10 Signs You Have Incredible Empathy

It's more than just being sensitive.

You put others’ needs first


An empathetic person places the needs of people—even animals—over his or her own. “Empathic people are often people pleasers who put other people first,” says Judith Orloff, MD, author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA with a private psychotherapy practice specializing in empathy. “They want to help others and have large hearts, but they often give too much away and end up exhausted.” Since you’re so giving and concerned about others, you dislike people who always put themselves first.

You’re an amazing listener


You like to listen rather than speak. You want to hear all the details about a situation so you can understand it completely. “You truly and actively care about others and what they’re saying,” says Stacey Laura Lloyd, a health and relationships writer and co-author of Is Your Job Making You Fat? How to Lose the Office 15…and More!. “It’s one thing to simply hear the words of others, and it’s something entirely different to internalize what others are expressing and then understand and experience their feelings, needs, and motivations.” To take in what you’re hearing, you listen to verbal cues and observe nonverbal ones, keeping yourself engaged in the conversation. “Being an empathetic listener means you put the speaker first and have a desire to understand what’s on his mind and what he’s dealing with,” says Cherie Burbach, author of Art and Faith: Mixed Media Art With a Faith-Filled Message, who specializes in relationships and helping people connect. Here's what good listeners do in daily conversations.

People turn to you for advice


People often seek your thoughtful feedback and support. They tell you their problems and you feel compelled to help them. “Empathetic people give the impression that they care about what you’re going through,” says Burbach. “So if you’re someone that people seek out for advice, it’s probably because they trust you to put aside your own opinions and give them advice specific to what they’re going through.” You often hear “I’ve never told anyone this before”—even from people you’ve just met. You may use your compassion and sensitivity prowess professionally as a teacher, therapist, or healthcare professional. “If you find that people are seeking you out for advice, they’re doing so because you have a special quality,” says Lloyd. “You’re able to put yourself in their position and then clearly and objectively provide insights and guidance to help them to deal with whatever they may be encountering. Rather than providing platitudes, generalities, and sugar-coated wishes, your empathy enables you to create and impart targeted tools and strategies that empower others.”

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You get drained in social settings


You don’t know how to block out other people’s emotions since you’re so invested in those of others. And that can make you feel anxious, suffocated, and exhausted. “Empathic people often get drained by excessive stimulation and too much talking,” says Dr. Orloff. “They often hate small talk, which is awkward at parties and social settings.” You also avoid crowded places like sporting arenas, malls, and airports. If you’re there, you can’t wait to leave. You’d rather be by yourself so you don’t have these overwhelming feelings. Here are tips to make small talk less painful.

You’re a natural leader


Bosses who are empathetic tend to get better workplace performances out of their employees. That’s because these employees believe that their bosses have their best interests at heart, say the folks at Happify, a company empowering people to lead happier and more fulfilling lives. Empathetic bosses possess good listening skills, compassion, and big hearts. And that means employees trust and communicate with them. “Empathetic people know how to work with a team and let others be heard,” says Dr. Orloff.

You love pets and animals


Even animals are drawn to people who are sensitive and really care about them. Empaths feel energized and soothed by animals’ unconditional love, says Dr. Orloff. That’s why they often have more than one pet. “In society, so many people don’t really understand an empathic person’s sensitivities,” says Dr. Orloff. “But animals are very sensitive, and empathic people love cuddling and playing with them.” In fact, she says that empaths often feel safer around animals than people. Here's how to decode your cat's behavior and here are secrets your dog knows about you.

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Horrible events in life or on television overwhelm you

iStock/Adam Petto

Watching unpleasant or tragic events on the news, movies, and television upsets and disturbs you to the point that you become teary, ill, or anxious. You do your best to avoid such images since they affect you so deeply. In life, if you see a homeless child, cat, or dog, you feel guilty when you can’t help more.

You feel other people’s physical ailments


If you suddenly get tired and weak for no reason, you might be feeling that way because someone you’re close with or have an emotional connection with is sick. You’re like a sponge—you’re so concerned about people’s well-being that you take on their physical pain.

You always know if someone is lying

iStock/Drazen Lovric

You read people easily, so you can more easily detect when someone is lying. “Being empathetic means spotting the front that people sometimes put up and trying to understand why it’s there,” says Burbach. You know if they’re lying and their motive behind it—perhaps it’s malice, ignorance, or to spare someone’s feelings. It’s more than just a hunch or intuition. You really know if someone is being truthful by listening to his voice and observing his body language. “Empaths can immediately sense when something feels right or if it feels off,” says Dr. Orloff. Empaths then take their detection prowess a step further than others. “The true test of empathy then comes in understanding why someone is lying and not just labeling them as ‘a liar’ without explanation,” says Burbach.

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You want to help anyone in pain


You want to help those who are hurting, regardless of what they’ve done to you and who they are. You can’t walk past someone who is suffering (such as a homeless person) without wanting to help him. “Empathic people naturally want to absorb other people’s pain into their own bodies to take it away for the sufferer,” says Dr. Orloff. You feel responsible for the well-being of those around you. You try not to take things so seriously and just let it go, but you can’t.

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