Feel To Live: The Secret Life Of An Empath

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toliveConfession. I’m an empath.

I feel other peoples’ emotions as if they’re my own.

Often, their pain. On an unusually strong level.

Whether I know them or not.

I shake when I see other people experience awe. I cry during Hallmark specials. Nearly every episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition left me a blathering mess. Stuff just seems to get to me more easily than others.

I’ve known this since I was a kid, just didn’t know there was a name for it until recently.

There’s good about it. And bad.

It’s been a huge asset as an entrepreneur, marketer, leader and artist. I can get into peoples’ heads, understand what they need, want, desire, aspire to. What makes them vibrate with emotion, good and bad. It lets me work on more of an emotional level, see past facades and words, then speak to, create and solve for what really matters.

It’s also been hugely beneficial in allowing me to connect when I teach, present and, as I’ve more recently discovered, interview people. In a past life, taking depositions in a dimly-lit cinderblock government room, I felt my way through the conversations on a more intuitive level, processing beyond words.

And, as a human being on a quest to be more human and better understand what this lap on the planet is all about, it lets me know, on a visceral level, what people are experiencing as if I am them. It allows me to see people more easily from a place of grace. To drop the judgment. Not always. And not everyone. I’m still very much a work in progress. But more often than not.

But it also comes with a dark side…

When someone else is in pain, it can be hard to dissociate from it. Whether you know them or not. It can also stop you from being able to help someone else. You’re of no use beyond being a warm body to commiserate, when their pain paralyzes you as much as them.

I was reminded of this, on a personal level, a few weeks ago, when my father-in-law passed away. I felt immediately for my wife’s loss. For her mother, too.

That evening, I sat down down, and told my little girl grandpa was dead.

I was fine until I saw her eyes begin to well. Seeing her heart break, my own shattered. We both lost it. Her, for her loss. Me, for her loss. There was nothing I could do or say, but cry with her. For her.

A few days later at the funeral, I was fine until a childhood friend of my father-in-law got up, and told stories about them in the neighborhood as kids. He struggled to choke back tears, I could barely breath. Had I been called on to console him or anyone else in that moment, I would’ve been fairly useless.

As an entrepreneur, this dark side reveals itself in the lure of the emotional rabbit hole. I need to be able to tap into others’ emotions to understand how best to serve them. But I also need to be able to convert emotions into businesses, brands, solutions and experiences that matter. To engage with enough dispassion to allow insight and action.

So, what to do?

Completely disconnect with people? Walk around with your shields on high all day? Divert with humor and sarcasm (all part of my arsenal, btw, with varying levels of efficacy).

It’s hard enough to process your own emotion, let alone manage the vein that channels others’ emotions into you.

That said, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because…

To feel is to live.

It’s the raw fuel that births moments, interactions, experiences and the creation of art and meaning.

The challenge, always is to understand when to let it in, when to raise the shields entirely. And when to let in just enough to fuel connection, wisdom, compassionate action…and extraordinary art.

I’ve danced with this process for as long as I can remember. It fueled intense painting and composing jags as a kid. Converting my own and others’ raw transfered emotion into creative output.

I’m convinced that many of the world’s greatest artists, writers, composers were empaths. Bundling sensed extrinsic emotion with their own and channeling it onto the page, canvas, medium or instrument. Partly, in the quest to create art, but also in the name of survival. A way to open a conduit that allows all that channeled emotion to pour through, rather than consume them.

A few years ago, fueled by an entirely different reason. I found something else that’s helped me process life as an empath.


It doesn’t make everything better. What it does is allow me to understand when I’m being drawn in and then make a more deliberate decision about whether I’m going to open to empathy or compassion. And how much. The latter, allowing me to understand, to see and feel, but with enough detachment to still be able to act.

So, what about you?

How do you feel into others’ emotions?

How might you tap this orientation to live into life a bit more?

As an entrepreneur, how can you leverage it to serve more people on a higher level?

Share your thoughts below…

P.S. – Empaths aren’t always about human emotion. Many are fairly dispassionate toward other people, but their empathic connection runs strongly toward animals or the natural world.


