Empaths have the unique ability to sense and absorb the feelings of others — and that can create some real challenges.
Being highly sensitive to emotions makes empaths caring, compassionate, and understanding of other people. Friends and family tend to turn to them first for a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. While most of the world struggles to put themselves in others’ shoes, empaths possess a true superpower — the ability to easily see a person’s perspective because they actually feel their emotions as their own. Many highly sensitive people (HSPs) describe themselves as empaths.
(Are you one? Here are 13 signs you’re an empath.)
On the other hand, there are real challenges that come with being so empathetic. Empaths often feel misunderstood because of how deeply they feel. They can also become overwhelmed easily as they juggle all the emotions they experience — from themselves and others.
As an empath myself, I know there are just certain struggles only other empaths can fully understand. Here are 14 of them. Can you relate?
Common Empath Problems
1. Others’ emotions can flip yours like a switch.
You were having a good day. Maybe you got some good feedback at work, checked off all the items on your to-do list, or were generally just feeling good about life. Then, your partner gets home or you meet up with a friend who had an awful day.
Immediately, you feel your emotions shift. Your good vibes are gone, and you feel sad or angry just like your friend or loved one. It feels as if their day happened to you. This can make it hard to hold space for the other person because you’re now trying to manage the same feelings. As an empath, it’s hard to disconnect someone else’s emotions from your own.
2. You’re constantly battling emotional fatigue.
Feeling your own emotions can be exhausting enough. But as an empath who picks up on what everyone around you is feeling, it can quickly become way too much. This includes strong emotions of any kind — from deep sadness to excitement and joy. Empaths have to carefully manage their emotions and practice a lot of self-care to avoid constant emotional fatigue and exhaustion.
3. Compassion can feel like a burden.
Empaths are used to being told (or led to feel like) they care “too much” or are “too emotional.” But to us, it’s odd that others don’t care more.
At the same time, not being able to shut off compassion for those around you can feel heavy and leave you carrying a lot of burdens you may not have control over. When you’re the person who feels suffering more than anyone around you, it’s hard not to feel responsible for remedying it.
4. You’re torn between going out and staying in.
Although empaths tend to connect well with others, ironically, they need a lot of time alone to process their own emotions and have a break from absorbing others’. Sometimes they’re even mistaken for introverts (although many people are both — learn more here about how introverts and empaths compare). If you don’t have alone time, you can easily crumble under the pressure. On the other hand, maintaining healthy relationships is good for your mental health, and pure isolation is not.
It can be a real struggle to balance alone time with socializing. For this reason, empaths tend to prefer more low-key settings, such as coffee shops or friends’ houses, over noisy clubs or parties.
5. Alone time is necessary — and not everyone understands that.
Speaking of needing time to recharge, it can be hard to explain to others why you need it. For me, it’s the only time I can properly listen to myself and sort out the thoughts swirling around in my head. I also need quiet moments to “hear” myself and filter out the emotions I may have picked up throughout the day from other people.
Non-empaths may not need as much time alone, and some even thrive being around others constantly. If you’re an empath who lives with a partner or roommates — or has extroverted friends — it may require long conversations to help them understand your solitary needs.
6. You need time to process transitions.
Empaths can have a hard time going from high-stimulus environments to low-stimulus situations, and vise versa. This is why some may feel a strange “hollowness” after a loud party or be completely overwhelmed jumping into a crowded event. They need time to process the staggering transition and all emotions associated with it.
7. You struggle with anxiety or depression.
Although not true of every empath, it’s not uncommon for them to struggle with their mental health. Because they are so sensitive to emotions — their own included — they may deal with a lot of self-doubt, stress, and anxiety. Receiving anger or disappointment from other people can feel like getting hit with a ton of bricks.
Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, writes that empaths can feel the entire spectrum of mental and physical symptoms that come with others’ emotions — including depression, panic attacks, chronic fatigue, and more. This means empaths can be left juggling the mental effects of their own problems, as well as those of others.
In addition, many of us empaths have spent our lives feeling different from those around us, which can lead to isolation. This is why it’s so crucial for empaths to take time for themselves and make their wellbeing a priority.
8. You know someone is feeling “off” when no one else notices.
Empaths can sense when a person is upset, often even before they have indicated it to others. This can be a wonderful trait because it allows you to notice when others are in need. However, it can also make it hard to enjoy yourself.
For me, this can happen when I’m just trying to have a nice, carefree time with my friends. Once I notice someone is feeling less-than-happy, I can’t enjoy myself if I begin taking on their emotions.
9. People take advantage of your compassion.
Intuition is a huge empath superpower. They often have gut feelings after meeting new people that turn out to be true, thus shielding themselves and others from dishonest people, or those with bad intentions. That being said, empaths are not immune to deception, narcissism, and toxic people. It’s important to watch out for those who try to take advantage of your empathy, compassion, and willingness to help.
10. “Small” things can deeply upset you.
Empaths care — a lot, about everything. It’s just in their nature. So, “little” things, such as one mean comment from a stranger online or a disagreement with a coworker, can affect you for days and take a long time to get over. Other people may not understand why you can’t just “get over it.”
11. Sometimes you forget to leave emotional space for yourself.
You feel so much from those around you, and your empathy makes you a great listener, healer, and problem solver. But sometimes you give away all your energy to others, while forgetting about yourself. This is where it’s so important to prioritize inner work and self-care. Empaths must help themselves before they can have the energy to help others.
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12. Saying no is really hard.
“No” often makes you feel guilty. Empaths hate disappointing or potentially hurting others. In the moment, you’re happy to sacrifice your time or energy to make others feel good — until it leaves you drained and overwhelmed.
13. Violence and horror deeply upset you.
Although not true of every empath, some empaths will never understand how other people enjoy horror movies so much. Or how some people can watch a violent scene or read a tragic news story and simply move on with their day. Fake and real-life violence can leave empaths upset for hours or even days after they’ve seen or read about it.
14. You don’t always know which emotions are yours.
This is probably the biggest ongoing challenge empaths face. When you’re constantly absorbing emotional information from other people, it can be hard to know what you’re feeling from others vs. your own thoughts and emotions. This can make decisions hard, and sometimes your “feelings” lead you down the wrong path.
Empaths, which of these challenges resonate with you? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.
You might like:
- 13 Signs That You’re an Empath
- The Difference Between Introverts, Empaths, and HSPs
- Why Doctor Visits Really Are Different for HSPs
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