What It Means to Live as an Empath


By Signe Myers Hovem

Author of The Space in Between: An Empaths Field Guide

Looking at the titles of books written for empaths and sensitive people, you can easily imagine  life as a burden, full of emotional and mental management. These titles are bold-cased variations  of “Survive,” “Thrive,” and to ultimately be “Empowered.” And while it’s true that being empathic has its challenges to master—mainly learning to not take on the emotional flotsam awash in the environment—I want to focus on the rewards of an empathic nature. 


An empathic nature feels deeply and profoundly, propelling a person into spaces immersively. This sensitive nature recognizes fundamental truths about the world we live in: that we are sensory, energetic, creative, multidimensional beings, and we are all connected. Empaths are like scientists doing field work; we must be discerning about what we pick up via our empathic reception—letting the experience reveal itself as fully as possible before presuming to know or understand what we’re sensing. Sometimes, the energy of a room, or emanating from a person, feels like a riddle to be solved, but most times, it’s nuanced and we can allow ourselves a more gentle discovery. How patient are you in letting things reveal themselves? If you aren’t a very patient person, then I can assure you, your empathic nature will cultivate this virtue and help you move away from default knee-jerk reactions when encountering nebulous or hard-to-define sensations. 

An empathic nature also aligns with a poet’s lane of feeling and intuiting, which is the essence of an empath. As a guest blogger of Spiritual Media Blog, I’m asked to write about 750 words: on one hand, that offers just a superficial glance to explain to others what it means to live as an empath; but on the other hand, that’s a lot of words when a haiku would suffice, or even a dash from an Emily Dickinson poem. In my book, The Space in Between: An Empaths Field Guide, I explore the breadth of experience in feeling a recognizable known that is nonetheless unnamed. This empathic sensibility is very much the visceral experience that a poem can produce in its reader. The sensory relationship between an empath and nature or humanity can be seductive and intimate.


I am a subscriber to Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar Letters.In her September 30th letter, Vespers, she highlights an exercise that the Swedish-American poet Malena Mörling presented to her graduate students: they were required to listen repeatedly to a poem in a language they didn’t understand and then translate it into English.

“Their mission wasn’t to know what the words meant, but rather to hear them, to feel them, to imagine them, and then to conjure something from within themselves to translate the impossible mystery of those words into a poem of their own creation in a language they knew. . . . as audacious and nonsensical as it first seems, the task is ultimately what poetry—and life—require us to do: attempt to make clarity and meaning out of the incomprehensible.” 

If you want to know what it is like to live as an empath, whether or not you characterize yourself as such, begin by accepting that your body and senses reside partly in mystery. Your nature is to sense balance between the energetic realm of emotions and thoughts and the physical realm of relationships and communication. Mörling’s exercise in faux-translation as emotional understanding is an exceptional point of entry into comprehending an empath’s life. Living abroad, and in countries where I did not have fluency or function in the native language, I have lived this exercise many times over. A language may not be my own, but the registry of human emotions is universal. Our ability and willingness to let empathy be the language that names the nuances and the subtleties of emotions—and to sense balance within that expression—is what it ultimately means to be an empath.

I often remark “If you are an empath, you are on a spiritual path.” This connective and sensitive nature requires you to find balance in yourself, to accept your own life experiences, and to be open and vulnerable to bear witness to the world. Only you can determine what that means, looks like, and feels like, but know this: your sensory nature presents a multitude of opportunities to connect and witness nature and humanity. Your empathic nature is among the most authentic parts of you, hardwired into your sensory nervous system, and integrating it into your life as wisdom and guidance is ultimately about being comfortable in your own skin. 


Signe Myers Hovem is the author of The Space in Between: An Empaths Field Guide. She has created homes on five continents over twenty years, raised four uniquely sensitive children, pursued a special education lawsuit appealed to the US Supreme Court, volunteered in a hospice in Texas and an orphanage in Azerbaijan, worked as a spiritual counselor in Houston Texas, and taught workshops and trainings in the art of being an empath and the power of language in many countries around the world. She splits her time between Boulder, Colorado, and  Oslo, Norway. For more information, please visit https://www.smhovem.com