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58 responses

58 responses to “Feel To Live: The Secret Life Of An Empath”

  1. Cynthia says:

    I could have written this. It is great to hear your path through the gift/challenge…
    I can be kept awake at night after a large event where I do a lot of connecting just reeling from all the residual energy and emotion.
    As an artist and a photographer, and as a human who tries hard to make a difference on the earth by loving it, I find it to be an asset.
    But sometimes I feel like a conduit with a flow beyond my capacity; at those times I have to gently draw a curtain and regroup. I’ve recently discovered the benefit of mindfulness, just wish I could remember to use it more often!
    Again, thank you for this post. I find it joyful and comforting! Namaste!!

  2. Jen Gresham says:

    I’m an empath too, and you’re right, it has its pros and cons. There was a commercial a few years ago where they show this desk lamp being put to the curb with the garbage with some sad music, then flash the screen with “It’s just a lamp” Yeah, but by that time I was already connecting to its sense of loneliness and isolation and crying my eyes out… LOL

    People often tell me they feel like I’m inside their head. One person read a blog post and was positive it was about him (it wasn’t). As a writer I’m grateful for this “superpower,” but also mindful that the whole world is also a kind of kryptonite for me. Good to know I’m not alone. 🙂

    • Wines says:

      I am the same way, most of the time I found myself avoiding people who are sick or having a hard time so I will not be suffering with them or feel their pain. I really dislike the idea of suffering with people that I don’t even know. There is no advantage on being empathic, because I really don’t feel their happiness only their sorrow and their pain. There is no joy on feeling what other people are feeling, no joy at all.

  3. Beth O'Donnell says:

    I first realized I was an empath when I started to travel extensively. If someone in line at an airport got upset, I got hijacked. I was powerless against a negative spiral. I didn’t get angry and react at the staff, I just withdrew so far inside to get away from all the upset that I couldn’t hear anymore. Now my trick for that situation is to wave an arm as if to create a shield. I don’t get drawn in.

    I can only have a small circle of friends because I give friends my all, emotionally, and there is only enough of me for a limited number of significant others.

    I suppose those are my forms of mindfulness.

  4. beth says:

    I used to cry at the ATT commercials that were around in the 80s about connecting with people and just now teared up seeing your daughter and you in my mind.

    It is a two edged sword. As a tutor, it helps me connect with my students and the frustration and joy they feel over the challenge of learning new things. But, it is scary. One on one I can handle it. Thinking about taking the tutoring to a larger level and find a way to have a bigger presence in the world scares the hell out of me.

    I like your statement “feeling is living”.

  5. Irene Ross says:

    Wow, wow, wow–it’s like you were talking just to me! For many years, I was so terrified of the volcano that was lurking underneath, I used those tools–disconnecting from people, being dispassionate, and using humor and sarcasm to deflect–but the connection ran very strong with animals. Now, however, it has completely opened to include BOTH humans and non-humans–in fact, now that means I need to re-brand my business since everything feels out of alignment.

  6. Gabe Galasso says:

    I find myself very similar in certain situations. I’m a sucker for overcoming the odds and fairy-tale endings. (Check out the DJ Hayden story he was just drafted by the Oakland Raiders this past weekend) I’ve recently been recommended to read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and he stresses being consciously present and disassociating with the ego. This book is slowly changing my views on life because the more I disassociate with my own ego and place all of my focus on the present moment my ability to feel others emotions and relate with them has increased dramatically. The ability to relate with others and connect with them on a human level has increased the quality of the relationships I’ve had substantially. It’s truly an amazing gift. Thanks for sharing Jonathan!

  7. Gayle says:

    It’s funny–I just got off the phone with a prospective client and we were discussing her negative association with feeling so much. She grew up being told that she was “condemned to care too much.” Wow!! We really connected as I’ve been told most of my life that I feel “too much.” How did it become such a negative condition–to feel something? If the world wasn’t gifted with those of us who cared about others, understood their pain, found the tools to move through the turmoil, life would be a black hole of sadness.

    • Otiti says:

      YES! Feeling is the pulse of humanity; why are we derided for having our finger on it? I think such negativity arises from fear of experiencing things as intensely as we do, or a lack of understanding around how we can possibly feel so much in te first place. You know?

  8. Kevin Wood says:

    I realize that for me it comes from a point of trying to help other people. Ever since I was a child I would try to absorb my family and friends negative emotions and try to help them process their situations.

    I agree, at times it’s draining and you almost have to guard your own energy at times.

    But, it’s incredible in the ability to relate to people and help them open up emotionally.

