The experience of being an empath can often feel identical in effect to being emotionally exhausted, namely because empaths absorb the emotions of everyone else. And while that makes sense, given that the core element of empathy is feeling, being an empath can mean so much more than reflecting the highs and lows of others. That’s because there are actually eight different types of empaths—and only two have to do with absorbing the pain of your peers.
Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD, fully documents the ins and outs of empathy in her book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Below, she explains each of the eight types of empaths so you can better identify where you fall (and how you feel).
1. Physical empath
“Physical empathy is when you’re attuned to other people’s physical symptoms, and you tend to absorb them into your own body,” says Dr. Orloff. This goes beyond naturally contagious gestures, like laughter and yawning. If your friend is in the throes of a screamingly painful migraine headache, expect to feel tension in your temples, as well. And if you’re babysitting your pubescent niece? You can expect to get a brand-new zit.
On the flip side, she says you can also be energized by someone else’s sense of well being. So, physical empaths might be wise to get themselves a dedicated gym buddy.
2. Emotional empath
An emotional empath is someone who picks up on the emotions of others. This can be lovely in effect, like when your friend gets a promotion and you can feel their happiness, as if you, yourself, were going to be to the Senior VP of Development.
However, emotional empaths can get truly exhausted by friends who are constant complainers who dwell in the negative, or narcissists who suck up all the attention and never reciprocate when they’re feeling down. Because of this, emotional empaths tend to be the first people to get drained by emotional vampires. So, make sure to practice self care and learn how to differentiate other people’s emotions from your own.
3. Intuitive empath
Emotional empathy is often a component of being an intuitive empath without it being the defining factor. According to Dr. Orloff, intuitive empaths generally can sense the unspoken in terms of what’s going on, and that can encompass many qualities. “Emotional empaths simply pick up the emotions of others,” Dr. Orloff says. “But an intuitive empath can sense the unspoken in terms of what’s going on.”
Think of it as having a very thorough, almost holistic kind of superpower. “Intuitive empaths experience extraordinary perceptions, such as heightened intuition, messages in threes, animal and plant communication, as well as pick up other people’s emotions,” she says.
4. Dream empath
Dream empaths can receive intuitive information from dreams that helps themselves and others, Dr. Orloff says. That’s because these types of empaths are typically gifted at clearly remembering dreams, so they’re able to source wisdom from, say, a talking fox, or a deceased relative. A dream empath is also someone who’s able to read between the lines and tease meaning from their own dreams and those of others.
6. Plant empath
If you’re a plant empath, you can accurately “feel the needs of plants and connect with their essence,” Dr. Orloff says.
People who wilt with their blooms and drink with their succulents aren’t just the best Plant Moms ever, though—they also probably make for great people friends: One of the benefits of being a plant-lover is that offering tenderness to saplings may help you become more compassionate in other areas of life.
7. Earth empath
Earth empaths are rocking a similar vibe to the plant empaths in that both have their hearts tuned to nature. But while your garden-variety (ha) plant empath is more attuned to indoor ferns, earth empaths more so relate to what’s going on with the whole universe.
“The earth empaths are attuned to changes in our planet and our solar system and the weather,” says Dr. Orloff. “So let’s say there’s an earthquake. They can sometimes feel it beforehand. Or, if the Amazon forest is being ravaged, it feels like pain in their body.”
8. Animal empath
Finally, animal empaths are the people who are always hanging with the pet at the party. They have a special connection with animals in that they can often feel their needs and communicate with them in a soothing manner. They cannot stomach any violence toward animals and are more than likely filling their Pinterest boards with vegan recipes.
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