What Is It Like to Be an Empath? True Stories and Real Life Experiences
Imagine for a moment that people could only see in black and white, no one sees in color. You were born with the ability to see color. When you try to describe to people what you see, at best they don’t understand you. At worst, they worry about you and think you’re crazy! Add to that, the fact that you have no language to convey to anyone what you are seeing. They have no context to understand “green” or “blue”, those words don’t even exist! There is no one who can help you understand what you are seeing. So you try to ignore it or block out those colors as best you can. The colors become dull. If you focus on them, they become bright again. But since the rest of the world exists in black and white, you try your best to fit in.
In truth, there are others like you. If you were fortunate, you might have been born into a family that had some knowledge of color. Maybe some of your relatives were able to see color. Maybe you had a friend or mentor who helped you understand what you were seeing. I was grasping in the dark, trying to understand why I was different and struggling to fit in. In this article, I want to show you exactly what it is like to be an Empath by sharing some true stories that have happened to me.
If you do not know what an Empath is and would like a more scientific definition, Bianca Sparacino has written a wonderfully descriptive article that can be found here.
Feeling Other’s Feelings
I don’t know why, but the empathic sense is much stronger with some people than with others. One of the strongest and earliest experiences I had involved a camp counselor whom we will call Rob. The first year I had Rob as a counselor, I seemed to know exactly how he was feeling at any given moment. The strange thing was that whatever he was feeling, I felt to a greater extreme. If Rob was happy, I was ecstatic! If Rob was sad, I cried. I was not a crier by nature, but I cried. A lot. On the last night of camp, I saw Rob. He was very sad. I asked him why he was sad and he said it was because we were leaving tomorrow and he would miss us. Well, that did it. I went outside and I cried, and cried, and cried. Another counselor came over and tried to cheer me up. Didn’t work. I cried for hours. I was still crying the next morning when my parents came to pick me up. I was 8 years old.
Locating Lost Items
I saw Rob at camp each year after that, but he was not always my counselor. I became very curious about this odd reaction in myself and wanted to explore it further. It became a study for me each time I went to camp. By the time I was 12 years old, I was very intent on figuring out what was going on. I told a friend at camp about this weird connection I felt. My lady counselor overheard us talking and said she was currently reading a book on the same topic. She asked me to share my experience with her.
Rob was not my counselor that year, but I saw him from time to time. One afternoon, the lady counselor and I were sitting at a picnic table talking about this very subject. We saw Rob across the field, he was looking for something. I yelled across the field to ask what he was looking for. He said he had lost his fanny pack, containing the first aid kit all counselors were required to carry with them. I looked at the lady counselor and said, “watch this!” I yelled back to Rob, “I think it’s in the craft barn”. “The craft barn?” He said. “Why would it be there? I haven’t been there.” I told him I didn’t know, but that’s where it was.
Rob continued to look around. About half an hour later he came back through the field carrying his pack. When I asked where he found it, he sheepishly replied, “in the craft barn. I forgot that I had been down there earlier today.” My lady counselor was shocked and impressed. I must admit that being able to locate people’s lost stuff is one of the cooler benefits to being an empath! It is rare that I am able to sense things that clearly though.
Conversation in a Dream
Years later I had a dream. Rob and I were talking and he told me that he wanted to marry a specific lady counselor whom I did not know well. He asked what I thought. I told him that if he loved her, I thought he should marry her. I told my mom about this dream. She said it was odd because she had just been to camp and did not see any signs that they were a couple. Two weeks later a friend called to tell me that Rob and this lady had just announced their engagement.
Another benefit to being an empath is non-verbal communication with those we are close to. I had a very good friend in middle school. We would go for walks in the woods and communicate without saying a word. We just knew exactly what the other was thinking. Occasionally one of us would say “hmmm...” or suddenly break out with something like, “Do you really think so?” or “Did he really say that?” Having this kind of relationship is the ultimate. It is comforting and comfortable. It is how I would prefer to communicate as it feels more natural to me than words. It is like having 4G coverage, but being forced to communicate using the pony express. It may seem strange, but empaths tend to lack closeness. Finding someone to have this kind of relationship with is rare. And even in this case, the relationship soon fell apart.
Predicting My Own Future
Just before I started High School, I announced to my mother that I would have a boyfriend within a month of the start of school. My Mom scoffed and told me that just because I wanted a boyfriend, didn’t mean I would get one that quick. The strange thing was that I wasn’t saying it because I wanted a boyfriend. To me, it was just a matter-of-fact statement about something that was going to happen. And it did.
Another time, on a school-related trip across the country, I pointed out the window of the airplane at the Rocky Mountains and announced that I would live there someday. More than a year later, I was accepted to college in Colorado and indeed moved to the Rockies. I did not remember making this comment on the plane, but the teacher who was travelling with me brought it up repeatedly. I often do not remember my self-predictions, but friends and family do.