  9. The past couple of months, it’s incredible how many questions I received from leaders regarding employee motivation and engagement. So much so that I put together a series of the top 5 Q&A…Just like you have mentioned here, it always comes down to being human. Being a great leader and bringing out the best in others, starts with being human, being “real”. Understanding what’s inside the other person’s mind and feel what the other person is feeling, instead of looking inside our head to determine what they need. It is incredible the positive difference we can make in someone’s life when we connect with them on a human level.

    Powerful post Jonathan, thanks!

  10. YES, loved your take on this. In my line of work, being flooded by other’s emotions could be an occupational hazard. A combo of an open heart and a strong boundary is what keeps me able to be of service to others in some pretty heavy places.

  11. Brandi Waits says:

    I love your article this week! I have the same gift/curse in my life. I am learning with more life/wisdom how to share my energy and how to protect my energy. It is a matter of setting strong boundaries and realizing that everyone is on their own journey (experiencing things at their own pace in time). It is also a matter of practicing discernment and knowing when to share and when to walk away. I have had friendships where the energy/emotional balance became unbalanced. I have walked away from these friendships (though often times it is a result of being utterly exhausted and having an explosive conversation letting them know I can no longer handle the negativity – which leaves me feeling bad). Alas, I am learning how to manage this gift with ample amounts of grace (realizing that it truly is a gift). Also, the times I have walked away from negative situation – the relationships have grown leaps and bounds. I work with many entrepreneurs and this gift has allowed me to feel/experience from the place where they are feeling/experiencing. Thank you, Jonathan – as always, for your gifted writing and the sharing of your wisdom. Cheers, B

  12. Liza says:

    You’ve done it again…tapped into my soul 🙂 As a bodyworker for many years, I’ve learned to turn this off and turn it into acceptance, allowance and compassion, where I used to want to “fix things”. I bet there are more of “us” in the world than care to admit it…especially men. Thank you for your tear dropping honesty, Jonathan.

  13. Holly says:

    Thanks for helping me see the positive side, Jonathan. I took a Gallup strength test a few years ago, and for the first time had a name for what I was and an explanation for why I was so easily affected by others’ moods. I knew there were certain movies I should not see, books I shouldn’t read, and when to cut off emotional vampires, but I refused to admit that there might be benefits to my empathy. I need some great examples of why my empathetic self is not a disability, and you’re helping me get there. I’ve accepted it, but not yet embraced that part of myself. I will get there, though. 🙂

  14. My empathic responses and feelings surround love for animals. I can’t watch a movie when I know the animal is going to die. I forgot to take tissues to the movie, “My Dog Skip” and used my shirt as a handkerchief for the rest of the night.

    The scene in “Dancing With Wolves” where the wolf is tortured, enaged me to such an extent that I left the movie theater. I still think the scene was entirely unnecessary. Where was the outrage? Still makes me mad.

    When my 2 dogs dogs died in my arms, within a year of each other, I had serious falls after each loss, that messed me up for days.

    As I write these words, I realize the falls were empathic reactions. I hadn’t put that together before.

    Thank you!!

  15. Jan O'Hara says:

    Have you heard of compathy? It’s a step beyond empathy, where the “receiver” doesn’t only intuitively understand another’s emotional state, but can experience it, including somatic pain. I’d suspect you’d meet the criteria.

    I’m a former family doc, quite empathic, have moments I stray into compathy. If I were to list the pros and cons of that state, they’d be virtually identical to your items.

    These days I write fiction, blog, and interview writing-industry folk. I’m told I’m consistently good at the latter, and empathy would be why.

    What helps me separate the two worlds? First, two principles I learned in medicine from a behavioral psychologist. 1. When with patients, remember at all times who owns the problem. 2. To always keep the interaction in service of the patient, including self-disclosure and emotional engagement. (If my emotional state interferes with attention to the problem, then it’s time to recuse myself, barring an emergency, of course.)

    Lastly, have you heard of The Work. I tell people it’s like a Ph.D. in understand projection, and if done consistently, makes it easier to be mindful. Anyway, it’s amazing, challenging stuff, but I have a hunch it would appeal to you.

    • Michelle says:

      Jan O’Hara – I’m interested. Can you give more information on “The Work”, maybe an author?

      • Jan O'Hara says:

        Hi, Michelle. I’m not affiliated with her in any way whatsoever, but the woman who teaches this system of inquiry is Byron Katie. There are a ton of free resources, including worksheets and example videos, at her website. I can highly recommend her book Who Would You Be Without Your Story.

