Are You an Empath or an Empathetic Person? How to Tell the Difference

Updated on March 17, 2020
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A teacher and writer, Sage shares her love of Paganism and Witchcraft through online videos, books, articles, classes and workshops.

Psychic vs. Psychology

If you look up the words 'empathic' and 'empathetic' in the dictionary, you would discover that they are used interchangeably in mundane language. Both words are rooted in the Greek word empatheia, meaning 'in feeling'.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This is a very important human trait that society tries to instill in children from a young age. Like most traits, if out of balance, it can be problematic.

Those in the psychic and magical community tend to make a distinction between being empathic and being empathetic. One is seen as a psychic ability, and the other is a psychological trait.

Emotional Overload


Too Much Feeling

A moderate amount of empathy is normal and healthy because it helps us relate to each other as human beings. Some people lack empathy, such as psychopaths and sociopaths, and this can make them difficult people to deal with at best, or threats to society at worst. On the flip side, there are those who seem to express an extraordinary amount of empathy.

Psychologist call it Hyper Empathy Syndrome or Emotional Reactivity. It refers to people who feel so much empathy towards others and take on other people's suffering to such an extent that it becomes a burden. Feeling too badly for others who are in pain or who are depressed can cause a person with extreme empathy to experience the emotions just as intently, with their body releasing the same stress hormones and going through the same fight-or-flight reaction as if they were the ones experiencing the problem first-hand. They have trouble emotionally distancing themselves. This emotional overload can be draining.

Both empathetic and empathic people experience a heightened emotional reaction towards others, but the difference is in what causes the reaction. For the empathetic person, it's psychological. For the empathic person, it's psychic.

Empathetic vs. Empathic

An empathetic person is someone who may have experienced unresolved emotional traumas while growing up. They may have developed unhealthy emotional attachments in early childhood or may have grown up in an environment that fostered a lot of anxiety and guilt. Either way, their situation is due to environmental causes. The same person growing up in an entirely different environment may have never developed the problem.

For an empathic person, however, the problem goes beyond environment. They are experiencing a psychic ability. The environment may contribute to how they handle this overload, but the overload is coming more from their own psychic antenna than it is from their upbringing. Even if they had been brought up in an ideal environment, they would still pick up on and be affected by the emotional state of others to a greater extent than the average person.

It can be difficult to tell the difference sometimes, but there are some hints that can show you whether you are empathetic or a true empath.

Interaction: A Key Difference

Empathetic people have to have some kind of interactions with a person in order to begin experiencing empathy. It's based on communication, either verbal or non-verbal. An empathetic person picks up on body language, social cues, or listens to another person express themselves. They may cry when watching commercials that tug at the heart strings, or find themselves getting worked up over someone else's sob story.

Either way, the empathetic person is aware of the other person's emotional state, and/or the situation causing that emotional state. It is at that point that they begin to get overwhelmed with emotions.

If an empathetic person was sitting back to back with an extremely depressed person, unless the depressed person made some kind of noises or outward expression, the empathetic person would never know it, and therefore never have an emotional reaction.

Psychic empaths do not need to have this kind of interaction or awareness. Of course, an empathic person will also pick up emotions through communication and interpersonal interactions too, but they don't need it. They are picking up on a person's 'vibes'.

An empath can sit in a room and be perfectly fine. Some stranger happens to sit behind him or near him, and all of a sudden the empath starts experiencing new emotions that seem to come out of left field. The empath doesn't have to know or talk to an individual, doesn't have to be looking at the individual, or even know that the individual is there. An empath can even pick up emotions from a complete stranger sitting on the other side of a wall.

An empathic person is less likely to get all worked up over a commercial or over an actor's monologue in a play, because they're not an actor's real emotions. They will pick up on emotions that another person is burying or hiding, however, and they'll feel it even if they don't make direct contact with that person. Just being in proximity is enough for their intuitive antennae to pick up the vibes.


Range vs. All Negativity

An empathic person who is psychically picking up emotional vibrations will experience a whole range of emotions from other people. On a bus ride to the library, the empath might all of a sudden begin feeling sexually aroused for what seems to be no reason. It might be coming from a couple on the back of the bus who are having an affair and they are on their way to have a tryst at some seedy motel.

On that same bus ride, those sexy feelings might all of a sudden be pushed aside as a great rush of joy and relief washes over the empath. This is because the woman who just got on the bus just found out she won the lottery, and she's positively radiating with elation.

Then the empath may be overcome with love, something he is picking up from the nearby mother who is cooing at her newborn baby. This may give way to feelings of extreme sadness when a recent widower in mourning steps on the bus.

The psychic empath will pick up all kinds of emotions, negative and positive, based on whatever random people happen to be in proximity.

Alternatively, empathetic people will usually only soak up negative emotions. This is because the empathetic person struggles with emotional intelligence and stability. If someone else is feeling happy, confident, energetic, peaceful, etc., the empathetic person has no reason to be overwhelmed because everything is okay. It's only when someone is suffering pain or heartache that the empathetic person has trouble handling it.

