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15 Signs You Are a Heyoka Empath

Beautiful native American with long hair and dark eyes
Heyoka Empath

Empathic skills are usually viewed as either a blessing or a curse, depending on one’s perspective. Being able to intuit and feel the emotions of others can be taxing, but it also has great potential to improve our relationships, heal others, and even help us walk through the world with wisdom.

In the past, I’ve explored the dangers of the dark empath, a person possessing the traits of an empathic person along with the dark triad traits of narcissists. Here instead, we’re going to focus on this fascinating type of empath, the heyoka empath.

The Heyoka Empath in a Nutshell

Definition: A type of empath who has the ability to not only feel other people’s emotions, but also to heal others.
Also known as: Sacred jester, sacred clown
Origin of the word: Sioux indigenous tribe

What Is a Heyoka Empath?

Heyoka is a word that comes from the Sioux indigenous tribe and means sacred jester – or sacred clown. In Sioux culture, the heyoka is the person who marches to the beat of their own drummer and, in doing so, heals others.

Their gift is to challenge others to see the world from a different perspective, and they often do this with humor.

Heyoka empaths are said to be the most powerful kind. Their intuition is unmatched, and they have a curious impact on other people. Chances are, there’s one in your life. Could it be you?

15 Signs You Have the Traits of a Heyoka Empath, According to a Former Therapist

What follows is a list of signs you may have some traits of a heyoka empath.

Why listen to me? I was a master’s level licensed therapist who worked with couples and families and specialized in trauma recovery and empowerment. I now write content about relationships and psychology. My work has been featured on Elite Daily, Your Tango, Positively Positive, and Mamamia.

Your Empath Skills Have a Touch of Satire

To be a Heyoka Empath, you have to first identify as empathic, or a person who is capable of fully experiencing the emotions of others. Yet, the Heyoka Empath has a key trait that differentiates them from other empaths. They have a keen sense of humor that sometimes leans toward satire or gallows humor.

The Heyoka Empath can joke about anything, and yet this ability can be healing for others. The seemingly lighthearted banter could help others tackle difficult conversations or speak up about taboo topics.

Humor can break the ice, gently approach a conflict-avoidant person in a way that won’t make them defensive, or even help draw out the true feelings of those around them.

You Mirror the Feelings of Those Around You

If you’re a Heyoka Empath, you mirror the feelings of those around you. For instance, if you’re around someone in a negative mood, you begin to absorb it and become a thundercloud of emotion. Likewise, if you’re around someone who is buoyant and positive, you tend to take on those traits.

It’s not just that you absorb emotions, something any unprotected empath can do. You act as a mirror for those around you to see themselves better. When you take on their traits, they may be confronted with discomfort about their own behavior, which can be integral to change.

You’re a Free Spirit

Heyoka Empaths are free spirits who walk through the world dancing to music the rest of us can’t even hear — figuratively, of course. These empaths are free spirits who don’t conform to the society around them. They stand out, and they don’t care that they don’t fit in.

Does this sound like you? If you tend to walk on the wild side and make waves, you just might be a Heyoka Empath. This wild wanderer tendency can challenge norms, societal perspectives, and even deeply held personal beliefs. They’re meant to; this is how Heyoka Empaths heal the world.

“These institutionalized rebels, through their actual breaking of the rules, are enforcers and perpetuators of the holy-in order for the clowns to fulfill their role or obligations as heyoka, they break the rules.”

~Benjamin Grant Purzycki

Other People Project Their Feelings on You

Because you mirror the feelings of others, you often find that people project their feelings on you. Heyoka Empaths can find themselves the target of frustration, anger, and sadness just by mirroring the emotions of others. Drawing these emotions to the surface can be helpful for healing.

While the experience of people’s projections isn’t always fun, the Heyoka Empath understands that this is part of the healing process and doesn’t take it personally. In fact, they’ll often use wit and satire to help other people understand that the qualities they’re reacting to are actually their own being reflected to them.

For example, if you hate careless drivers but find yourself often driving just as recklessly, you may have uncovered a trait you’re uncomfortable with that needs to be addressed. The Heyoka Empath shows us our shadow selves so we can heal and integrate these parts of ourselves.

Your Empathic Abilities Heal Others

Heyoka Empaths are known as the most powerful due to one key factor: They have a tendency to heal others. The way they see the world, the way they live, and the way they feel and reflect back emotions can have a transformational impact on people they encounter.

If you find that you tend to inspire others to make positive changes in their lives, you might have this powerful empathic gift.

Unfortunately, Heyoka Empaths can sometimes ignore their own areas of healing because of their hyper-focus on healing others. This blind spot may be tough to see simply because it’s hard to find your own emotions if you’re constantly sensing the energy of those around you.

If you’re this type of empath, you’ll need extra rest and recovery to be able to work out your own issues and separate them from other people’s.

You Are Honest, Sometimes Brutally So

People can sometimes feel attacked by your honesty. It’s not that Heyoka Empaths are insensitive — far from it! They just know that a hard truth can be kinder than a nice but deceptive lie. If you’re an empath like this, you just might be known for dropping truth bombs on everyone around you.

Not everyone can handle the truth. Some people will find this off-putting, but much of the time, you say what needs to be said, and even if it hurts, people are grateful that you said what no one else would. Sometimes, the truth we need to hear hurts our feelings but heals our heart.

You Prefer Solitude to Recharge

Because you’ve got so much coming at you, you prefer solitude to recharge if you’re a Heyoka Empath. You need that separation between yourself and others to really feel all your feelings and recover from the constant work of healing the world around you.

