Our series “Cultivating Compassion” explores how you can be more empathetic and compassionate toward yourself and others.
The term “empath” has become a popular way to describe an empathetic person. Some traits of empathetic people are instantly recognizable trademarks, but, according to some experts, being an empathetic person is something we could all be, to some degree.
A true empath always goes out of their comfort zone and starts thinking, feeling, and acting for other people.
Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios
Like many other personality traits, empathy likely falls on a spectrum. “I think anyone can develop empathy,” says K.C. Davis, professional counselor, mental health TikTok influencer, and author of How to Keep House While Drowning.
Some professionals say there is a clear distinction between the empath and the average empathetic person. “We may all possess certain levels of empathy,” says Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, a board-certified psychiatrist. “But all of us cannot be considered an empath.”
“A true empath always goes out of their comfort zone and starts thinking, feeling, and acting for other people,” Nereida says. “They can feel another person’s happiness or sadness as a part of their own self.”
What are other traits of empathetic people? Here are four empath characteristics to look for in your relationships — and to even develop in yourself.
Empathetic people love to listen
If someone in your life, including yourself, loves to listen calmly to deep and authentic emotions in others — even gaining energy and happiness in doing so — they may just be an empathetic person.
All this may have to do with an empathetic person’s desire for real and gratifying emotional connection, says Melissa Parks, social worker and mental health TikTok influencer.
“You don’t have to convince an empath that we, as humans, are wired for authentic connection because they can’t help but feel that draw to connect,” Melissa says. “Which is lovely, because we know at the heart of healing is connection.”
If you feel healed after a good conversation with someone or just being in their presence, that’s a good sign of strong empathy.
“Empathetic people think very deeply about others around them as if the emotions of others are a part of their own experience,” Nereida says. She also says it’s best to relate your feelings calmly and objectively to avoid draining empathetic people. The more empathetic someone is — and the more you confront them directly with anger— the more likely they will shut down.
“Empaths do not like conflicts and fights,” Nereida says. “They are highly peace-loving people, and readily absorb the emotional responses of others and make them their own.”
Empathetic people are intuitive
Many people — including both empaths and empathetic people — are incredibly intuitive, which can seem almost like a psychic sixth sense. But how does that work?
“Empathetic people can pick up subtle cues, such as facial expressions and non-verbal gestures, to actually understand how the other person might be feeling in that moment,” Nereida says.
Having learned how to put all these cues together quickly, it can seem magical — or even psychic — when an empathetic person is intuitive enough to pick up on precisely how you feel, and with little to go on.
Empathetic people are incredibly compassionate
Compassion blends the empathetic person’s intuition and love of listening into one. This characteristic allows empaths and empathetic people to be experts at empathizing and putting themselves in other people’s shoes.
Besides listening and relating, another empath quality you may pick up on is the need to be alone more often than other people. In fact, many empathetic people may intentionally be introverted so they can recharge or reserve some of that compassion back to themselves.
“Aside from their natural connection to others and to their own inner experience, many empaths prefer a lot of alone time to balance out the time spent feeling with others, ” Melissa says. “Which is also lovely, because it can model healthy boundaries for us all.”
Empathetic people are sensitive in the best way
Things that stimulate a lot of people — social interactions, small talk, having a busy schedule — could have an overwhelming effect on the empath or empathetic person. On the other hand, creativity, the arts, and making social or environmental justice issues a part of their personal or professional lives isn’t uncommon. A love of nature and animals, too, can be an almost certain sign of someone who is empathetic.
“Empathetic people may feel at home with nature and all it has to offer as it overwhelms our senses,” Melissa says, noting nature’s ability to restore and soothe empathetic people.
Aniko Dunn, Psy. D, says empathetic people are capable of a high level of empathy and a desire to make the world a better place.
“They spend more amounts of time in humanitarian or charitable activities than self-centered projects,” Aniko says.
Whether you feel you’re an empath, an empathetic person, or would like to be more empathetic, these classic traits of empathetic people can help give you a head start in developing more empathy for yourself and in your relationships.
Empathy gifts to show you care
We can all use a little more kindness in the world. Shop our empathy gifts collection for empathetic gifts to let your friends and family know you’re thinking of them.