The E-Word

I don’t like the e-word — empath — but I may be one.

Whenever I see the word “empath” in anything I’m reading, I skip over it.  I skim. I read without engaging.  It’s like that thing you do with some people when they’re talking:  you smile and nod and pretend you’re listening and interested in what they’re saying, but you’re really thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner.  I read “empath” and smile and nod and think “oh, is that a thing? That’s super!” *condescending nod and eye roll*

I see “empath” in anything I’m reading (and it happens a lot because it’s often mentioned where “highly sensitive” is mentioned) and I think woo-woo.  I think of phony psychics, fake mediums, auras, chakras, people claiming to have special powers and access to other dimensions.  In other words, total crap.

I know being an empath isn’t any of those things but my bias and close mindedness remained until I read a piece by Anneli Rufus in Medium titled “Emmy the Empath”.  I saw myself in some of Rufus’s descriptions of Emmy.
I stopped skimming:

Empaths can’t change or control other people’s feelings: They can only detect, feel and, now and then, absorb. This is the burden empaths bear: That other people’s feelings, once detected, tend to stick to empaths, lingering long after whomever first felt them is no longer physically nearby.


Born this way, most empaths assume that they’re just like everyone else. Not realizing what is happening when their skill takes effect, not realizing that they’re “reading” or “wearing” the emotions of others and “picking up their vibes,” empaths typically assume that all these disparate feelings they feel are their own.

Oh, yes.

Most empaths have never heard the word “empath,” much less found in that word comfort, validation or identity.

Definitely, yes.

Most empaths know only that they feel inexplicably bizarre when not alone.

Absolutely, yes.

Too many yeses to ignore.  I did some Googling, some engaged reading on empaths.  The clearest and most relatable information came from Karla McLaren, author of The Language of Emotions, on her website.  McLaren’s definition of an empath:

An empath is someone who is aware that he or she reads emotions, nuance, subtext, undercurrent, intentions, thoughts, social space, interactions, relational behaviors, body language, and gestural language.

McLaren makes the point that everyone is empathic.  But an empath is aware of their empathic skills.  Not being aware of it is what causes the burden Rufus describes.  So many moments in my emotional life make sense now with just the little that I’ve learned about empaths.

Recently I was thinking about what’s important to me and what I care about fundamentally and it boils down to three things: people, relationships, and emotion.  Yet at the same time I honestly would be very happy living in a cave by myself for the rest of my life.  I never understood how I could have such diametrically opposed motivations, interests and desires.  I have a desire to go deep with people and be far away from people at the same time. Empathy is great…until it hurts.  Until it overwhelms.

This is a screenshot from the movie, I Am Love. One of those two fuzzy people in the cave is Tilda Swinton. Whenever I think about living in a cave, this is the cave I picture.

More information about empaths from Caroline Van Kimmenade, The Happy Sensitive, that made me say YES:

When you are obsessing about someone as an empath, it’s not just “in your head”, you likely have all kinds of subconscious energy exchanges going on with the person in question. When you feel deeply affected by someone as an empath, you’re not just “empathizing” and “imagining what it’s like to be that other person” you are probably actually literally picking up this other person’s energy.

I always feel like I care a little bit too much about some people.  I’m a little bit too invested and I’d really like not to be.  This energy thing may explain why.

So I may be an empath.  An unskilled empath but now aware.  Now what? Another label?  Sheesh!

I don’t know what this all means.  I don’t know what having the awareness of being an empath means.  I don’t know what to do with this new information. But, it’s certainly got me thinking.

“Empath” is still the e-word… for now.   I won’t be skimming over it next time it pops up, though.

I’ll probably write more on this in the future.  Stay tuned.



5 thoughts on “The E-Word

  1. Thank you for writing on this topic. I had the same kind of assumptions about being an empath that you did. I know that I’m definitely highly sensitive and may be an empath as well. I guess I’ll have to do a little more reading on the subject. Thanks for another insightful post 🙂


  2. Thanks for this really thought-provoking post. I know I’m a highly sensitive person, and lately I’ve been periodically hearing this word empath cop up. Your post explains a lot. Actually, in my life, long before I heard those terms HS and empath, being like this has actually, or probably, I should say, saved me from some potentially bad or dangerous situations or outcomes. Yes, there are many good things about being a HS person, and also probably an empath. Thanks again Melene, for the great post .


    1. No thank you Lauren for reading. You’re so supportive of my blog. You’re wonderful.
      There is so much to this empath thing. I hope I inspired some Googling. I’ll be doing a lot more.


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