What is empathy? What is an empath? Stop trying to fix people!

What is empathy? What is an empath? Emotion researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Empathy is an awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. It is a key element of Emotional Intelligence; the link between self and others. Compassion can be synonymous with empathy. Empathy is how we, as individuals, understand what others are experiencing as if we were feeling it ourselves. Have you ever heard the word Empath? There you go.

What is an Empath? An Empath can absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of their high sensitivities. Empaths filter the world through their intuition and “strong gut feelings.” It is very easy for an empath to “read” people but it goes much deeper than that.

When overwhelmed with exposure to stressful emotions, empaths can have panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue and many physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis. Empaths are exhausted easily and are often tested for sleep deprivation, thyroid issues and poor nutrition.


“Affective empathy” refers to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions. This can include mirroring what that person is feeling, or just feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety.

“Cognitive empathy,” sometimes called “perspective taking,” refers to our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.

I have the ability to feel both types of empathy. It’s nothing I care to talk about with most people, as most people don’t understand or may think it’s ridiculous.

I am a highly sensitive person (HSP) and an empath. When I say highly sensitive person, I don’t mean cry at movies. It’s the ability to pickup on emotions or sensations of others easily. It took me years to realize this.

In my late teens I walked into a pawn shop with a friend. After entering, I had an overwhelming feeling. I could not explain the rush of emotions. It’s as if I was watched by sets of eyes and stressed out about many things all at once. It was the energy from that pawn shop. Realize that nothing good comes from a pawn shop. People get rid of things due to death in the family, financial issues, etc.

Empathy may sound crazy to some but it is very real.

I pick up on the emotions and energy of others naturally. This isn’t being psychic. I can see right through people easily, and this includes over the phone, texts and emails.

Scientists have speculated that some aspects of empathy can be traced to mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are cells in the brain that fire when we observe someone perform an action in much the same way that we would perform the same action.

I help others in need, and even try to fix them. Helping people or “fixing people” takes an enormous amount of energy.

I was always tired and stressed. Constant racing thoughts and stress prevented me from relaxing. I have taken on someone else’s problems and have unwillingly made them my own without realizing it. This is the curse of those with empathy.

It has always been hard to walk away from someone with a problem. I always felt the need to help. What if they don’t want help? What if they don’t want to listen? You just need to stop and walk away. Stop trying to fix people who don’t want to be fixed!

You can’t fix people. It’s not you, it’s them. It’s their problem, not yours. If they are willing to talk and listen and have a conversation, that’s great. If not, there’s nothing you can do.

I have realized, by being incredibly tired, hurt and stressed, that you can’t fix people who don’t want to be fixed. People have issues they need to work out and most of the time it has nothing to do with you. TAKE CARE OF YOU! This is hard to do, but when you’re fed up, you’ll learn fast.

Even at work, most people long for you to listen with compassion, the cornerstone of empathy. They want you to sense their discomfort or distress especially when they struggle articulating how they feel.

Humans desire to be seen and understood beyond their words. Empathy demonstrates you care. Unfortunately, many people take advantage of empaths, or, ones with empathy and compassion.

You can experience empathy by noticing a person’s body language and voice, but acute sensitivity includes being open to the emotional energy vibrating between you.

You might feel this energy in your heart or gut. You sense not only what people feel but also what they need. You just know. You can tell when they need attention, acknowledgment, or an offer of help. You grasp when they want you to back off and give them space or when they want you to quietly stand by. You know when they are impatient to move on or if they want to take more time.

The problem comes into play when you’re dealing with someone in a bad mood, accusatory or just all-around mean for some reason. The empathetic person cares about their friend or family member and wants to help, but the attempts and words fall on def ears. This hurts the caring empath, with them feeling it’s their fault most of the time. This is toxic and not fair to the person trying to help.

trying to help people who don't want help is exhausting

It’s difficult for those with empathy to be around non empathetic people, since those people can rarely help the empath. Most people don’t know when others need help, or, don’t even care. This hurts highly sensitive people (HSP), or empaths. Empaths rarely receive help from others for this reason. People just don’t know or don’t care to understand. Some people say they care but actions always speak louder than words.

Empathetic Reactivity – When too much empathy is bad

With empathy, you will feel their stress, anxiety and anger in your body. You might feel their pain emotionally and physically. If you let these emotions sit, your body and mind can be emotionally hijacked. You will become stressed, lonely and depressed…many times you’ll never know why you feel these emotions.

Not only will this lead to burnout, but you can break the bond of trust you were hoping to strengthen. You feel the need to fix their problems and make them feel better.

Unless people want your help, your intrusive reaction will push them away no matter the value of your intention. They may feel disrespected. You “being supportive” could damage their sense of safety and trust. They no longer feel they can fully express themselves with you.

As soon as you notice that you are emotionally reacting:

Relax – breath and release the tension in your body.

Detach – clear your mind of all thoughts.

Center – drop your awareness to the center of your body just below your navel. Feel yourself breathe. This helps to clear the mind.

Focus – choose one or two keywords that represent how you want to feel. Feeling curiosity and compassion foster non-reactive empathy.

When your own emotions distract you, breathe and recall your keywords to maintain trust and connection. Allowing others the safe expression of emotions could help them diffuse their feelings and see a possible path forward.

Being empathetic towards others is a gift, but usually, a curse to you. Realize it is ok to get away and take time for yourself. The world will not end and problems will still be there when you return. This is something I need to realize everyday and am getting better at.

You can’t fix or help people who don’t want it. I hope this helps to help yourself.

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