15 Surprising Signs That Mean You're Likely an Empath, According to Psychologists

Tired after parties? Boundary-setting isn’t a priority? You might be an empath.

While some people feel energized and excited after attending a party, you’re likely one of the first to leave, or you’ve cuddled your host’s dog on the couch all evening. Afterward, you can’t wait to crawl into your bed and spend some quiet time alone. And you won’t be able to go to another gathering for weeks because you’re just plain burnt out from the experience.

Does this sound like you? This describes a typical night for an empath. But what is an empath, exactly? And what are the signs that you might be one? Read on for signals shared by psychologists and learn how to better navigate life as an empath.

What Is an Empath?

Dr. Joseph Galasso, Clinical Psychologist at New Jersey’s Baker Street Behavioral Health, defines an empath as “a person who is very perceptive of the feelings and emotions of others.”

He adds, “They are often described as being able to ‘feel’ or sense another person's emotional state just by speaking with them. In the most common vernacular, we have given them an almost supernatural ability or sixth sense to read people's energy.”

And while Dr. Vanessa Kennedy, Director of Psychology at Driftwood Recovery in Texas, says that “empath” isn’t a clinic term per se, this type of person is popularly recognized as someone who feels a higher degree of empathy or compassion than the average person.

People who feel this deeply make up a surprisingly sizeable portion of the population. Also referred to as “highly sensitive,” Dr. Elaine Aron, who first coined the phrase, says that 20 percent of humans are empaths in a 2014 study she co-authored.

15 Surprising Signs That Mean You're Likely an Empath

1. You get exhausted after socializing.

Does social interaction make you want to lie down and take a nap or crave alone time? Dr. Kennedy says that individuals who exude empathy and compassion may pour more attention and care into conversations, and tend to take on others’ problems as their own. “This can be a heavy burden and make it difficult to maintain one’s energy afterward,” she says.

2. You can’t mingle.

Small talk? It’s not for you.

“You may notice that it is very difficult for you to keep social interaction at a light, surface level because you tend to want to connect on a deeper, emotional level with other people,” Dr. Kennedy points out. “In situations that require mingling, or dipping in and out of small talk, empaths may struggle to find the interactions meaningful.”

Instead, seek out opportunities for deep, connective conversations with those who are close to you. Head to a coffee shop or have someone over to your house instead of trying to talk at a packed party.

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3. You find it challenging to set boundaries.

Although “boundary setting” has become an increasingly popular term in recent times, empaths can find that setting those boundaries is nearly impossible.

Dr. Kennedy says, “Empaths take on others’ pain, suffering, highs and lows. They feel others’ feelings intensely and may adopt another person’s problems and attempt to solve them, giving too much.” This results in little to no boundaries with others.

Instead, Dr. Kennedy says that since you deeply experience sensitivity to others’ feelings, it’s even more important for you to set clear boundaries and take care of yourself to preserve your energy.

4. You feel sad or depressed easily.

Whether it’s a diagnosed form of depression or you’re prone to lows, many empaths report feeling down more easily than the general populace. Dr. Galasso says that oftentimes, empaths land in his office “at the behest of a concerned friend” because they have become distressed or depressed.

5. You might need alone time to recharge.

You are all about alone time. In fact, it’s like oxygen to you. So, that makes it all the more essential to prioritize time for those solo sessions. Your mind and emotions will thank you.

Dr. Kennedy observes, “Empaths may need to set aside time to be alone and disconnect from others to preserve their resources. Empaths tend to absorb the emotions and energy of others, and they need to balance this tendency with focusing on themselves.”

6. You find it painful to watch the news.

If you find yourself dodging headlines and changing the subject whenever someone brings up an upsetting news story, this could make you an empath. Since empaths feel common humanity with others, as Dr. Kennedy puts it, they might struggle to recover from the strong emotions they feel when learning about violence, wars, loss and suffering in the world.

“They may feel saddened and derailed when learning about the suffering of others and at a loss for how to deal with their feelings,” she says.

7. You’re a great leader, but you need a little coaxing to get there.

Dr. Galasso says that empaths can actually make great leaders, even though the majority of empaths tend to be introverted and prefer to fade into the background. He says, “Empaths can make great leaders when they learn to harness their skills, but this takes time, work, and dedication.” Going to therapy can help you “navigate the world in a successful and positive manner,” as Dr. Galasso puts it, giving you the ability to speak up and even take charge when the moment calls for it.

