Are You An Empath? with Dr. Judith Orloff

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

A small contingent of our population claims to be able to physically experience the emotional energy of other people. Sound crazy? Well there may be an actual science behind this. In the first episode of a series with Dr. Judith Orloff, the bestselling author of ‘Thriving as an Empath’, Dr. Daniel Amen, Tana Amen, and Orloff shed some light on this mysterious ability.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr Daniel Amen: Well, this week we have a very special guest. I think this is going to blow your mind just a little bit. With us is my friend, Dr. Judith Orloff, who is a New York Times bestselling author and has a new book, Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People, which offers daily life-saving self-care tools for sensitive people, along with its own companion, The Empath's Empowerment Journal.
Now, you're going to learn about what an empath is shortly. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the clinical faculty of UCLA Psychiatric Department. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting-edge knowledge on intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating highly sensitive empathic people in her private practice.
Her work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, The New York Times. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google, I got to do that, and has a popular TEDx Talk. Her other books are Emotional Freedom and Guide to Intuitive Healing. You can learn more about her empath support online course at drjudithorloff, O-R-L-O-F-F, .com. Well, Judith, what a joy to have you on The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Tana Amen: Welcome.
Dr Judith Orloff: Oh, I'm so happy to be here talking to both of you.
Tana Amen: We're happy to have you. Yes, thank you.
Dr Daniel Amen: When did you find out you’re an empath?
Tana Amen: Well, why don't we explain what an empath is?
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, let's have her tell us when she found out and what it is.
Tana Amen: Right, what it is, because I think a lot of people listening, they might think, "Oh, I have empathy," but they might not really understand what it is.
Dr Daniel Amen: Are you saying you have empathy?
Tana Amen: Well, you think my empathy's broken but let's talk about...
Dr Judith Orloff: I'll answer both. I'm a psychiatrist and I'm also an empath. What I do is I combine my traditional psychiatric skills, I went through USC Medical School, UCLA for my psychiatric residency. I did my internship at Wadsworth VA hospital. I combined all of that very worthy incredible knowledge with my abilities to intuit what's going on in other people in terms of my patients.
To be an empath, or I can feel in my body and my emotions what's going on in other people, is I've never had the ordinary filters that people have. I've always have been wide open, it's felt that way, where I am an emotional sponge and sometimes a physical sponge where I can absorb what's going on in other people in my own body.
Needless to say, that's helped me as a psychiatrist so much in order to have added compassion and to experience what my patients experience. But my challenge as an empath, as an emotional sponge, has been how not to absorb the stress, the anxiety, the issues of other people into my own body yet keep my empathy and my intuition alive and well and growing.
As a little girl, I didn't even know I was an empath. I was an only child of two physician parents. I have 25 physicians in my family. Very logical, linear heritage there. I was a little girl who was quiet and I would go into crowded places and walk in feeling fine, walk out exhausted with some anger, pain I didn't have before, anxious or depressed. I didn't know what happened in that crowded place that would cause such a change in my body.
Later on, I realized that I'm an empath where when you're around crowded places with so many people, there's subtle energy that goes through the body and expands beyond the body. You put all those people together and all of these energies mix and there's all this emotional information, mental information, physical information swirling around in crowded places. In my porous body and my sensitive neurological system, I took it on.
But I didn't know that as a child. My parents just said, "Oh, dear, get a thicker skin." I had no self-care techniques at all growing up. I was totally alone. That's why I feel so passionate about this book and providing self-care techniques every single day for empaths so they're not lost, so they know what to do to stay centered, to stay energized, to stay clear, to not take on everybody else's stuff.
Tana Amen: That's so interesting. So, being an empath is different than just having empathy for people? What I'm hearing you say is I can have empathy. If I see a child hurt, I have empathy but but I don't feel that pain the way they feel it. It's different to have empathy versus being an empath, right?
Dr Judith Orloff: Exactly. There's a spectrum of empathy and in the middle of the spectrum are regular beautiful people who have empathy and feel the joy and pain of others. But if you go higher on the empathic spectrum, you get the highly sensitive person who's sensitive to noise, smells, sounds, excessive talking, light.
Then if you go even higher, you have all those sensory characteristics plus the emotional sponge and the physical sponge characteristic where you literally become one with, which is a positive thing in a spiritual sense, that onement, but it's a not a helpful thing in terms of taking on other people's emotions.
Tana Amen: Do you feel more for some people than other people? Do you feel more things when you're around one person or is it the same no matter who you're around?
Dr Judith Orloff: No, it varies according to the person. It depends. I can feel all the positive things. Empaths have have incredible gifts. Part of the self-care is taking care of your gifts; intuition, depth, the capacity for love, creativity, love of nature, knowing that there's a oneness in the world, that we're all brothers and sisters in one family, that anything else is an illusion; we know that without a doubt. We feel the Earth. The Earth and the empath are one, so there's no division. That's very clear and that clarity is extremely helpful.
Tana Amen: How come? What makes it to where you and other empaths feel so much more than, say, the average person? I'm saying collectively, "We," why don't we understand it?
Dr Daniel Amen: Saying what's the neuroscience?
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr Daniel Amen: What's the neuroscience? Has anybody done an imaging study on empaths?