        BTW, I passed these resources on to a Ph.D. psychologist who worked in the realm of hope research and does private counseling. She uses it regularly with clients.

        Hope this is okay to share, Jonathan! If not, of course I’d expect you to delete it.

  16. Heidi Kraft says:


    I really relate to the experience of being an empath, yet my journey was a bit different. I actually didn’t see myself as an empath until about 10 years ago. In fact, I remember getting my strenghtfinder report and having “Empathy” as a strength and being surprised. I also was raised in a very German, structured, practical family – and from that I learned the amazing skill of self management. As I started to realize that empathy is a huge part of who I am when I’m natural, authentic etc, I started to see and embrace the way that it’s led me and helped me. Yes, I’ve always know that people would share there whole life story with me. Or that I cried so much in movies that I’d leave with sunglasses on. But I just thought that meant I was emotional. Then I’d get confused when I wouldn’t take things seriously (i.e. a dear friend being diagnosed with cancer)… or hear difficult news and it would have no impact on me at all in the moment. I believe this also was the ability to self manage also – process on my own time. I share this because as am empath I think it’s important to notice how we feel in the moment when we’re being empathetic. When I’m at my best, really listening, present, connected and authentic, I feel a nature empathy emerge. As an executive coach, this is a HUGELY powerful skill. It brings me intuitive hits that most people wonder how I know (like you said). I experience it as the state of “flow” or mindfulness – in the moment. But it’s also important to notice what happens when we stifle our empathy – perhaps because we’re busy, pre-occupied, or the moment doesn’t feel right to express it. When I withhold it, I often find my entire body being affected. In a class where transformation is taking place, for example, I may get physically sore from holding back the feelings I had for others and would almost always leave the experience with a sore neck or kink or something. My sense was that was from taking so much in as an empath and not necessarily having the format (or desire) to express it – or get it out. Or I’d feel no connection to someone in a situation where I’d typically have an emotional reaction. To me, these are the moments when I’m not connected to myself, to my natural core and/or I’m not present. In those moments now, I look for what I’m doing to not be connected to myself or others. It’s a huge barometer when I’m not being really me, or authentic.

  17. Linda Luke says:

    I feel your pain. I struggle with this myself. I seem to handle it much better now, but find that being around a lot of people or certain individuals leaves me feeling wiped out.

    I thought everyone was the same way in my early business life and couldn’t figure out why other people did not feel into their customers as well. So, I would do it for them.

    I am now a coach and for some reason I am able to be in the observer mode while serving my clients and not take their feelings on, however I still find myself doing it in my personal life. Just can’t watch the extreme makeover show…

    Thank you for sharing this. It has clearly struck a chord with many.

  18. Alla Zollers says:

    Although I have known for a while that I am a highly sensitive person, it’s only been a few weeks since I understood that I am also an empath. It feels good to finally have a name for everything that I have been experiencing.

    Thank you for describing our experience as empaths so beautifully, accurately, and vulnerability. It truly helps me to know that I am not alone in feeling this way.

    I feel this way too, I experience this too, I understand how you feel, I feel what you feel.

    Thank you!

  19. Persephone says:

    This happens with me in my work with women entrepreneurs:

    “I can get into peoples’ heads, understand what they need, want, desire, aspire to. What makes them vibrate with emotion, good and bad. It lets me work on more of an emotional level, see past facades and words, then speak to, create and solve for what really matters.”

    My gift somehow helps them to ground their dreams. Thank you for putting words to it!

  20. Olga says:

    Hi Jonathan, Thanks YOU for actually saying this word – empathy- and acknowledging the importance of it.
    It is a gift to be able to come out and openly share it.

    Don’t you think it is the basic need of effective communication, human collaboration, the SKILL of empathizing – anyone needs to learn from childhood?

    It can be learned.

    Everyone can simply reflect on their childhood and track down where they encountered empathy or if it was ever part of growing up?

    Like mentioned above when feeling too much – why is it considered a weakness?

    And as a dominant adult culture we take control of little human beings…and imposing certain cultural norms.

    What do we think if a boy wants to play with dolls?
    or if A girl wants to play with a truck and a rocket ship?
    A toddler punished for having a tantrum – A newborn left in a dark room to cry it out?