8. Others may open up to you very easily.

Do you find that strangers are telling you their life stories before you know it? Perhaps they sense that you’re an empathic person.

“Other people may pick up on an empath’s compassion and intuition, sharing details of their personal lives more easily,” Dr. Kennedy says. “The empath’s warmth and care may lead others to feel that they can let their guard down and be themselves. Empaths may feel that they have ‘talk to me’ written on their foreheads because their demeanor encourages connection.”

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9. You have a hard time recovering from hurt feelings.

“Empaths do not enjoy disharmony with other people and struggle to understand why others would do something deceitful or harmful to another person,” Dr. Kennedy says. “They are deeply affected by hurtful comments or actions and may ruminate about the conflict. They might struggle to be resilient in these situations.”

10. You might miss red flags.

It’s a sad but true fact—empaths can be targets. Dr. Kennedy details, “Empaths may be prey for individuals who are manipulative and would take advantage of the empath’s care and compassion. Empaths may try to help others to a fault, perhaps by donating too much time, energy, or even practical comforts such as their home space or finances, to the person in need. They may sacrifice their own needs to help someone else, which may, in turn, affect their own wellness and mental health.”

Related: If Something Feels a Little Off, Make Sure You're Watching Out for These 40 Relationship Red Flags

11. You prioritize others ahead of yourself.

Always putting yourself last, right? To the point that you’re completely depleted and left with no time for yourself? These are classic empathic traits.

Dr. Galasso says that empaths’ ability to care for others, and to put the needs of others first, is a “generally paramount” characteristic of empaths, but this can, unfortunately, lead to deep emotional burnout.

12. People are drawn to you.

Whether they’re sharing their stories, migrating toward you at a gathering, or reaching out via social media, you find that people, including acquaintances or strangers, are continually drawn to you. Dr. Galasso says that this magnetism typically begins at birth, with parents describing an empathic individual by saying, “People always seem to have gravitated to him/her."

13. You’re great at forming relationships.

Even though you tend to be introverted, your relationships tend to be quite meaningful with others. Dr. Galasso says that this stems from your ability to connect deeply with other people.

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14. You’ve been this way since birth.

Dr. Galasso says that in his experience, he has found that empaths are typically “born” and not “made,” meaning that from birth, they’ve displayed an innate gift of sensing others’ emotions.

“Often when you speak to their parents, they will make statements like, ‘They have always been like this,’” he says.

15. You’re unaware that you’re an empath.

All of these signs could be very surprising to you, because, well—you might be so attuned to others that you aren’t tuned into yourself.

“Empaths generally are unassuming and even more so, unaware of their nature,” Dr. Galasso says. “But this goes beyond sheer humility—it is typically engrained deep within their personality.”

Strengths and Challenges of Being an Empath

Living life as an empath is filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, perhaps more than the average person. For example, one hurdle might be your innate desire to help others, which sounds positive but Dr. Galasso says that it can be “problematic at times, as they can find themselves feeling depleted, tired and emotionally drained.” Not setting boundaries can catch up as well, resulting in being taken advantage of, “whether it be for time, money, kindness, friendship or relationships,” Dr. Galasso says.

He goes on to say, “This lack of boundary-setting also tends to create difficulties with self-care, as others continually bring their emotional problems and ‘baggage’ to the empath, leaving them [feeling] like they have no place to go to tend to their own needs.”

You may also struggle to recognize when a relationship may be too draining or toxic, according to Dr. Kennedy.

But it’s not all bad. Far from it. In fact, empaths have several beautiful gifts that should be celebrated each and every day.

Think about your ability to be a great pal to those closest to you. “[Empaths] are very good friends, and are described as very sensitive and good listeners,” Dr. Galasso says.

Also, reflect on the fact that you can easily empathize with where others are coming from and can put yourself into their shoes, which is increasingly becoming a rare gift in this world.

“[Empaths] are good at validating others’ feelings and helping others feel comfortable expressing their emotions,” Dr. Kennedy says. “Empaths may have very deep relationships with others that are very rewarding.”

Next up, as an empath, learn how to prioritize self-care.