Empathic Illnesses: Do You Absorb Other People’s Symptoms?


Are you an empath? Take the test here to determine your empath score.

Take the test >


Empaths Survival GuideEmpathic illnesses are those in which you manifest symptoms that are not your own. Many patients have come to me labeled “agoraphobic” with panic disorders, chronic depression, fatigue, pain, or mysterious ailments that respond only partially to medications or psychotherapy. Some were nearly housebound or ill for years. They’d all say, “I dread being in crowds. Other people’s anger, stress, and pain drain me, and I need a lot of alone time to refuel my energy.” When I took a close history of all these patients I found that they were what I call “physical empaths:” people whose bodies are so porous they absorb the symptoms of others. I relate because I am one. Physical empaths do not have the defenses that others have to screen things out. As a psychiatrist, knowing this significantly changed how I treated these patients. My job became teaching them to center and protect themselves, set healthy boundaries, and let go of energy they picked up from others.

To determine if you are a physical empath take the following quiz.

Quiz: Am I a Physical Empath?
Ask yourself:

  • Have I been labeled as overly sensitive or a hypochondriac?
  • Have I ever sat next to someone who seemed nice but suddenly my eyelids got heavy and I felt like taking a nap?
  • Do I feel uneasy, tired, or sick in crowds and avoid them?
  • Do I feel someone else’s anxiety or physical pain in my body?
  • Do I feel exhausted by angry or hostile people?
  • Do I run from doctor to doctor for medical tests, but I’m told “You’re fine.”
  • Am I chronically tired or have many unexplained symptoms
  • Do I frequently feel overwhelmed by the world and want to stay home?
  • If you answered “yes” to 1-3 questions you are at least part empath. Responding yes to 4 to5 questions indicates you have moderate degree of physical empathy. 6 to 7 “yeses” indicate you have a high degree of empathy. Eight yeses indicate you are a full blown empath.

    Discovering that you are a physical empath can be a revelation. Rest assured: You are not crazy. You are not a malingerer or hypochondriac. You are not imagining things, though your doctor might treat you like a nuisance. You are a sensitive person with a gift that you must develop and successfully manage.

    Strategies to Surrender Toxic Energy

    Physical empathy doesn’t have to overwhelm you. Now that I can center myself and refrain from taking on other people’s pain, empathy has made my life more compassionate, insightful, and richer. Here are some secrets to thriving as a physical empath that I’ve learned so that it doesn’t take a toll on my health.

     9 Strategies To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Illness and Pain 

  • Evaluate. First, ask yourself: Is this symptom or emotion mine or someone else’s? It could be both. If the emotion such as fear or anger is yours, gently confront what’s causing it on your own or with professional help. If it’s not yours, try to pinpoint the obvious generator.
  • Move away. When possible, distance yourself by at least twenty feet from the suspected source. See if you feel relief. Don’t err on the side of not wanting to offend strangers. In a public place, don’t hesitate to change seats if you feel a sense of “dis-ease” imposing on you.
  • Know your vulnerable points. Each of us has a body part that is more vulnerable to absorbing others’ stress. Mine is my gut. Scan your body to determine yours. Is it you neck? Do you get sore throats? Headaches? Bladder infections? At the onset of symptoms in these areas, place your palm there and keep sending loving-kindness to that area to soothe discomfort. For longstanding depression or pain, use this method daily to strengthen yourself. It’s comforting and builds a sense of safety and optimism.
  • Surrender to your breath. If you suspect you are picking up someone else’s symptoms, concentrate on your breath for a few minutes. This is centering and connects you to your power.
  • Practice Guerilla Meditation. To counter emotional or physical distress, act fast and meditate for a few minutes. Do this at home, at work, at parties, or conferences. Or, take refuge in the bathroom. If it’s public, close the stall. Meditate there. Calm yourself. Focus on positivity and love.
  • Set healthy limits and boundaries. Control how much time you spend listening to stressful people, and learn to say “no.” Remember, “no” is a complete sentence.
  • Visualize protection around you. Visualize an envelope of white light around your entire body. Or with extremely toxic people, visualize a fierce black jaguar patrolling and protecting your energy field against intruders.
  • Develop X ray vision. The spaces between the vertebrae in your lower back (lumbar spine) are conducive to eliminating pain from the body. It’s helpful to learn to mindfully direct pain out of these spaces by visualizing it leaving your body. Say goodbye to pain as it blends with the giant energy matrix of life!
  • Take a bath or shower. A quick way to dissolve stress is to immerse yourself in water. My bath is my sanctuary after a busy day. It washes away everything from bus exhaust to long hours of air travel to pesky symptoms I have taken on from others. Soaking in natural mineral springs divinely purifies all that ails.
  • Keep practicing these strategies. By protecting yourself and your space, you can create a magical safe bubble around you that nurtures you, while simultaneously driving negative people away. Don’t panic if you occasionally pick up pain or some other nasty symptom. It happens. With strategies I discuss in my book to surrender other people’s symptoms you can have quicker responses to stressful situations. This will make you feel safer, healthier, and your sensitivities can blossom.

    Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People (Sounds True, 2017)



    Judith Orloff, MD is a New York Times bestselling author with the upcoming book The Genius of Empathy: Practical Skills to Heal Yourself, Your Relationships and the World (Foreword by the Dalai Lama). She has also written The Empath’s Survival Guide and Thriving as an Empath, which offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people. She integrates the pearls of conventional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, empathy, energy medicine, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice and online internationally. Her 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, TEDx U.S. and TEDx Asia. More information about Dr. Orloff’s Empathy Training Programs for businesses, The Empath Survival Guide Online Course and speaking schedule at www.drjudithorloff.com.

    Connect with Judith on  FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

    21 thoughts on “Empathic Illnesses: Do You Absorb Other People’s Symptoms?

    1. The first time I felt physical pain of another was when I was really young it woke me like a big boulder rolled over me , later to find a grandparent had passed ( I had a vision too but was unaware of illness) , I have had visions randomly since then felt the pain creeping up on me, now I feel it when I know something is going to happen to someone familiar with me (can be very random) I don’t often get it with strangers but starting to I need to learn how to deal with this as it is very physically and emotionally draining, Another empath may touch me and be very warm to me but once touched they have a very strong feeling about the pain I feel . I am not depressed and I don’t have anxiety I am very focused.

    2. I am a Physical and emotional Empath. I take on the pain of others. I live yards away from a nursing home and the flat I am couch surfing in surrounding units are frail people with illnesses and ailments. I have a pet name for it. But I know I must leave. For the sake of my sanity. Move forward and learn by living where I was. I know we all have different beliefs, but if you believe in God, ask him for help, and as hurting and confused as I am now, I know within my heart he will. But each to his own beliefs.
      Love and Light to all xx

    3. I’m exhausted, it’s getting worse. I have now started to tell people to please not talk about or tell me their pain, allergies, illnesses and I laugh when I’m saying it because I think I sound crazy but it’s getting me down now, it’s constant ailments that are not mine that can last for days. I also know that them not telling me is not the answer because they actually don’t even have to, I literally pick up on it. I know I am a very emotional empathic person, always been that way as long as I can remember, lol cry at adverts, but now it just takes being around someone who is suffering from something, they don’t even have to tell me, I know and as soon as I show concern the next day I wake up with the same.

    4. My son (20), who is empathetic, moved in with his then girlfriend. Her whole life she struggled with severe mental illness that I was unaware of, with reported dissociative personality disorder among other things. At one point, my son came to me in a severe stated, He was having a manic and delusional episode which resulted in hospitalization. During his episode I was with him at the hospital before he was admitted. Days later, in the midst of dealing with his situation, I then had a manic episode, also with paranoia and delusions, resulting in psychiatric hospitalization. I knew we were sensitive. And I knew I was a bit of an empath, but this connection and series of events has baffled me ever since it happened. There is no support or explanation out there to help us understand what happened. I am in therapy and still struggling with this trauma 18 months later.

    5. I thought I was going crazy, and couldn’t seem to find an explanation for what I was experiencing. I seem to take on the illnesses of people I’m really close to. My (ex) mother in law had fibromyalgia (she passed last year). I lived with her and within 6 months I had developed symptoms of it. Within a year I’d had a diagnosis of it. I’ve now lived with it for 9 years. My new partner who I believe to be my soulmate (been with him 2.5 years now) suffers with dyshidrotic eczema which blisters then the skin peels from that area. I had never heard of it before meeting him but within the first year of our relationship I developed it on both hands and both feet (worse than he gets it) and I’m still dealing with flare ups now.

    6. My girlfriend is an empath. If she is upset or agitated with me could that make me nauseous? I’ve had problems with nausea on and off that I’ve never had before.

    7. Im a nurse, caregiver, and a masseuse, and I often am able to identify pain in my patients and relieve it when they themselves don’t know how to direct me to it. Ive been called an energy reader, a body psychic, a spirit healer. I dont want to distance myself from my patients who need my help, but I’ve noticed that after working on someone I personally become very unwell. The entire day afterward I often can’t move, have severe pain, exhaustion, and headaches.
      My partner is convinced I physically absorb the pain of my patients, including him, but while I’d like to feel better, I dont want to sacrifice what I feel is my natural calling to help people.

