After having tried to explain to a number of people with some futility, here is the shortest and craziest explanation that seems to work: they’re kind of like telepaths, except that instead of thoughts, they receive feelings.
An empath is not just an empathic person (and actually doesn’t have to be empathic – that depends on their personality). It’s a person with a specific psychic sense that they can use to help others (which they are often naturally drawn to), but they don’t automatically have to, or are able to.
I know that there is also another definition of empath, referring more to character traits such as being sensitive, empathic, emotionally and spiritually open, etc. I’ve seen different sources use different terminologies, but I call people in this latter category (sorry for categorising us!) “sensitives”, or highly sensitive persons, or HSPs (for a more established term).
My site is addressed to sensitives, too – and besides, most empaths are also highly sensitive persons – but it tends (at least for the moment) to focus on resources for the people who, like me, have a relatively unexplored, confusing psi(-like) power that is wonderfully enriching but can drive you nuts before you learn to control and use it.
If in doubt whether this is relevant for you, or for an idea of what it’s like to experience such a funny feature, the following discuss examples (as do many other articles on here):
Two more posts driving the terminology differences home:
Note: this is how I use these words at the moment. I don’t assert that this is the “right” way – bottom line, there is no “right” way with words, they are simply convention, after all. I just want you to understand what I mean when using these words.
Being trained as a neuroscientist, I am aware of the existing psychological and neuroscientific theories on (traditional, non-psychic) empathy. I hope to write more on this and why I think it’s different from (psychic) empaths, but for now you can check Empath meets neuroscience. It took me over a year to even take this psi theory seriously after someone “diagnosing” me, despite having had plenty of these experiences since childhood, so I empathise if you think it’s all a hype and fluke. I hope you still find some of these pages interesting and I’m always happy to hear back if you have questions, something resonates, or you beg to differ (I’m also a philosopher and enjoy – productive, civil – disagreement).