    Everyone needs to be loved, heard and understood…how can we provide that safe space and opportunity for people to open up, let them feel what they feel, be who they are…without judgement…

  21. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Jonathan.

    I’m an empath as well, although I’ve learned how to deal with other peoples’ emotions. I know that I get to decide how I feel. When I’m in a place of strength and being in control of my own feelings, I can better support those around me when they need a shoulder to lean on.

  22. Cathy Hasty says:

    The ability to feel another person’s pain (and their pleasure) is a great gift, holding both cost and promise, as you say so well. I agree with the reader who said empathy can be taught and I would say, refined.
    I teach counselors, chaplains, nurses and others about learning to use themselves as resonating instruments through a four step process:

    Experience, Contain, Analyze, Use…

    I have discovered that, sometimes, what we are experiencing is not empathy but projection or “counter transference.” We first need to let ourselves experience all that comes but if it is too raw, we need to contain our reactivity.

    My mother died about two months ago. Some people were not helpful because they responded NOT to my grief or my need but to their own projection onto me. They made comments that clearly did not represent my experience or help me, often you statements; “you must be so sad. I was devastated after my mother died.” I let the comments go, and asked about their grief over their own mother, which led to many interesting conversations.

    If the emotions we feel eclipse the emotions of the person to whom we are listening, clearly we have our own work to do! The analysis of our emotional response can take a few seconds to year before we can accurately USE ourselves to resonate with the emotions of others.
    Thanks for a great topic.

  23. Lonnie says:

    This could be part of my biography. It can be embarrassing sometimes. I also use mindfulness as a tool to control what comes through. It’s not always successful, but as you say, to feel is to live.

    Great post!

  24. Kimberli says:

    Wow… I just learned the term empath yesterday, and I am definitely one. I cry at almost every single Grey’s Anatomy episode, it killed me when I was in a relationship and the ex-bf would have a bad day. I would feel it with him, which was very tough sometimes. I feel people’s anger too much. I have learned over the years not to give myself away too much anymore… especially to people who don’t give anything in return. It is so cool to read this as I felt like you were describing myself. It’s nice to know there are others out there just like this! <3 Thank you!!!

  25. Francesca says:

    Oh yes, yes, yes. Especially the animals and nature. It can get pretty heady at times when you feel so much. Art and movement are my releases. It was only after many years of living that I came home to my passions and this has helped me be the most me. To all.

  26. Ryan says:

    After many years of combat I can identify with being an empath and feeling others pain. It is a duality to my work that must exist. On one hand being an empath can be soul crushing. But on the other being able to feel reminds you that humanity still flows within your body. Allowing you to connect and feel intentions before they are spoken. This trait has proven a well tested survival instinct. What you choose to do with those feelings has and always will be your choice. Its our mindfulness in knowing we own those feelings and can choose to respond or react to them. Being an empath is a chance to practice that mindfulness everyday. A chance to take the test twice. We feel our own emotions and others. So when those flood of emotions come to me its a wonderful opportunity to see where my mindfulness is in that moment. Sometimes we will react and become paralyzed and other time we will respond in a graceful manner. But in that moment we will truly understand where we are in the moment. Yes, there is a dark difficult side to being an empath but it also an amazing opportunity. An opportunity to practice everyday being mindful. Even those moments when we don’t think we have time, or our lives are too busy. Because as an empath we do not choose when to feel. We always feel.

  27. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Jonathan-

    Great post!

    I see lots of people resonating with you here, and I feel excited to see so many people owning their empathic essence.

    One powerful growth for me, in learning to live with being an empath, was learning how to differentiate others’ feelings from my own. I used to have a hard time knowing whether what I was feeling was my own, or whether it belonged to someone else around me. And, then having to process a whole host of emotions that were way more than I could manage at onces.

    Recognizing that I am not responsible for others’ feelings is valuable. Seeing the other person as completely whole, while presencing the emotions that arise, is, in my mind, the most powerful service you can offer.

    Now, I find being an empath to be a huge service, to myself and others. And, it is no longer draining on my energy. I am able to understand and connect with others with ease. And, I am, for the most part, oriented towards presencing and empowering.

    I’m appreciating you for sharing yourself here, and the journey as you experience it.


  28. Tracy Hall says:

    Thank you for writing this post, Jonathan. As a fellow empath it was so refreshing to see someone else describe it so beautifully, and unapologetically. This brought back to me a time when a close friend passed away, and it was the profound grieving of her family that was harder to bear than my own grief.

