You might have heard the term “empath” floating around. For the longest time, I figured this was related to empathy, you know, people who are very sensitive and really nice because they can relate to others. However, as I started reading more and more about these particular people, I realized this was something more metaphysical than anything else. Dr. Judith Orloff is a psychiatrist who seems to be the go-to person for empaths. She wrote the book The Empath’s Survival Guide, a guide for people who feel like they might be overly sensitive to the emotions, to understand their psychic condition even more.
In Orloff’s words, “Ordinary empathy means our heart goes out to another person when they are going through a difficult period. As an empath, however, we actually sense other people’s emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our bodies, without the usual filters that most people have.”
If you google empath, not only will you find dozens of sites of people claiming to be that, you’re also likely to encounter articles detailing the particular traits. Yet, as I read through these I asked who’d ever want to be an empath? While the idea of having some sort of supernatural psychological power to feel what others feel might sound like a cool idea, the reality of it actually happening is kind of a nightmare.
Here are at least 6 traits empathic people would have that sound completely terrible, despite the psychic ability.
Relationships are too much to handle
So, if I understood correctly, empaths are so connected to the emotions of others that, when they’re in a long-term relationship, they sometimes confuse their own feelings with those of their partner, to the point that Dr. Orloff even recommends they should sleep in separate beds and even establish a square footage of space with the one they’re with. Perhaps empaths are okay with these boundaries, but I don’t know if I’d want to have an anxiety attack every time I was close to the person I love.
Getting exhausted in crowded places
People who have this gift, or curse, tend to feel overwhelmed in spaces with a lot of people. This is because they get an overload of emotions from all those around them. Imagine going to Disneyland, a summer music festival, or your local mall on Black Friday, and being bombarded with the feelings of all the people fighting over a cardigan with a 70% discount.
Feeling sick if someone else is feeling sick
To me, this is the worst. Not only does getting the flu, or some bizarre travel stomach bug, usually mean your life is over for a couple of days, but catching the symptoms of people around you? That’s a whole new level of torture. Imagine being at the movie theater and suddenly experiencing the headache of the lady behind you. Or what about picking up a sniffle from the kid with the runny nose on the stroller in the supermarket?
Having strangers throw their issues on you
Picture this: you’re sitting at the bus stop minding your own business, or relishing the fact that there’s not that many people waiting for transportation, or glad that nobody is passing on their cough to you. Then, out of nowhere, the man sitting next to you scooches over to tell you all about that one time he cheated on his wife but it really wasn’t a big deal. Part of the abilities of an empath mean that strangers will feel compelled to tell them things they wouldn’t tell other people, much less people they don’t even know. It’s like getting an invitation to being the soundboard of everybody’s problems.
They know when someone is being dishonest
While this could have some benefits, I don’t think I’d want to constantly know when someone is being disingenuous with me. Sometimes a little phoniness is okay. After all, being constantly honest and attentive would mean that every bit of small talk would have to evolve into a whole conversation you never really wanted to have. This just seems like a sure way to get stuck with people you didn’t really want to hang out with just because you feel bad or pressured to stay there.
Will often go out of their way to help others
Again, it sounds like a nice idea in theory, but think about it. Empaths are likely to put the wellbeing of others before their own all the time. That means that while they’re pushing the kid out of the way of the oncoming bus, they might not realize that they’re still on the road. The aforementioned situation is a figurative and literal example. They constantly struggle with separating what they’re feeling with what the other people around them are feeling. That means that their survival skills are more in tune with the ones in their proximity rather than their own.
Perhaps being an empath isn’t so bad. That being said, it’s certainly no picnic. When we look at other’s abilities and hope we had something like theirs, we fail to realize that everything is more complex than that. Every ability comes with downsides. Instead of wanting what someone else has, we should be grateful for what we already possess. Being empathic isn’t like having a superpower like in a sci-fi movie. It means a daily struggle to extract what’s their own versus what’s in their environment. Next time you hear someone tell you about their gift, don’t be jealous or angry. See it like any other ability, one that has cool things and not-so-great things as well.
Are they needy or just optimistic?
Are you just a pit stop on their way to true love?
Dr. Judith Orloff