    8. I think I may be a physical empath. I have been stopped by people telling me I have a very strong aura as well. Most recently, at the peak of my physical health a friend with kidney failure and hospitalized with pancreatitis I sent her healing thoughts, a few days later during a long run/walk I developed flank pain, 3 days later I was in the urgent care with first ever kidney stone and pancreatitis (unknown cause). Last week a friends daughter broke her ankle, I empathized and provided her an ortho doctor, 3 days later, I had a minor impact injury that should have just been bruises and scrapes and I am now awaiting an MRI for a fractured ankle. These things keep happening and I don’t know how to stop it.

    9. I read up on illnesses when I had one symptom – it seems now I have all of them and am very ill – is this possible? How can I help myself to resolve this?

    10. I have 3 friends, all have breast cancer. They all going through Chimiothérapie and opérations. For 2 of them I just found out 3 weeks ago and within days of being informed I started some intense breast pains (on the same side). After a week my breast became really red, swollen with skin eruptions and my Doctor send me to a ecography. They were unable to really do the examen because the pain is so intense and now I have to go to an IRM. I’m quite sure they will find nothing but I just don’t understand how and why I have such an extreme reaction. I know I’m very empathic and can feel other peoples pain, but to that degree seems just too much. Can any one help me with some suggestions ? Thank you.

    11. My name is Brenda, I have been feeling people emotions and even some times people’s physical pains since I was a little girl. The problem the intense of someone’s pain now is so strong and painful that I can be fine and completely healthy walking around people another minute be unable to even move because someone around me is in extremely physical pain or severely disabled. I don’t know what to do the intensity of feeling people emotions and physical pain is getting stronger. I can see through images what that person feels or has been going through. It is so exhausted and painful, I can’t work in a crowded place or even be around a lot people with out feeling overwhelmed or sick. This is a course more that a gift and I don’t know what to do anymore.

    12. I meet up with a good friend every Wednesday for approx 2 hours. She has terminal ovarian cancer. When I come home, I feel that my life has been sucked out of me. This lasts for the rest of the day and I always feel awful. Today has been the worst time. I wish I could send a bit of healthy me back into her to help her. I have not and will not let her know how poorly I am after our meetings, she is very dear to me.

    13. I feel peoples emotions and pain in my gut and get nauseas so much I often throw up and then find out my nieghbor or niece or someone is severely ill or in the hospital. Im learning to block it so its not debilitating and always happening but I have read shielding techniques are more harmful than good, so I try to think of positive things and not focus on the illness, mine or theirs, but project good thoughts of recovery and then try to put it out of my mind but still sometimes my empathy illness lasts for days.

    14. I feel physically and mentally exhausted,when i help other people with their problems it leaves me emotionally unbalanced, sometimes i have to phone work and say i cant come in today,i also have to work with a narcisist which i find very challengeing and my boss also is a very manipulating person,She sucks the energy right out of me,I feel free when i go to the seaside and i always have an eagerness to be around water & trees,do i need to change job,when things get to much i pack a bag and find myself disappearing to the seaside what can i do exhausted..

    15. Thank you dr. Judith Orloff great gratitude to you, now I know why I was so tired listening to people with different problems, now I know your strategies set the limits.

    16. My husband has cancer and recently started chemo. He has absolutely no symptoms of the side effects and I have several. When my cat has tummy troubles I will get an upset stomach. I’m exhausted all the time and have a lot of pain often, both of which has been undiagnosed. I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and notice that it gets worse in big crowds. I’m really glad I found this site because now I can learn to manage this and hopefully start feeling better. Thank you!

    17. My sister told me about her hips and knees hurting so bad she would cry. She was going to see a doctor but we talked about it before she did. I developed the symptoms overnight. Her symptoms went away overnight. I have been suffering with this for two months now. If someone tells me they have a headache, I get one right away. Whatever someone’s physical complaint, I take it on. My doctor tells me not to read RX inserts because I will develop the side effects. Does this make me an empath?

    18. Hey I’m Dustin. I’m 29 yrs young and its hard to understand or control it. I’m dealing with so much in life and to be honest I already knew I was a empath intuitively and could feel others pain and joy. I currently have a friend in the hospital with a infected lung and I can feel how he is doing. Like he is getting stronger but he is worrying himself about things happening outside his reach. I’ve have felt attached or connected to people throughout life so far but lately it’s been Seven main people that has appeared in my life unexpectedly and they all share the feeling of connected vibes whether bad or good and have lead me to better understand how to control and understand. Thank You

    19. I am 72 years old and have known that I was different since I was a child. I have been called all the things you listed and made fun of often. It has been a blessing and a curse. It has affected every relationship I have ever had and at this age I just divorced for the third time. My inability to endure a close relationship without feeling completely drained has made my life very lonely and I think that is the hardest thing about being this way. I just discovered your website and did not know that someone had written a book about it. I long to talk with someone who really understands what being an empath means.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *