Empathy is feeling emotions whose source is not yourself. This source can be any number of things, including television, other humans, animals, and even books or places. Every person is capable of empathic connections to others, as it is a form of human communication. In fact, an inability to form any empathic connection of any sort is a sign of mental illness, such as Psychopathy. One can be considered highly 'empathic' when their empathic senses and abilities are much more sensitive than the general person. These people are very adept at reading other's people's body language and personality, and generally can read a person much better than others. An empath can have any background, though upbringing can be a factor. Often times children or people who were abused have very developed empathic abilities as a defense.
There are several factors and signs that a person may be highly empathic. Most empaths are very sensitive to others and their emotions. Often times empaths find themselves sharing the same emotions as those around them, and can have a hard time identifying the source of their emotions. People often seek out those who are empathic for advise or to vent, as empaths generally 'get' the person they are talking to better than others. An empathic also lends a feeling of being connected with the person they are talking with, as they are, in a way, searching them and their personality, and quite literally placing themselves in their position. Empaths are generally very understanding of others and their positions, and often times will ask questions rather than make snap judgments, or intuitively seem to 'know' there is more to a story than what meets the eye.
Empaths are very good in working with people and judging a person's personality. An empath can feel as though they know a person inside and out after a few hours of conversation with any given person. An empath can also spot more easily a person's intent and personality than others. It is very difficult for a person to lie to a sensitive empath, whether it is because an empath can catch that tell-tale millisecond eye twitch or can receive a feeling of guilt from the offender. An empath may be viewed as having a strange collection of friends, and strange (or, absolutely no) reasons for the selection of their company. An empath can generally 'feel' and sense which people are a good personality match for themselves, and conversely can sniff out a rotten egg long before it has been laid. Generally, they cannot offer any substantial reasoning other than 'I have a bad feeling about this person.' Often this makes an empath seem unreasonable, but if their abilities are true, they are often in the position to say 'I told you so.'
Every human is capable of the above in some quantity. Though a truly sensitive empath can have a large range of other signs, ranging from normal to very unique.
While some empaths are able to remove themselves from the source of their empathy, true empaths usually feel the emotions the person or animal is feeling at the time. This gives them the ability to know people more intimately than others, and even know when a person is acting contrary to their feelings. This could make them gravitate towards those that feel pain, though act as though nothing is wrong. Also, many empaths have little tolerance for people who constantly seek attention through acting emotional. This sometimes gives empaths the reputation of being cold or judgmental, when the opposite is actually true. Empaths are the people that can be described as 'seeing right through you.'
Empaths generally feel a connection with animals. An empath is better able to understand the needs and emotions of animals than those who aren't sensitive. They also tend to be more protective and sensitive towards the needs of animals, and they can feel their emotions and view them as living, needing, feeling beings just as humans, much more so than the standard human. An empath may even enjoy the company of animals more, as animals tend to be simpler and have less ulterior motives than humans.
Extremely sensitive empaths are able to get a 'feeling' of a place. This could be because of a general tension or emotions from people living in the area, such as feelings of anxiety and paranoia in a community with a high crime rate. This also applies to getting a 'sixth sense' feeling, such as though you are being followed or something is just, in general, wrong about an area you have passed. Some report even being able to feel very strong past events that may have left an impression on the area, such as battle fields, or a general feeling of sadness in a cemetary (while not visiting any deceased friends.)
Some empaths have difficulty in places where there are crowds or several people gathered, as they pick up feelings and emotions from a number of people. This can lead to feelings of confusion, anxiety, even depression, or high excitability at functions such as concerts or other events. Some even experience physical symptoms from the 'emotional overload' such as being light headed or headaches, even raises in blood pressure.
Often times empaths have difficulty with several areas of life, including social. If a person, particularly one close to the empath, has depression issues, an empath can embody those symptoms and sink into mental sickness. They are very sensitive to other's pain, and often times cannot not distinguish their own emotional pain from the pain of others. Being able to feel what others do, they often find themselves feeling responsible for the emotional well-being of others, and feeling the need to fix them or improve their situation, which often can place them in bad situations. Many empaths who find themselves unable to detach themselves from their emotions may abuse drugs and/or alcohol in order to dull or remove their own emotions, or become unable to function without the use of anti-depressants. However, several empaths have learned how to control their abilities and separate their emotions from those of others, or use techniques such as 'shielding' in order to separate themselves from others, or allow them to visit crowded places with little or no mental repercussions. Most empaths do not even know of their abilities, but often once they learn of others like themselves and their unique talents, they learn how to deal with it and become very prosperous, and enriching, people.
Empaths are everywhere, and it is not uncommon, strange, or paranormal. You can find them often being teachers, psychiatrists and psychologists, veterinarians, counselors, and even the friend you always seems to be 'in the know' about other people. One thing that can be known is empaths make the world a better place.