Seeing and Hearing People’s Thoughts
When I was in college, being in close proximity to so many people was tough. As I would walk to class, I would hear the thoughts of the people I passed. Sometimes I would see short videos in my head of what they were thinking. This was very distracting! It takes a lot of effort to block this sense, but it is impossible to focus and function unless I do.
I talked with my roommate about this and she became very interested. She asked me to try my ability on her. We sat cross-legged, facing one another, I took her hand and closed my eyes. I saw a young girl with freckles and two braids in her hair. She was in a field of yellow flowers. She ran to an older man, a father perhaps, and he scooped her up in his arms and swung her around in circles as she laughed. I didn’t think this meant much, but when I opened my eyes and looked at my roommate, she was crying. She said the field of flowers was a place her family would visit on vacation each year when she was a child and this picture represented one of her fondest childhood memories.
She asked me to tell her future. I closed my eyes and told her what I saw, but there was no way to tell if I was right, so I didn’t think it meant much. She was very excited however and ran off to tell her sorority sisters, who then wanted me to do a reading on them. By this time however, I was pretty freaked out. My religious beliefs went against this kind of stuff. So, I refused to go any further and continued to block this ability.
This story involves a neighbor who was cutting down a tree on our property. I was in the kitchen making lunch when I was suddenly thrown into a trance-like state. I experienced an intense daydream of sorts where my neighbor accidentally cut his leg badly with the chain saw. He was bleeding profusely and I was working to stop the blood. I saw my husband driving to the hospital as I kept pressure on the bleeding wound in the back seat. This whole thing seemed very real and extremely intense. My neighbor did cut his leg with the chain saw that day, but he was able to drive himself to the hospital where he got stitches. Did this intense daydream help prevent a worse accident? I have no idea, but I have to wonder!
Another time, my children were playing outside while I went about my chores in the kitchen. I could not see them from where I was. Suddenly, I knew that one of my kids was in the road. My breath caught in my throat and I said a quick prayer for their safety. Then I ran outside. My son was just coming up the driveway from retrieving a ball that had rolled into the road.
As I was leaving the driveway one day, I had an intense fear that my 2 year old daughter would be hit by a car. This feeling was so strong that I went back home and told my husband to keep her inside. I said a prayer for her safety. Shortly after that, my sister called to say that she had been in a car accident and a toddler in the other vehicle had been rushed to the hospital with glass in her head. When I sense things that seem irrational, sometimes they are actually about someone else. I’m not very good at deciphering what I sense sometimes.
Sharing Other’s Burdens
Sitting in church one day, I noticed that a lady a few rows ahead of me was in extreme emotional distress. I felt as if I was pulled into that space with her and I went into a trance-like state for the remainder of the service. There was a man sitting several seats away in the same row. I didn’t realize that they knew each other. I sensed that a fight with this man was the cause of her distress. I seem to recall two Saint Bernard dogs walking back and forth between them. But in hindsight it doesn’t make sense that there would have been dogs wandering around in the church. At the end of the service the man got up and went to the lady and they hugged and made up. I was so happy I wanted to cry. I happened to be sitting in the back row and as people filed out of the church behind me, someone squeezed my shoulder. When I looked back to see who it was, I saw the lady walking away. She was a complete stranger. Did she know that I was sharing her pain?
The Path of Self-Discovery
Growing up, I felt that what I was experiencing was taboo. That it was not acceptable to be a Christian and have these experiences. So I tried to ignore them. But that is like ignoring the fact that you can see color. You just can’t deny that part of you. It took decades before I gained the confidence to be curious about this sense and open myself to it.
Practising on a Plane
Close proximity to other people makes it easier to sense what they are feeling. So, being in the middle seat on an airplane seemed like a great place to practice. I opened myself and focused on the woman to my left. She was happy. I sensed that she had been on vacation at a beach. I also sensed something about marriage or a wedding. This confused me because her husband was sitting across the aisle. As I focused on their relationship, I knew that they were not newly-weds. They had not been married very long either, perhaps a year or two. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. One of the troubles with sensing things is not being able to “check your answers”, not knowing if you were right. However, several minutes later this lady took out her cell phone and started scrolling through recent pictures. They were of a wedding, on a beach! I tried not to be too nosy, but I could see that it was not her wedding, probably that of a close friend or relative. Bingo!
I turned my attention to the young lady to my right. She was not happy. Her mood was much more serious. I sensed worry and nervousness. She was not travelling for vacation or to visit relatives. Business perhaps? No, that wasn’t it either. I was perplexed. At the end of the flight we struck up a conversation and I learned that she was travelling to attend college in another country. It was her first time flying alone, internationally, and she was nervous about that. I helped her find an airport map and we looked for her connecting gate together. She seemed to feel a little better as we parted ways.