    I had a light-bulb moment while reading your post when I realised the power of an individual when they are both an empath and an entrepreneur. I know people who are either one of these things, but the embodiment of both qualities can be a powerful force for positive change in the world. That is, as long as these powers are used for good instead of evil of course! 🙂

    My sincerest condolences to you and your family.

    All the best

  29. Megan says:

    Thanks, Jonathan. It’s not surprising that you’ve attracted and retained so many empaths to your work. I, too, realized this about myself as a kid (but thought everyone was the same), buckled with it as a teenager and into my 20s (when I felt everything so acutely and was criticized for being “too sensitive”). When, later, I started to appreciate the superb gift in it, it began to fuel me and help others. As an empath, I make connections others don’t make easily. And so I realized that not having it would be far, far worse. I often comfort myself with this perspective after a painful “overload”…imagine the exquisite sense of experience and connection that would be lost to us without it. Including the realization of grief through a truly lived humanity (as you so honestly acknowledged to your daughter–you gave her a gift). Like you, I now appreciate what mindfulness offers. We empaths have very fluid (permeable) boundaries — it comes with the territory — and being aware of the need for boundaries (at times) has helped me. I really have to practice, though, because it goes against my natural inclination, which is to experience by osmosis! Thanks, again, and keep sharing!

  30. John Murphy says:

    Really loved this piece. I am a fairly recent convert to mindfulness and I find it extraordinary. As you say, it does not ‘fix” things but it helps to be fully where I should be. This is so important in our business relationships – to think about how we can best serve the person in front of us, and not just see them as a customer!

  31. Elisabetta says:

    Possibly we are all empath. Not all of us, however, have the maturity to admit it. Not all of us, however, have the tools and knowledge to accept it, to admit that we want to cry for someone else’s joy or for pain, to admit that we are vulnerable.

    Boys don’t cry, we were taught, and girls neither, to be accurate…

    To feel is to live and it comes with fear and courage. Our society is not very good to teach us this lesson. Your post helps us in the right direction. You said it with beautiful words.

    Thank you!

  32. I totally get this, Jonathan. And who knew there was a name for someone who feels deeply?!

    I get how it’s both a real strength, but can have a dark side too. I love being able to “be” with my coaching clients experience. But the danger for me is of losing my ability to think when there’s some deep and more negative feelings around. I suppose the way I’ve been trying to lean into this is in building an ability to name the feelings in the moment: sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, longing… It appears to deepen the connection and allow me to continue to be of service.

    Having said that, clients often appreciate that I was with them in whatever they were feeling. I suspect that for many that’s not an everyday experience.

  33. I agree with you Jonathan on so many points in this article. I have always been able to tap into to what people around me are feeling, and it’s so natural I just assumed it’s how we all operate. Of course, that has gotten me into a lot of trouble when it comes to my husband-he is not an empath! (haha).
    I never considered how it might help with my creativity, but you are right. When I do custom work, I really do connect with whomever I am working with, and want to create what I “feel” will most benefit them…maybe that is the empathy?
    On another point, you couldn’t be more right about mindfulness being a great tool for empaths (or anyone). When you are mindful, (hopefully through a regular meditation practice!) you are able to tap into the emotions and feelings that are yours, and become familiar with your own energy. Then, when you are around others, you begin to be aware of what is your energy (feelings) and what is possibly the feelings of others that are affecting you. This is so beneficial you not only you, but those that you are there to help. Boundaries are important for empaths…you cannot help someone out of a dark place if you are there with them. Thank you Jonathan for this thoughtful, insightful post!

  34. Tanya says:

    Thank you for this beautiful article. It could easily describe my life and my journey. I appreciate your leadership and please know sharing this made my day xo

  35. Jim says:

    Great post. I thought there was something wrong with me.
    I notice that this emotional response has gotten more intense or more sensitive for me as I have been going through career issues. I have been struggling with work and the ‘what am I supposed to do in this world’ question.
    I believe mindfulness will help guide us through to who we are and where we want to go.
    Thanks again for the writings.

  36. Emmanuelle says:

    Thank you Jonathan for this article.
    I read it last night and something clicked. It’s like an epiphany for me.
    Someone told me earlier this year I was highly sensitive and I brushed it off, then came back to it and remembered how many times my boyfriend had told be to toughen up a bit, and how many times I cry when I see pics or vids of animals being killed, when I can stand watching them at all – not often (yeah I’m a vegetarian).
    Now it turns out I’m more than hyper sensitive.

