empaths claim to feel other people’s “stuff” as if it’s their own. Many people will never know they are one because they find it difficult to distinguish between their own physical ailments, or thoughts and emotions, and those belonging to someone else. If unchecked, one consequence may be that your life is unconsciously influenced by others’ desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods.
Caroline Van Kimmenade, who runs courses for empaths who want to understand their power and live their best life, compares this transfer of energy to something we can all experience. “It’s like a football match where everyone gets hyped up and starts waving. and then the mob things start sweeping you up, and you barely know you’re doing it,” she explains. “We can all experience that, but it doesn’t mean you’re an empath. But for an empath, it’s that multiplied and applied to everything all of the time. Empaths are constantly in a giant football stadium where they’re reacting to bigger things going on from all directions.”
When 29-year-old Siobhan from Las Vegas was younger, she’d randomly get aches and pains she couldn’t explain. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and had terrible panic attacks. Her mood swings were so bad that a doctor thought she was bipolar. But she was convinced it was more than just a mental illness—these mood swings and pains were linked to other people. “If I got a neck or shoulder ache, I’d know someone was stressed out. I’d text around to find out where it was coming from, and someone close to me would tell me they were feeling awful. When my husband was worried about something, I could go up to him and say, ‘what’s bothering you? He’d eventually tell me, and it’d be something wrong.”
One day, she read a piece online—”31 traits that show you’re an empath”—and completely identified with it. “I could relate to almost all the characteristics. It was so good to find out I’m not always moody, or bitchy, like there’s a reason, I’m picking up someone else’s energy.”
Every article on empaths will tell you it’s different to the sensation of feeling compassion or empathy for someone who is hurting. As an empath, you feel things as strongly as if they were your own. Complete strangers will want to unload on empaths about personal things as if, on a subconscious level, that person knows the empath will listen with compassion and understanding. It can be draining.
Some people believe there are loose types of empath within the broad definition. Emotional empaths pick up on emotion energies. For them, shopping during Black Friday, for example, would be overwhelming. A physical empath picks up on the physical ailments of other people. In a hospital, or with an ill partner, they might start getting nauseous or a headache or something similar. Animal empaths feel the emotions of animals, feeling trapped or stressed walking near a zoo. If you’re a global empath, you pick up on the feelings of humans across the planet, rather than just a specific person. Even if you don’t watch the news, you’d feel the stress of a global catastrophe—an earthquake in another country might cause you to feel alone or anxious. An Earth empath will feel feelings or sensations that relate to the planet’s energy. If a major earthquake is coming, they’ll feel it beforehand with muscle spasms, headaches, or stress that passes once the event has taken place. Most empaths are generally thought to be emotional or physical empaths; however, they can be a mix of any or all of those types.
With all those potential triggers, the modern world is a challenge. Vix Maxwell, 36, was working as a teacher in London when she realized she was an empath. The energy from both the job and the city was difficult. “I’d be sitting around in the staffroom surrounded by people bitching, and you can’t engage in a conversation without finding yourself going into that energy. I noticed a huge difference as soon as I entered and left work. I actually found the kids’ energy was not as bad as the older people I worked with. I started to wonder if I had a split personality because I was so upbeat and happy, and in other situations or with certain people, I was a polar opposite.”
She did research into what an empath was and learned ways to help her deal with her environment from others who identify with that label. “I would sit in the car before I went into work and visualize myself in a protective bubble and say, ‘My energy is protected, nothing can come in that’s not mine.’ It made such a difference. I’d go into the toilet if I started feeling too many people’s energies during the day and stand there and say, ‘I’m protected, I’m protected,’ and it really made a difference.”
Eventually she had to quit. “As soon as I started realizing what was my energy and what was other people’s—and protected what was mine—I was able to connect with what I wanted. I started a blog about energy and now do tarot readings.” She also left London for a quieter place. “It’s like an empath’s worst nightmare being on the tube,” she laughed. “It’s honestly part of the reason I had to leave. I’d repeat mantras like ‘I’m protected,’ and if I go on there now for work, I try to visualize white light or hearts above everyone’s head to send them love to remember that people are all connected, and we’re all in the same boat.”