Empaths do not have an on/off switch on their abilities. They can’t just decide to not feel or immerse themselves in other people’s emotions. Empathy is the ability to relate to the feelings and emotions of others beyond your perspective, or outside your own reference.  It’s more complicated than merely “understanding” other people’s joys and troubles. Empaths immerse themselves in these external emotions, almost as though they are sharing in the other person’s mental state.
Empaths are intensely sensitive people who can pick up on the energies around them. There’s no confirmed theory on how people become empaths, although it is believed that some of us may enter the world with more sensitivity than others.  They are more responsive to external influences and may even be able to react to adult expressions. Some people are born empaths, while others may learn from human interaction. Another theory explains that people who pay attention to the emotions of others may become cognitive empaths, eventually developing the ability to embrace another person’s state of mind.
Empaths are also believed to possess highly sensitive mirror neuron systems (MNS). The MNS is a group of specialized neurons that allows humans and animals to mirror the actions and feelings of others.  When an empath listens to another person narrate something happy or sad while watching their body movements, their brains would cause them to mirror the same actions and emotions, basically immersing themselves in the other person’s emotional state.
“They cause the brain to act as if we were going through whatever that other person is experiencing. The bond to empathy looks pretty clear.” (Marsh, 2012)
They feel everything – the good and the bad
As mentioned earlier, there’s no on/off switch for an empath’s abilities. They don’t always get to choose when to feel and when to shut off. As long as they are within sight, hearing or breathing space of another person, they’ll feel what the person feels. It’s a scary reality for some people because not all emotions are light and positive.
Empaths have a dark side, and sometimes, it may become too heavy to carry the guilt, grief, sadness, disappointment, anger, hate, despair, and fear of others. The negative emotions may get overwhelming and can cause an empath to deal with mood swings, anxiety, and breakdowns. They are emotionally strong people but they can only take in so much negative energy at a time.
Here’s what you should know: 
Empaths are vulnerable to all kind of influences
If you walk into a room with a bright, happy, and brilliant expression on your face, an empath would light up with the same emotion in anticipation of your story. They’ll also react the same way if you walk in with a neutral expression and just a tiny hint of pain in your eyes. Empaths would catch onto the slightest vibrations and energies in the atmosphere. They are highly susceptible to toxic influences and just the tiniest disturbance in the force can cause them to experience a change in mood.
The light and dark sides of life exist in their hearts
Positive vibrations and negative energies are always co-existing in an empath at any time. These powerfully opposing forces constantly struggle for dominance, and it takes only a slight addition to either to tip the scale. They have few moments of neutrality, and if you have an empath within your home, work, or social circle, it might be helpful to keep negative emotions away from them once in a while. Chances are, they’ll most likely sense it, but it’s somehow better to not express it, especially when they are already stressed and moody.
Relationships are tough for empaths
A relationship requires a certain level of emotional connection and dedication that empaths cannot easily attain with someone else. They tend to keep their lovers at a safe distance because if they let you in too deeply, they’d become obsessively protective. If empaths can fully absorb the feelings of a stranger and feel their sadness and misery, how much so a person they are romantically inclined to?
They’ll always want to keep their loved ones safe from the dark vibrations around them, and it just makes it difficult to love someone and still give them a breathing space. This is why empaths are often loners, even though they crave love and affection. When they finally find the right person for their sensitive souls, it’s always a union with a powerful emotional connection.
They are filled with inner conflicts
Even though it’s tough to shut off their feelings, empaths may still try. They are usually torn between trying to stay neutral and letting all of someone’s emotions into their own minds. They are always reeling from the vibrations, the energies, the pulls of another’s aura, and this can be very mentally exhausting.
They may eventually break down from excessive mental stress
Empaths are powerful beings but they are not invincible. They may occasionally break down from all the mental strain, especially with not being able to act on their feelings. Empaths mostly just observe and feel different things without physically acting out. On rare occasions, they may try to help a person work through their emotions. Along with the positive vibes, they experience all the anxiety, pain attacks, fear, depression, and trepidation running through another person’s mind. It’s only a matter of time before the bad outweighs the good.
A good way to help an empath is to lock away negative emotions when they are around and already moody. They are great listeners and kind helpers, but they can only take in so much at a time.
If you’re an empath, you might try to cut yourself some slack by staying away from scenarios that may trigger you negatively. This is not a weakness — it’s a strength to recognize when your body, mind, and soul have taken enough.
- Kendra Cherry. What Is Empathy? Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562
- Judith Orloff. 4 Reasons Why People Become Empaths: From Trauma to Genetics. Dr. Judith Orloff. https://drjudithorloff.com/4-reasons-why-people-become-empaths-from-trauma-to-genetics/
- Rajmohan and Mohandas. Mirror neuron system. NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2900004/
- Crystal Raypole. 15 Signs You Might Be an Empath. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-an-empath