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What’s the Difference Between Having Empathy and Being an Empath?

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

           Most people have heard of the word empathy, maybe even using it to describe themselves. Empathy is when you are in tune to other people’s feelings and life circumstances. For example, empathy might be when you give an appropriate, understanding response when someone loses their job, or when you show excitement to a friend’s pregnancy announcement—even if you have never been personally impacted by either of those situations.

           So, now what does it mean to be an empath? Empathy and empath sound very similar, so what are the differences? An empath refers to someone who takes empathy a step further, by literally being able to take on other people’s feelings as if they are their own. With this in mind, it’s important to note that just because you have empathy does not automatically make you an empath. Being an empath is about having empathy on a completely deeper level. Another differentiation is that empaths are often able to detect unspoken feelings from others by drawing in the energy that emanates around their bodies. A cool gift to have! However, as you can imagine, there can be some concerns with this. Depending on the type of energy that is being emitted, such as joy being around a happy person, or fear being around someone struggling with anxiety, an empath will feel these emotions deeply and can experience mood shifts based on differing energy levels. This then brings up the question about how empaths can therefore care for themselves. Not only are they trying to grapple with their own emotions, they also have to take into account absorbing other people’s emotions. Reynolds (2019) outlines five ways that empaths can care for themselves.

  1.     Distinguish Between Your Emotions and Everyone Else’s

An important thing to work on when being an empath is being able to determine whether what you are feeling is stemming from your own emotions or that of others. It’s crucial to listen to your body and recognize how you feel before and also after interactions. 

  1.     Enjoy Being an Empath

Although being an empath can have its difficulties and challenges with absorbing emotions, it also can be a good thing. Empaths are often filled with kindness and compassion, form strong friendships, value intimate conversations, and can even have a deep connection to animals and the earth. Even though there can be negative connotations to being an empath, including being “too sensitive,” it’s important to ignore the negative words from others who might not fully understand and appreciate what it means to be an empath.

  1.     …But Be Aware of Toxic Relationships and Other Issues

Although empaths really enjoy helping people, sometimes they can become too codependent on others. Sometimes this plays out when a relationship forms between an empath and a narcissist. This can happen because a narcissist often struggles with not having enough empathy for others, and therefore gravitates towards those who nurture and will give them attention. On the other hand, an empath can fall for the narcissist who is charming but then becomes cold. This dynamic becomes stronger when the caring empath wants nothing more than to heal the cold, uncaring nature of the narcissist.

  1.     Set Boundaries, Practice Self-Care

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. It can be common for empaths to want those around them to be happy, which sometimes means them sacrificing their own well-being. “Set healthy boundaries and engage in time management techniques like not overbooking yourself” (Reynolds, 2019). Other ways to manage these boundaries is to practice meditation and to get out into nature. 

  1.     Connect with Other Empaths

There are several different ways that you can connect with other empaths, such as through social media groups like Facebook, or even community groups. These groups can be a good way to share experiences, ask questions, and participate in interesting conversations.

If you find yourself struggling with being an empath, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors


Reynolds, J. L. (2019, January 12). Having Empathy and Being an Empath: What’s the Difference?

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