    Great as a yoga teacher because I can feel the energy in the room and tweak my class accordingly when needed, great as a coach because I always get what I called intuitive hits about what my clients are going through, not so great altogether because I realize that this work is draining me. So now is a time for me to reflect on what I really want to do and how, and how I can leverage this even better.

    At least I have yoga and grouding techniques I use – no wonder I need to ground myself regularly. My go-to practices when I feel overwhelmed are movement, and singing at the top of my lungs 😀 But you know what? This gives me a great idea for a blog post and / or video stuff, yoga for empaths 🙂 (To learn, I teach, yo)

  37. Elise says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I really enjoyed reading this…I can totally relate. In both being an emotional empath and finding mindfulness as a profound tool for being able to dance with this balance of being able to empathise but also being able to stand firm in my own reality. Rather than being pulled into the emotional quicksand with someone, having a capacity to ground oneself in the face of anothers pain, has helped me to compassionately stand on the edge of the quicksand of their emotional experience, yet reach out with a compassionate hand, from solid ground.

    Appreciate your writing and very excited to share your interview about mindfulness with the 2000 meditators who are currently being mindful in may.

  38. Thank you Jonathan for putting into words what I too have experienced my whole life as well. I cried reading your email. It struck a cord. I too cry at Hallmark shows. I actually lose all color in my face when touched by something. I recently purchased a painting by an autistic child in a silent auction and I could barely pay for it as I was shaking. I have come to accept myself as both an empathy and sensitive person — knowing it makes me a better person, coach, healer, teacher, spouse, and friend. And I too use meditation, sitting, and mindfulness as a way to gently filter what comes in deeply and what is too much.

    Thank you for being you. Mary Anne

  39. A friend forwarded this post to me and I am just grateful to you for writing with such authenticity. As a fellow empath, entrepreneur, and parent, I’m trying to navigate a world full of emotional obstacles. To make things more interesting, I have noticed the my 6-year old son has the same “gift.” I am still trying to figure out how to help him navigate it, but the good news is that he will be given some tools decades before I even realized that not everyone felt this way.

    I used to call it my “disability,” but more and more I see the gifts in being an empath/Highly Sensitive Person. It helps me connect with clients, family, friends, and it makes me a better writer. But dang, it can be hard sometimes!

    Thanks for being so open. Feeling inspired!

  40. Carol says:

    Creating in order to survive. Building a conduit to allow emotions to flow through you, instead of consuming you. I’m in the middle of this creative journey – and this article gave me that nervous/excited stomach feeling. Thank you.

  41. Margot says:

    Dear Jonathan,

    I feel you, because like you I feel other people, animals,
    and including babies, plants too. I also get pictures of their past and present (Humans), complete strangers. Sometimes I speak to them if I get visuals of them needing to forgive or let go of the past.
    Well, you do know their natural reaction is to look at you like a three headed creature from other space. Sometimes we can cry together, and I can lead that person into forgiving and letting go. I know God has given me this to heal others, but for many years, I wanted to hide from it!

    Its funny I broke from me hiding my gift, when someone had the audacity to try to rob and kill me! In my mind all I thought about was getting home to my children as a single parent. Since then I have ripped off the veil.

    God Bless


  42. Jasmin says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    Thanks so much for this. After carrying something around that has been stopping my applications for jobs, I realize it’s the empathy bug again. So good to know I’m not alone with this. Thanks to everyone’s comments, too!

  43. Otiti says:

    This is something I feel keenly on a daily basis. I’ve always been highly sensitive, and as a child/adolescent, I kept hearing I was too intense or too sensitive.

    Yet those very things make it so easy for me to relate to other people and really feel their pain. I get where they’re coming from. I see where they want to go. I see that really, we’re all looking for ways to be loved, be safe, and be productive.

    We want to feel that we matter, that we’re not alone, and that we’re worthy. We want to know that people will miss us when we’re gone, and seek us out while we’re still here.

    We want to FEEL.

    These are the things I know to be true: empathy is intense, but totally worth it because it shows we’re truly alive + plugged in to the present moment; feeling another person’s pain cracks open your heart + capacity to feel; intense emotions heighten your awareness of your environment and how it affects your thoughts, habits, desires, and actions.