Personal Emotional Control

When then empath is in a calm, quiet environment, such as his own home, he's actually quite emotionally stable. Empaths usually have a high degree of emotional intelligence and are good at dealing with their own emotions. This is because they have so much experience with emotions—their own and others—that at a young age they had to start learning how to process emotions effectively.

Emotions empaths may struggle with are the ones they pick up from others. It's the overload that burdens them because it can come on so suddenly and without warning.

An empathetic person does not do very well with their own emotional control. When they fall in love, they fall so hard and deep that they are practically drowning in it. When they're happy, they're on top of the world, and when they're sad they plummet to the depths of despair. When provoked to anger, they struggle not to lash out and strike.

By extension, in their compassion for others, their empathy works overtime and they struggle with other people's emotions as if it were their own.

Easily Manipulated vs. Hard to Deceive

An empathetic person is easily swayed by emotional appeals and arguments, and is thus easily manipulated by those who like to wield things like guilt, fear and love as weapons. An empathetic person is vulnerable to those who would take advantage of their overdeveloped sense of compassion and caring, and their inability to detach themselves emotionally.

An empathic individual is a bit more savvy due to that psychic intuition. They are better able to pick up on it when they're being played or deceived. They don't fall for sob stories or crocodile tears very easily. It's harder to con them with emotional dramatics.

Detachment and Diffusion

The best thing anyone with too much empathy can do is learn how to detach themselves and defuse in the midst of emotional turmoil. You might think this would be harder for an empath (psychic), but actually it is easier for an empath to learn how to handle their empathy than it is for an empathetic person.

Once again, empathetic people suffer due to being raised in an environment that failed to instill a healthy means of processing and controlling emotions. In order to undo the psychological damage requires a great deal of work, ideally with a good therapist, and it can take years of effort.

Empathic people might have grown up in such an environment as well, but because they have always had such a degree of emotional awareness on a higher level, they are more likely to overcome it. Thus, in order to learn to detach and diffuse from the emotions they are picking up from others, they need to learn psychic techniques to protect themselves. This can be accomplished through meditation and experimentation, and fairly quickly. In fact, an empath who has been struggling with all the incoming emotional vibrations can make remarkable progress within just a few weeks of learning how to ground, shield, cleanse and channel emotions that are not their own.

This is why it benefits you to find out if you're a psychic empath. You may have been pegged by people as someone who is too sensitive, moody, or who gets overly-emotional, but this is because so few understand your ability. They will act like you have a weakness, when in reality you are simply wrestling with an extraordinary gift.

With effort, you can learn to control your ability, and even use it to benefit yourself and society.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Mackenzie Sage Wright


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    • profile image


      15 months ago

      How would you make an amulet protective? I’ve been trying to find reliable sources of spells and I haven’t had any luck. You have mentioned amulets in previous articles do you have any spells or ways of charging a amulet for protection?

    • boo77boo profile image


      15 months ago from uk

      Ok guys i know ive already commented before but i got more empaths pick up things as you said on an unconsious level so say if you were sitting there with a few people not speaking just listening to what was been spoken and suddenly you heard a dialouge of words a couple of sentences in your head and almost a couple of mins later the person next you repeated those sentences word for word would that be classed as been an empath, ive also heard somebody was sitting opposite a very young child in a cafe he said he was just sipping his coffee glancing up now and then and a single word came into his head, five or six seconds later the child repeated that single word and said nothing for some time after that now dont tell me its considence theres got to be more to it

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      15 months ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      There are some people, who have developed psychic abilities besides being empathetic by nature. I have heard about such people but haven't met them personally. So it's better to be an empathetic person because we find that the trait of empathy is fast disappearing from the people, which is not good for the society.

      I also don't believe and promote religious superstitious beliefs but follow only spiritual tenets. That is why I always respect spiritual tenets of all religions because they have the same motive, that is, the welfare of our society.

      It is, in fact, the religious dogmatism that creates dissent in the society. And religious superstitions are a part of religious dogmatism.

      Thanks again for your nice views.

    • boo77boo profile image


      15 months ago from uk

      Can this been an empath affect the way we think compared to non empaths the worst part about been empath i should imagine is picking up on negative feelings of someone who is suffering mentally

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      15 months ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for an enlightening article. You have explained nicely the difference between an empathetic person and a psychic empath.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      15 months ago from Beautiful South

      This is truly an interesting and enlightening article, and I hung onto every word. Some people are both. If a person can't decide which he or she is, it may be an indication that the person is both.

      I am some of both, mainly an empath, but not to the point of being a psychic. But I believe that an empath has to have some empathetic feelings, too.

      It is very common for people (like me) to have been born into "muggle" families (Thank you J.K. Rowling), and then have their abilities squelched and stifled by well-meaning parents. Later in their lives, they realize what has been done to them, and start making up for lost time and hidden abilities. I think that is why the Wiccan and spiritual movements are gaining so much headway today.

      After I "came out" as an empath and let my atheist father know that I didn't believe his BS about superstitions anymore, my mother confided to me that she had abilities, too. Before she died, we had some nice conversations about our alleged "superstitious" beliefs.


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