4 Reasons Why People Become Empaths: From Trauma to Genetics


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Empaths Survival GuideWhy do people become empaths? Is it temperament? Genetics? Trauma? Neglectful or supportive parental upbringing? As a psychiatrist and an empath, I’ve seen that the following four main factors (which I expand upon in my book The Empath’s Survival Guide) can contribute to heightening one’s sensitivities.

Reason 1. Temperament. Some babies enter the world with more sensitivity than others—an inborn temperament. You can see it when they come out of the womb. They’re much more responsive to light, smells, touch, movement, temperature, and sound. These infants seem to be empaths from the start.

Reason 2. Genetics. Also, from what I’ve observed with my patients, some forms of sensitivity may be genetically transmitted. Highly sensitive children can come from mothers and fathers with the same inborn traits. Therefore, it is possible that sensitivity can also be genetically transmitted through families.

Reason 3. Trauma. Childhood neglect or abuse can affect your sensitivity levels as an adult. A portion of empaths I’ve treated have experienced early trauma such as emotional or physical abuse, or they were raised by alcoholic, depressed or narcissistic parents. This could potentially wear down the usual healthy defenses that a child with nurturing parents develops. As a result of their upbringing, they typically don’t feel “seen” by their families, and feel invisible in the greater world that doesn’t value sensitivity.

Reason 4. Supportive Parenting. On the other hand, positive parenting can help sensitive children develop and honor their gifts. Parents are powerful role models for all children, especially sensitive ones.

In all cases, however, we empaths haven’t learned to defend against stress in the same way as others do. We’re different in that respect. A noxious stimulus, such as an angry person, crowds, noise, or bright light can agitate us since our threshold for sensory overload is extremely low.

Healing is possible for all sensitive people. Even if you’ve experienced early trauma or have been raised by abusive parents, it’s important that you learn to feel safe enough to embrace your sensitivities now. Part of this involves learning to set healthy boundaries with others and choosing positive people in your circle who can be supportive of your sensitivities. In addition, protection and centering techniques and meditations can help to strengthen your core so you can be both strong and sensitive. In The Empath’s Survival Guide I outline numerous techniques that you can use in your life to feel safe and secure as an empath.

The goal is for empaths to be empowered and use their sensitivities to be loving to themselves, their intimates, and create love in the world.

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.



Judith Orloff, MD is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Her latest book Thriving as an Empath offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people along with its companion The Empath’s Empowerment Journal. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA and has a TEDX talk. Her other books are Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive HealingExplore more information about her Empath Support Online course and speaking schedule on www.drjudithorloff.com.

Connect with Judith on  Facebook Twitter and Instagram.

10 thoughts on “4 Reasons Why People Become Empaths: From Trauma to Genetics

  1. Interestingly enough, my dearest grandmother told me that I was born this way. She was very protective of me. I, too, had early childhood trauma. Chicken or egg? I am not sure. I am sure that today, it is just fine that I am an empath which is progress. I am grateful that Dr. Orloff decided to write a book about it! She could help millions!

  2. I know how you feel. I’ll be 39 next week and kept this a secret my whole life. I tell people I have dreams, but that’s it. And their not dreams. I go to that place. I actually leave my body and go to that place in time. It started when I was 7. The first time I was standing at my mother’s grave. I didn’t understand because I was so young and jumped in the grave on top of her casket. Then I was back in my body, I woke up sweating, crying, hysterical. I had no one to turn too. I still don’t. I medicate myself to block my mind out. I am so empathic I actually gave myself seizure’s in my 20’s. On purpose. Crazy right? But I knew I wouldn’t die.

  3. I was born different it seems to run through my mother’s side but even with them being different from most people I was more of the odd one out. There is so much we can do. We can sense things around us. Connect with nature and animals. That’s always brought me peace. It helps calms you and find a balance as long as don’t have to many near it can also get overwelming. I was never good with people unless they needed me. I was known as the freak i could pick up certain thoughts. I would always get the negative like a sponge. I had lost myself took me forever to figure out all the emotions and feelings were not my own. My family and i see spirits but the difference is the don’t get the vibes I do I can tell more then they can. A lot of my family turn to alcohol and or drugs to help cope and become mean. My youngest he is more like me with somethings since he was born people would get creeped out some would smile and say he can see your soul he is sensitive. So what I am wondering is if it’s genetic. Also why does doctors make try to medicate and make you doubt.

  4. I have a couple of questions. I know my older daughter is an empath. That was shown to me by a teacher last year. My daughter has always had a soft heart for her friends and people around her. She will always comfort and help then go home and explode so to say. Is that normal per say?
    My youngest is the bigger worry. She is the kid with a few close friends that drift in and out easily. The alone time with her is a big thing. Stuffed animals are her comfort. She is a night owl. Bed time at 9 and will come back to us by 10 just wanting to cuddle. But when her and her sister start arguing, is it because they are either both over stimulated, or one or the other? Usually over super simple things like the placement of a book or toy.

    1. My girls are exactly the same. They have just got their own rooms, and I think the youngest12yrs, is missing her sister(15yrs) already. But they argued sooo badly about really small things, hurtful comments and yelling at each other.
      Fingers crossed they become closer again now they have their own private space 🥰

  5. My whole life I was told I was autistic but just last week a psychic told me I’m an Emotional Empath. After hearing that I did some research and it makes more sense. I grew up with a mother that was always stressed out and I would always have “meltdowns” a lot but ever since I kicked her out of my life I’ve felt stress free. I’ve never felt “normal” but again i was told that I’m autistic. I would always get these feelings when I’m around people that something was wrong and just always ask if they were ok. I would also get these small V͏i͏sions at random, sometimes over nothing big like knowing who’s going to make the winning shot in a game or just a feeling of what the numbers will be. I’ve never told anyone about this because I was scared that they wouldn’t believe me or call me crazy. I’ve never accepted myself as autistic which is what a doctor told my parents when I was 3 years old but at 22 I really believe I am an Empath.

  6. Do you think early childhood traumas can create an empath? Or more just heighten a person’s sensitivity levels?

    Your first two reasons speak to empaths being born as empaths. Are there situations you know of where people become empaths later in life?

    1. At the beginning of the post it is stated that these are “four main factors (that) can contribute to heightening one’s sensitivities.” I think that means that one or more could be true for each individual, a combo that might be different from person to person.

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