position yourself in a neutral space where the climate was controlled so you could take a moment to determine what it was that you were sensing in your own body.
The same thing goes for emotions. If an empath needs to remove themselves to a quiet, still space in order to sort themselves out, they’re not being selfish, antisocial, or self-absorbed at all. They just need some stillness for the sake of balance and wellbeing.
Now, this one’s tricky, because a great many empaths MAY have psychic abilities… but that doesn’t mean that being psychic is a default setting for all empathic people.
Since empaths can often tune into other people’s thoughts and emotions, whether they want to or not, they can pick up on what’s going on in folks’ lives, even if it’s just a shimmer of a particular situation. They may be able to sense pain in the person’s body and even recommend ways to alleviate it, or they might just *know* that the person is dealing with relationship problems or work stress.
This doesn’t mean that they’re reading your thoughts or emotions on purpose! Think of it like a person walking through your home and having your personal items thrown at them: they can’t help but see what’s going on, but it’s very different than if they were opening your dresser drawers or snooping through cupboards.
It also doesn’t mean that they can tell you what next week’s winning lottery numbers might be, or where you should go to meet the love of your life. As mentioned, some empaths might be psychic, but most are not, so please have realistic expectations of the empathic people in your life.
If anything, the empaths you know might be all too aware of negative issues you may be contending with in the near-ish future, such as a serious illness or imminent death, so they may be struggling with the ethics of whether to discuss such things with the people involved, or to keep such information to themselves.
Please be gentle with them.
4. Empathic People Are Not Frail and/or Pathetic
You would not believe how often empaths are referred to as being emotionally fragile or pathetic because of how sensitive they are, or because they need time and space to recover from various situations.
The situation is quite the opposite.
Most people will never understand just how strong empaths need to be in order to deal with the never-ending onslaught of emotion from literally all around them, as well as within themselves. Empaths are incredibly sensitive, and seeing others suffering (whether human or animal) can be utterly devastating to them.
This isn’t weakness. It doesn’t mean that they are frail little wusses who can’t take life’s blows without crumbling – it means that they have unparalleled compassion for others and want to help however they can… and in a world full of pain and sorrow, that is a huge burden to carry.
This constant, overwhelming barrage can take its toll both emotionally and physically, which is why empaths are often ill, and need a lot of time alone to replenish themselves.
If they don’t have the ability to retreat and heal themselves, they can end up having breakdowns or serious health issues because they literally don’t have the time or space to release all the pain they’re carrying.
If you’re close friends or partners with an empathic person, please be aware of their needs and abilities, and try to see the world through their experiences, their eyes, rather than your own. You might gain a higher degree of empathy and understanding, and in turn, be able to support them in ways that they desperately need.
Please be kind.
Are you an empath? Do you find that people make these or similar assumptions about you? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and stories.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.