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Living as an Empath — when you feel everything and nobody seems to understand

As a counsellor, I never like using the word ‘Empath’. I never knew how someone would react to it and I could not quite explain it in a ‘scientific way’. But through experience I realize that being able to identify Empaths earlier, made our work so much easier.

I am an Empath, and if I would describe myself, I would tell you this “I can feel people’s emotions. I sometimes take in people’s pains and illnesses which present as physical pains in my own body. I get exhausted easily when I hold space for people, which I recover through sleep. I like being in nature, and away from crowds. I am hypersensitive to smells.

I first heard the word ‘Empath’ many years ago (about nine years). As I grew older, learned more about myself and the world and I subsequently started working with people. Through these experiences, reflections and observations, I realized a few things about Empaths:

People who are Empaths usually have difficult childhoods. They are highly prone to anxiety, and are likely to struggle with digestive issues. They are often sensitive to the needs of others, but may not feel reciprocated. This often lead to feelings of being misunderstood and rejected, and maybe even feeling that they are ‘not good with people’. Empaths are likely to be more sensitive to the effects of substances, which can make them more prone to addictions, among other reasons.

There is a belief that everything in this world is made up of vibrations. We are constantly vibrating, and people influence each other through these vibrations. Different emotions have different vibrations. To better understand how this works, imagine two tuning forks. If you hit one tuning fork, it will vibrate at a certain frequency. When you bring another tuning fork (that is not vibrating) closer, the second tuning fork will start to vibrate at the same frequency as the first one.

So emotions have a powerful impact on others, some more so than others e.g. anger. Imagine yourself in a room with an angry man, most people would be able to tell that he is angry through observing the body language e.g. a tense and tight body, clenched fists, tight jaws, flushed face and shallow breaths etc. Some might even feel his anger.

Empaths primarily experience the world through (emotions and) the body. They are likely to have heightened senses, with the ability to absorb emotions. Thus in the above scenario, an Empath will likely notice the physical signs of anger and also feel the person’s anger as if it were their own. They may also experience in their own body, bodily sensations such as a tight chest, a clenched feeling in the solar plexus, a queasy feeling in the abdomen etc. Without learning to release these emotions, they may continue to stay in the body and subsequently manifest as physical symptoms or pains.

What this also mean is that Empaths are likely to experience emotions at a much higher intensity than others. Thus, it is imperative for them to learn to work with emotions and the body, rather than suppress or ignore them.

Sometimes Empaths may feel certain emotions out of the blue. They may also be prone to headaches and find themselves with mysterious body aches. These are often due to them subconsciously picking up emotions from others. Thus, large crowds tend to be overwhelming.

Currently, there is a lot of sadness and pain in this world, and for Empaths, it can be a very painful and confusing time. For a young Empath, they may be feeling everything in their environment, e.g. parents’ sadness. Thus, they may be feeling the parents’ sadness without knowing and understanding, which often leads to a confusing and painful childhood.

Absorbing others’ emotions (or energies) often cause much anxiety within the bodies. These emotions and bodily sensations then become overwhelming. Without someone to regulate for them or to teach them how to regulate. Young Empaths often deal with these intense emotions by shutting down or numbing themselves i.e. dissociation.

In later adulthood, Empaths may also fall prey to addictions e.g. alcohol, because they feel the ‘high’ a lot more intensely while effectively helping them numb these emotions and bodily sensations. It is not surprising to find adult Empaths who are numbed in their body and emotions.

But having said that, there is much that an Empath offers.

Unawakened Empaths struggle and often live in confusion and anxiety, because they feel everything around them. While Awakened Empaths, know who they are and are able to set firm boundaries. They are able to experience the emotions of others, without getting lost in them. They are able to properly regulate their emotions in their bodies and release those that are not theirs. They try to stay away from large crowds and have a lot of “me-time” without feeling guilty about it.

The gifts of an Empath, allow one to connect with anyone in this world, because they literally feel them. That is the gift of being an Empath. That is important, because at the end of the day it is all about relationships.

The traits of an Empath is one of many gifts available to us. I believe that we all have these traits to some degree, just that it it a lot more intense for some of us. So if you want to know whether someone is an Empath, ask them this question, “Do you feel people’s emotions?”

Lastly, whether you are an Empath or not. You are a gift, and you have something unique that only you possess. What is it that hides within, that yearns to be seen and received?

Blessings to you.

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Wan Ting, Quek

Dancing Warrior. I advocate for mental health through the power of movement. I share life lessons from my personal journey.