Empathy and compassion are highly desirable traits in others; you could make the argument that the world would be a much better place if there were more of these around. While being empathetic means you can relate to another’s experience, a true empath is one who can literally feel others’ emotions and physical sensations.
There are two types of empaths: cognitive and affected (or “emotional” empath). Cognitive empaths can perceive and understand the emotions in others; affected empaths feel others’ emotions.
Before you say “that’s a lot of nonsense”, there is scientific evidence to support the perceptions of being an empath.
For example, a study at Monash University examined the brains of empaths. Researchers found that there are differences in grey matter density in certain areas of empaths’ brains.
The differences were so conspicuous, they were able to distinguish between those with cognitive empathy (denser grey matter in the midcingulate cortex and adjacent dorsomedial prefrontal cortex) and those with affected empathy (denser grey matter in the insula cortex).
“Taken together, these results provide validation for empathy being a multi-component construct, suggesting that affective and cognitive empathy are differentially represented in brain morphometry as well as providing convergent evidence for empathy being represented by different neural and structural correlates.” (1)
Furthermore, a 2014 study looked at neural activity in empaths’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In response to controlled stimuli, areas of subjects’ brains involved in awareness, attention, action planning, integration of sensory information, emotional understanding, and empathy became highly activated. (2)
Pros and Cons of Being an Empath
Our bodies are electric. The brain and heart put out especially strong electromagnetic fields. Empaths are very sensitive to these frequencies and readily pick up the thoughts and emotions of others. For some, this extends to other living things and even places and inanimate objects. (3, 4)
Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which two or more senses are activated in response to a stimulus-such as tasting words or hearing color. Some empaths experience “mirror-touch synesthesia”, in which they feel, see, touch, taste, hear, or smell what others do. (5)
Empaths sense strong emotions and feel pain in others by virtue of very keen cognitive abilities and a different neural construct and process than non-empaths. (6)
Common traits of an empath include:
- highly sensitive
- absorb others’ emotions
- highly intuitive
- needs time alone
- overwhelmed in intimate relationships
- close connection to Nature
- highly-tuned senses
- open-hearted, often giving until it hurts.
Watch the video below for how to identify a highly-sensitive person or empath.