Dr Judith Orloff: No. Wouldn't that be fascinating?
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, I've done studies. I've done, actually, a number of studies on channelers that's actually been published in the literature on people who channel the dead. I've done studies on past life regressions and I've done many studies on people who have sensory disorders; the highly sensitive child.
Now since I learned about your work, many of them are highly sensitive not only to sound and touch and light but they're also very sensitive to the emotions of other people. What I often see is their parietal lobes, the top back part of the brain that are responsible for sensing the world, work way too hard compared to other people.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Dr Daniel Amen: That would be a fun study for you and I look at empaths-
Dr Judith Orloff: That would be.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... to see is there a difference in their brain. We just did a fascinating study on prayer looking at speaking in tongues, which is basically channeling the Holy Spirit. It's one of the gifts in the Bible talked about in the Book of Acts.
Anyways, our hypothesis would be when you're channeling someone else, you would actually drop your own brain function so that you become a vessel and that's what happened in 60% of our people, although one guy who did that, his basal ganglia lit up just like he just got ahead of cocaine. I'm like, "Oh, he probably likes to do that a lot."
But just thinking from an from an empath's standpoint, is it that there's less brain function so you're able to really feel what other people feel? Or is there more and that sensory part of your brain works too hard?
Dr Judith Orloff: Well, it's sensations of energy as well.
Tana Amen: So interesting.
Dr Judith Orloff: It's not so much an intellectual merging as it is an energetic merging. Because when I am with both of you now, I'm feeling you with my entire body. I'm not just thinking you, I'm feeling you. I'm having waves and changes going on in my body as we're interacting. It's like a flow. Everything is fluid. It's not static in my world. It's a different form of perception.
Dr Daniel Amen: How would someone know if they or one of their children or their spouse was an empath?
Dr Judith Orloff: Well, there's a 20-question self-assessment test in my book that people can take to find out how much of an empath they are because you can self-diagnose if you're an empath. It's not rocket science, it's very simple.
There's some very basic questions you can ask yourself, such as: "Have you been labeled as 'overly sensitive' all your life as a put down? Do you need a lot of alone time to decompress and replenish yourself? Do you prefer alone time to being with people when you replenish yourself?"
Because some extroverts love going out and being with people and that's how they get their energy back but when I'm on sensory overload, I go to solitude. I go alone. That aloneness is my nurturing place. It's my mana. It's spirit. It's mana from heaven, being alone, because that decreases stimulation.
Tana Amen: I feel you there. I'm the same way. I need to be alone. Quiet, my little space at home. That's how I recharge, yeah.
Dr Judith Orloff: Yes. Yes, exactly. Or other questions: "Am I sensitive to noise, smells, or excessive talking?" Empaths have a very strong sense of smell. We could go into an elevator and there could be perfume there and I could feel like I'm being nuked by it and you might feel like, "Oh, what a pretty smell." If you take your sensory capacity and magnify it by about a million, then you can understand an empath.
The reason this is beautiful is that my capacity for love is very deep. My capacity for spiritual connection and connection to nature and all the things that matter to me the most in other people is very, very deep. Connection is what's important to me. As an empath, that connection is available. You feel the flow of everything.
But if you want to find out if you're an empath, take the 20-question self-assessment test. Now, even something as simple as one of the questions is: "Do you prefer taking your own car places so you can leave when you please?" Because empaths get, yeah, right? Empaths get trapped.
Tana Amen: See? Yep. [inaudible 00:13:18].
Dr Judith Orloff: When I go to a social situation, I don't want to stay there for five hours. That's too much for me. I'll maybe leave after an hour, hour and a half. Oh, this must be a common theme between the two of you? It must come up.
Tana Amen: He's very social.
Dr Daniel Amen: She hates going to the mall. Oh, my goodness.
Dr Judith Orloff: I know, you said [crosstalk 00:13:35].
Tana Amen: I hate the mall. I hate the mall more than anything.
Dr Daniel Amen: She'll go to a store, pick the first thing that she sees, and leave.
Tana Amen: I feel overwhelmed.
Dr Judith Orloff: Absolutely.
Dr Daniel Amen: I'm like... I'm like, "How do you know unless you look at everything?"
Tana Amen: No, I don't want to be there. I can order online.
Dr Judith Orloff: No, no, no, no, no. That's not how it works. You don't want to leave her in those markets, especially if they're crowded.
Tana Amen: It's completely overwhelming when I see... Totally overwhelming.
Dr Daniel Amen: And I'm one of seven.
Dr Judith Orloff: He has a different constitution.
Tana Amen: He does. He loves big family, big groups. He's very social. We're just like night and day in that sense.
Dr Judith Orloff: Oh, right. But the secret is, and I talk about this in the book, too, relationships, if a non-empath is with an empath is to express your authentic needs and Daniel, for you to respect them instead of questioning them because it might be beyond your perceptual, the way you relate to the world, but her way is different. It's just very different. My partner is not an empath. I could never be with an empath. It would drive me insane.
Tana Amen: See, actually, I agree with you.
Dr Daniel Amen: We have to stop this but when we come back-
Tana Amen: No, this is fun.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... Thriving as an Empath, Dr. Judith Orloff. We're going to talk about how to thrive as a sensitive empath. Stay with us.
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