How Does an Empath Perceive?
We lack language to describe exactly what an empath experiences. Some people use the terms see, hear, feel, etc. I like the word “sense” because it really is an additional sense beyond seeing, hearing or feeling. For me, the best way to explain it is feeling another’s emotions and translating that into a situation. In the example of the lady on the plane, I felt her happiness and the quality of that happiness translated to a wedding on a beach. What she was feeling is what someone attending a wedding on a beach would feel. I read something recently that said an Empath perceives through their intuition. I think that is also an accurate description.
Intuition: a Helpful Tool
Intuition is a very helpful tool. It allows you to gauge a person’s intentions. One hot summer day, I participated in a craft fair. I was loading stuff back into my vehicle when a lady approached me. She had a spray bottle with a fan attached to it that blew cool mist. She asked if she could spray my face. Normally, it is not a good idea to allow someone to spray some unknown substance in your face when you're standing alone next to a bunch of valuable merchandise. I checked my intuition and felt that the lady’s intentions were pure. She saw that I was hot and genuinely wanted to help. I allowed her to spray my face and was grateful for this stranger’s act of kindness.
Is Being an Empath an Inherited Trait?
Can you inherit Empathic abilities? Maybe. Quite frequently this trait runs in families. However, it is possible that it skipped a generation or two. It is also possible that your relative's abilities were kept hush-hush because they were not considered normal or acceptable. In my case, my grandmother had Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), as it was called at the time. She had dreams about fires as they happened. The last fire dream she had involved a barn fire near her childhood home in another state. After that, the dreams stopped. I also had a great-grandmother that told fortunes from a regular deck of playing cards.
There are different ways in which empaths feel for others. Most of my experience is with emotional empathy, where I feel what others are feeling emotionally. Some people, whom I do not envy, experience physical empathy. They actually feel in their body what others are feeling physically. I have not had much experience with physical empathy. But I do have one experience that was very, very strange.
One night I could not sleep at all. I felt as if I were literally laying in a pool of cold water. All night long I laid there with this strange sensation. The next morning we learned that a neighbor’s cow had died on our property that night. She had trouble giving birth, developed an infection and a fever, so she went to the stream and laid in the cool spring water, where she died.
Many people experience from time to time, things like knowing who is calling before you answer the phone. I often know exactly how many hangers to grab when folding laundry, without having counted the clothes. This trait can come in handy. I call it “The Knowing” because I just sort-of know things, without knowing how I know them. I just know in a matter-of-fact way. Sometimes in response to someone’s question, an answer will just pour out of my mouth and I had no idea that the information was even in my brain! That can be pretty neat.
One day, I went to the garage to retrieve a tool. I opened the door and saw the old rototiller. My husband had given up trying to start it and declared it broken. The knowing said, “you can start that”. “I can?” I replied aloud. I felt an affirmation. So, I turned on the throttle and pulled the cord a couple of times. The tiller started. Sometimes The Knowing “speaks” clearly, though the “speaking” is more of a clear knowing. Usually though, it is just knowledge.
Knowing I Could Heal
Another time, my Dad had injured his back. We were returning from a trip to town and every time I went around a corner or hit a bump, he cried out in pain. I knew that I could heal his back. I can’t heal everyone’s hurts, but The Knowing said that I could heal his. When we got out of the car, I said, “I can fix that for you.” My Dad was skeptical. He was in so much pain, he didn’t want to be touched. The next day, he was desperate for relief and allowed me to try. He laid on the couch and I have him a gentle massage with arnica salve. When I felt that my work was done, I told him he could get up. He rose carefully and began to move slowly, expecting to be in pain. But he had none. He started bending and reaching in various ways. Then he got excited. I laughed as he ran up and down the stairs and started doing jumping jacks. I consider it a unique privilege to be able to help people in this way. Unfortunately, I cannot just help whomever I want. The Knowing tells me when I can be of assistance to someone in need.
How to Use Your Empathic Ability to Help Others
Are you an empath too? Sometimes being an empath can be confusing and leave us feeling out of control. We may feel like we are a mess. But, if we understand our abilities and learn to use them as a tool, we can actually help others. To learn how, click here.
Not All Fun and Games
There are many serious downsides to being an empath as well. The biggest one being that you can’t turn it off! Perceiving so much day after day leads to over-stimulation and burn out. To get a break, empaths often withdraw and need a lot of space and time alone. This leads to relationship difficulties and leaves the empath feeling very lonely. Another challenge is not knowing whether your feelings are your own or someone else’s. It can be hard to separate yourself from those around you. For more information about the downsides to being an empath, click here.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Amanda Buck