    Thank you for writing this, Jonathan. You spoke the words that reflect my truth.

  44. Jonathan, you got inside my head and heart this morning. Wow, same here. I used to hate how things got to me. No longer though. I believe we are connected to the divine at those moments like your daughter tearing up. Thanks for writing. Thanks C.C. For sharing. -John

  45. Thanks for posting this Jonathan. I can completely relate, as I’ve always been empathetic as well and it took me years to understand why I felt so horrible when bad things happened to other people, especially when I didn’t even know them.

    One thing that has helped me is to not fight my emotions. I used to be so self-critical of my emotional-ness that I would fight how I felt and that only made matters wurst, I wore myself out! Now that I can let my feelings be and accept how I feel, I’m less consumed by my empathy. And as a result I’m able to better be there for others.

  46. Beautifully said. Thanks for sharing your experience and your new intentionality. I also believe that empaths create and express uniquely, and are gifts to the world. Without connecting to others like this, we lose the magic all around us.

  47. […] Feel To Live: The Secret Life Of An Empath by Jonathan Fields, (although I totally could have written […]

  48. Sheila says:

    Thank you for this post and all the other responses. It’s with tears in my eyes of gratitude that I sit and type this. Sometimes, I feel isolated in my feelings and empath-ness…..so knowing that there are others is comforting. I too have learned to work with this part of myself…..but am still VERY new at it. For a very long time I was taught to shut it down……ignore it…..stamp it down…….BUT it is part of who I am……so in doing those things I was not honouring myself…..so small baby steps….I am now allowing the feelings some space to just be and in the allowing comes true healing and acceptance. This aspect of me is not a flaw….is not something to be fixed or surgically removed…..it is beautiful and of value!

  49. Nikki says:

    Jonathan you stated what it is like so eloquently it has obviously resonated in the hearts of those who know exactly what you mean.

    There is a physical component to our gift which another person pointed out to me at a house party when she noted that my auric field changed with each new person I met to mirror theirs. She explained to me that while empaths do have their own resonance or frequency we have the ability to ‘move the radio dial’ as it were to step inside another’s moccasins and walk emotionally in their shoes which allows us a depth of understanding and communion with others.

    For those who struggle with their gift I just wanted to include the mindfulness of these words…”All that is not mine please leave.” and then learn to ‘ground yourself via your chakras’ during meditation. This can help immensely when we need to turn it off.

    These days I think of emotions as notes on a piano that we have the ability to resonate with to play the entire spectrum, which is neither good nor bad…they are simply notes! It’s a different way of looking at it I suppose 🙂

    It is my hope that someone who didn’t know they can control this thing learns that they absolutely can flip a switch if they need to for their own sanity. Tuning into others night and day can be quite exhausting otherwise…hhh


  50. Steve Vernon says:

    While reading the first couple of paragraphs of your post, I wondered if I, too, am an empath. Like you, I cry at Hallmark movies, and when I see an underdog meet a challenge and come out on top, my body sometimes actually shakes with emotion. But then there’s that more stoic side that has me standing off at a distance and looking at situations from an outsider’s point of view. Perhaps I have that necessary balance naturally built in? I don’t know. I’ve actually had close friends say I can be hard and non-feeling, but that’s not the case at all. I DO feel deeply, but I feel in a way that says, “That’s not my issue, it’s theirs.” Perhaps is the mindfulness of which you speak. Perhaps its from reading too much Eckhart Tolle and learning not to drag my own pain body into the other person’s emotional situation. But I think I was like this long before reading Tolle, although I do find myself now looking at situations from a much more objective perspective. Reading your post certainly gives me cause for thought and some self-assessment. Thank you Jonathan.

  51. Pamela Miles says:

    Being an empath can be an invaluable gift to anyone. It certainly is to me in my work as a healer and integrative health consultant. But it becomes a gift when we learn how to step out of it and use it in the same way we use other gifts. Until then, we get used by it.

  52. Jonathan, I started crying as I read starting in the middle of the post. I have always known I was empathic, but have only recently started understand that it is a gift that not everyone has – this explains a lot for me that I never understood before.

    Thank you for sharing your story and also talking about how to manage the impact with mindfulness. I have been working on mindfulness and meditation for a while and it can be tough when you are someone who doesn’t know how to turn things off and focus, but I believe I will be better for the effort. You have given me hope. Thank you, Allison