4 Signs You’re An ‘Over-Functioning’ Empath Who Feels Way Too Responsible For Other People’s Issues

If you feel these four ways, you're taking on too much of others' energy and not guarding your own.

woman overwhelmed because she's an overfunctioning empath Stacey Koenitz / Unsplash

Most of us want to do all we can to help those we care about, but for those who are empaths, and especially for those who are a highly sensitive person, or HSP, all that caring for others can quickly come at a cost.

Alissa Boyer, an expert on highly sensitive people, says there are some easy-too-miss key warning signs that you're taking on too much of others' issues to the detriment of your own well-being.


She laid out 4 signs you're an over-functioning empath who feels way too responsible for others.

First, a few definitions. Empaths are those who are highly attuned to the emotional states of others, often to the extent that they experience their emotions right along with them.

Similarly, highly sensitive people tend to be highly intuitive and intensely deep thinkers who are very in touch with emotions—both their own and others'. 

RELATED: 10 Tiny Habits That Will Make You More Peaceful Than 98% Of People


Both types are uniquely talented at connecting and supporting others. But as you can probably guess, it's also very easy for them to care too much and take too much on until their own mental and emotional needs are subsumed by others.

Boyer is a mentor for empaths and HSPs. She teaches them how to manage their talents while taking the best possible care of themselves in the process. On her Instagram channel @lifebyalissa, she recently shared a series of pitfalls these types often fall into that indicate they're actually being "disempowered" by their skills.

1. 'You absorb everyone's energy, no matter what.'

When you're this adept at feeling others' emotions, boundaries are key. In fact, many therapists say being an empath is often a sign of trauma — the empathy arises from adaptations traumatized people were forced to make in order to become keenly attuned to the volatile emotional state of, say, an abusive parent or partner in order to keep themselves safe.

So what does this look like? Boyer said that if you're made anxious any time someone seems "off" or you feel "drained by other people's energy," it's a sign you're doing too much for others and need to pull back.


2. You feel like 'you're destined to suffer because of your sensitivity.'

This is pretty much the definition of a "disempowered empath." Many empaths are "in tune with what everyone else needs," as Boyer put it in her post.

But this often results in empaths and HSPs wishing people would ask about their needs — basically feeling ignored, abandoned, and not cared for by those around them.

That may indeed be the case, but it's likely due to being "disempowered," as Boyer put it — feeling like you can't ask for what you need or even show that you HAVE needs because people are depending on you for support. Consider it a sign that it's time to focus on and advocate for yourself. You need to be cared for, too!


RELATED: 15 Personality Traits You Didn't Realize Come From Growing Up With Emotionally Unavailable Parents

3. You feel 'it’s your responsibility to take on everyone else’s issues.'

An empath is what Boyer described as a "natural nurturer and caretaker," and they often become "the friend everyone goes to for advice" because of their wisdom and ability to connect to others' feelings.

But you can probably guess how easily this goes sideways. Empaths can sometimes end up feeling like caretaking is their primary means of acquiring emotional safety.

@yourtango When asked to take down her beloved Halloween decorations, one woman responded with empathy because ‘kindness is free.’ #halloween #tiktokhalloween #halloweendecor #neighbors #kindnessisfree #kindness #greenscreen ♬ original sound - YourTango

That way lies madness! It's wonderful to be able and willing to give so much of yourself to others, but it is never your responsibility. Your own needs must always come first.


4. You feel that 'you are here to fix and change others.'

For some empaths,  being there for others becomes their whole identity. That's a dangerous road to venture down — in part because fixing and changing others is basically impossible. Ask anyone who's tried to do it!

Going overboard with empathy can also result in something called "vicarious trauma," where you take on others' problems to such a degree that their trauma responses become your own. It's a common trap that therapists fall into, but it can also result from witnessing trauma on social media, for instance.

Profound empathy and deep caring for others are admirable qualities — and sorely needed ones in today's hostile and ever-changing world.


But much like you're told to put on your own air mask on a plane before helping your child with theirs, it's important to set and maintain boundaries to make sure you're taking care of yourself first and foremost.

If this sounds like you and you're wondering how to manage it, Boyer has made a podcast episode just for you that explains how you can effectively navigate these nuances to keep your gift for connection from becoming a burden so that not just those you care for but you yourself can thrive.

RELATED: Therapist Reveals 6 Things You Should've Never Been Responsible For As A Kid — That Might Be Affecting You As An Adult


John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.