When you think of empaths, you’re probably thinking of those with a supercharged sense of empathy: sensitivity to the feelings and emotions of others. Empaths, so it’s said, go one step beyond simply understanding those emotions – they actually feel stuff as if it’s happening to them.

What does science have to say about empaths?

Empathy is a real skill which we can develop or let slide, depending on how we spend our time.

People with more developed empathy have an easier time reading emotions through facial expressions and body language. We can reasonably call those people empaths. There’s even evidence suggesting that 1-2 percent of the population have trouble distinguishing their feelings from those of others.

Beyond that, things get a little bit… well, funky. As you’re about to find out, the culture and mythology surrounding the idea of empaths often strays into the supernatural. Unsurprisingly, there’s no science suggesting empaths can actually read your mind, talk to the dead, or predict earthquakes.

Take things with a pinch of salt from here on out and enjoy your trip into modern folklore. Hey, maybe by understanding what other folks believe, we can build a little empathy ourselves.

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But what if we told you that was just one variety? What if we told you there are those walking among us with the power to talk to animals, discern wisdom hidden in dreams, and even commune with the spirit world?

Well, you might send for the guys in white coats to bundle us off to the laughing factory. But bear with us, and the science of empathy might just surprise you.

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Sergey Filimonov/Stocksy United

How many types of empaths are there? That’s impossible to say.

There are 14 that we’ve discovered on our travels. There’s some overlap, but each has its own distinct set of experiences. Be wary of anyone claiming to know the exact number of types that exist – it’s a highly subjective topic.

Emotional empath

All empaths display a degree of heightened sensitivity to other people’s emotions.

But in the case of emotional empaths, this is either their strongest or only empath trait. Some might feel their powers of empathy are so strong that they’re superpowers in their own right. Others might feel they’re missing out on some of the other cool abilities attributed to other types of empaths.

Telepathic empath

Telepathic empaths crank things up a notch — they can read other people’s thoughts, not just sense their emotions.

Telepathic empaths usually use the same techniques as emotional empaths, “reading minds” by reading body language. Whether that implies a deeper level of insight or just a different perspective is tough to say. The opinion is divided within the empath community.

Physical empath

Physical empaths claim above-normal sensitivity to the state of other people’s bodies. They can sense if something’s not right about your bodily health, down to sharing other people’s experiences of headaches and upset stomachs.

Some also have a habit of mirroring others’ physical habits, little tics, and mannerisms that often go unnoticed. Know how you always want to yawn when you see someone else yawning? That’s how it feels for physical empaths, but way stronger.

Psychometric empath

Psychometric empaths can read a person’s connection to an object or place. The love and loss you feel when you look at a photograph of a departed family member, the memories stirred up when you hold a cherished heirloom — those are the types of connections a psychometric empath picks up on.

Some claim to pick up psychic impressions from inanimate objects themselves, without the need for another person’s presence in order to connect with the object. Again, opinion is split on whether this means their psychometric empathy is more powerful, or whether they’re simply employing their talents in a different way.

Molecular empath

Molecular empaths resonate with other people at what is said to be the deepest possible level. It’s unclear whether this is at the same kind of molecular level we talk about when we discuss physics or not.

Either way, molecular empaths often possess insights into another person’s truest nature, their essential self without all the layers of ego we build up over the years.

Some of the advice they offer may catch you off guard.

Animal or fauna empath

Animal empaths are extra good at reading the feelings of our furry friends

We’re not talking about a Doctor Dolittle situation here. Instead, animal/fauna empaths have a deep sense of an animal’s posture, expression, and movements, and what they reflect about the animal’s inner life. Animal empaths understand these as easily as speech. Brings a whole new meaning to “Duck Tales…”

Some fauna empaths might actively prefer the company of animals to people, others might simply tolerate us — a bit like cats, now you mention it.

Plant or flora empath

Just like an animal empath can sense the well-being of various creatures, plant empaths can pick up on the vibes of vegetation.

Given how differently plants and humans experience consciousness (or the plant equivalent), this is a unique talent that plant empaths can find tough to put into words.

However, since the benefits of keeping plants are well-known, plant empaths could be laying solid groundwork for developing their own very human well-being. (Here’s our guide to keeping plants alive.)

Earth or geomantic empath

This type of empath is deeply sensitive to changes in the earth itself.

Some claim to be able to feel the pain of earthquakes and forest fires, and maybe even predict them before they happen. As with plant empaths, the process by which the earth’s consciousness gets translated into the human emotional spectrum is unclear.

Indigo empath

Not to be confused with indigo children, who are a totally separate thing, indigo empaths are sensitive to issues of morality and virtue. If someone’s acting in bad faith, an indigo empath is likely to spot it.

They instinctively feel drawn to those who act with a sense of righteous moral purpose, caring whether someone is good more than whether they’re nice. Big difference.

Claircognizant or intuitive empath

Intuitive empaths sense the facts of a situation via seemingly supernatural leaps of logic.

More than picking up on thoughts and feelings, they’re able to discern info seemingly from thin air. Y’know those people who visit a house for the first time and instinctively know the right kitchen drawer to look in? Yeah, intuitive empaths.

This isn’t a million light-years away from being Luke Skywalker.

Precognitive empath

Predictive or precognitive empaths are sensitive to a situation’s potential.

Whether they’re actually predicting the future with some psychic gift or spotting patterns and logically picking the most likely outcome, the result is the same. They know what’s going to happen — don’t say they didn’t warn you.

Medium or psychic empath

A medium or psychic empath, so they claim, possesses an intuitive understanding of the afterlife.

They can pick up on extrasensory vibes from the spirit world and use them to reach conclusions about real-life problems. The exact method they use will depend on the individual empath’s belief system. You’re unlikely to meet many atheist psychic empaths.

Dream empath

Dream empaths are particularly skilled at remembering and interpreting dreams.

The symbolism of what our brains throw at us while we sleep is as plain to this type of empath as the alphabet. The Biblical story of Joseph is likely a tale about a dream empath — modern-day incarnations can help us unlock the same kind of intuitive wisdom.

(Are their coats quite as dazzling as Joseph’s though? We may never know.)

Heyoka empath

“Heyoka” means “sacred clown” or “spiritual fool” in the Lakota and Dakota Native American dialects.

Heyoka empaths are said to be the rarest and most powerful variety, acting as a spiritual mirror to those around them to assist their growth.

The Heyoka’s unorthodox approach to life makes others question their own preconceived notions of what’s right and wrong, real and fantasy. That guy posting provocative stuff on social media to get you riled up might actually be a Heyoka empath doing you a favor.

Sure, why not. In fact, it could be argued that there’s plenty of crossover between types.

All empaths are certainly emotional empaths to some extent. Earth empaths could be considered precognitive, psychometric empaths might be seen as psychic. It’s not an exact science because there’s no science involved.

In most cases, you’ll identify as one type above others based on your strongest sensitivities. That doesn’t stop you from experiencing traits of other types to a lesser degree.

Empaths of all types are widely seen as healers, diplomats, and peacemakers.

The ability to articulate what another person is feeling (sometimes better than they can themselves) lends itself to helping others with their emotional growth and healing rifts between misunderstood parties.

But that’s a double-edged sword. Empaths can’t always “switch off” their hypersensitivity. They can become overwhelmed if they don’t regularly take time to ground themselves and focus on their own needs.

Whatever you think of psychic mediums and sacred clowns, the ability to empathize with others is an essential part of being human. Think of it this way: You don’t need to believe in Santa to believe that people will act a certain way during the holidays.

In the same sense, we don’t need to believe people are going around foretelling tornadoes to say that developing our empathy, a skill like any other, is a good thing. It’s a positive journey, one that might take you down any number of surprising paths.