While this is essential for all empaths, it’s especially true for the Heyoka Empaths who exert energy into teaching lessons through humor and rebellion.

In fact, you may sometimes find yourself fantasizing about escape. Mental health days aren’t just recommended; they are necessary to this powerful empath. You need them to survive the onslaught of the world’s emotions.

You Instinctively Know What Others Will Say Next

Do you automatically know what’s about to come out of someone’s mouth, no matter how unexpected it seems? Mm hm. You know just what I’m talking about if you’re a Heyoka Empath. You’ve had it happen so many times it’s uncanny.

It’s not just that you can finish the sentences of those you know well. You seem to have an extra spidey-sense before big announcements — when your best friend tells you his wife was caught cheating, when your cousin has a surprise pregnancy announcement, when your boss tells you they’re quitting.

Before the words leave their mouths, you know already. Nothing truly surprises you.

Your Inner Child is Alive in You

While we all have an inner child, the Heyoka Empath’s is very much present in all they do. If this is you, you have a natural sense of wonder and innocence despite the emotional cargo you’re capable of carrying around. No matter what happens, you can see the good and find the joy.

This doesn’t mean you’re an optimist. You’re more capable than most of seeing the dark side. You just know how to indulge your inner child, to see the world through a fresh perspective, and to embrace your insatiable sense of curiosity.

You Are Known for Being Creative and Innovative

If you’re a Heyoka Empath, you’ve got the reputation for being creative and innovative. You don’t just think outside the box to problem solve. You likely create art of some kind or turn the most practical achievements into an art form. It’s in everything you do.

While other people are coloring inside the lines, you’re so far outside them you don’t even remember where they were. It’s not that you’re trying to be different; you are different. It’s just how you see the world. It comes out as an innate creativity.

You Can Sense Others’ Emotions — Without Even Being Around Them

You wake up in the morning and know that your ex is having a bad day even if you haven’t spoken to them in months. And you know your best friend just got some good news. You also know just when to call your mother and know what to say when you do.

You don’t even have to be around someone to feel their feelings; you can sense them. Sometimes, this can be a confusing trait because you might feel a feeling and know who it’s connected to without ever being able to know exactly why you still have that connection. You just do.

Maybe you don’t call up that person you no longer talk to and ask, but you’ve got healing energy to send in their direction when it happens because you instinctively know what they need.

Your Emotions Run Hot and Cold

Other people may tell you that your emotions seem all over the place. You can run hot and cold, but your system gets overwhelmed with everyone else’s emotions sometimes. Because you mirror them, you might go from having a good morning to being inexplicably sad.

It takes a lot of healthy boundaries, self-care, and emotional regulation for the Heyoka Empath to find the balance of being aware of those feelings without running with them. In fact, without finding that balance, you could come across as insensitive and inconsistent when you’re really just overwhelmed and besieged with emotions that aren’t your own. You may have to work extra hard to get a handle on your emotions and put everyone else’s to the side.

You’re Impervious to Peer Pressure

The Heyoka Empath genuinely does not care what other people think. If this is you, you’re impervious to peer pressure. It just doesn’t bother you what other people think about you because you know it’s none of your business anyway.

Besides, you’ve never minded being different. It’s not like you’re trying. It’s just the way you are, and you feel good in your own skin. It’s not that you don’t ever feel stressed. It can be pretty intense being you. You just don’t have the energy or inclination to try to be anyone else.

You Always Know When Someone’s Lying

Lying liars can never get one by you. You always know. Even the most accomplished liar will set off your radar.

Heyoka Empaths are so deeply intuitive that any sense of dishonesty will set off all their internal alarms. Even when someone is lying to themselves, you’ll know and will likely drop that truth on them. You’re open-minded, but deception is something your spirit just won’t tolerate.

You Suffer from Emotional Hangovers and Overwhelm

Do you sometimes feel emotionally hungover? Are you frequently overwhelmed by the emotions swirling around you? You might be a Heyoka Empath.

The Heyoka Empath might be arguably the most powerful, but they also need a lot of recovery time to stay healthy. While you absolutely are strong enough to handle your gifts, you’ll need to learn strong boundaries to be able to differentiate between your emotions and everyone else’s. Without healthy boundaries and effective communication, you’re likely to stay in overwhelm mode.

Is Self-Identifying as a Heyoka Empath Cultural Appropriation?

It’s important to consider the ethics of appropriation when discussing the spiritual belief systems of another culture. From my research into Sioux tribes and the role of the Heyoka, I believe that you do have to be an indigenous person to identify as a Heyoka Empath. Heyokas are born into the world.

While people can choose to embody these traits, they cannot rightly claim to be Heyoka without being (a) indigenous and (b) born with these gifts, which often begins with the experience of a dream. To self-identify as Heyoka, even a Heyoka Empath, is to appropriate Native American culture.

It’s possible that you see similarities between yourself and the Heyoka Empath or know of at least one in your life. Yet, the role of sacred clown is specific to indigenous people. It’s a part of a spiritual practice, not simply a casual label assigned to describe a collection of personality traits.

With this in mind, one can still identify as empathic and even recognize that this might manifest in the form of humor, rebellion, and embodying contrarian traits. It is no less valid to identify as an empath with these tendencies. It’s just unethical to attach the “Heyoka” label to it without appropriating a spiritual and cultural tradition.

Final Thoughts

The Heyoka Empath brings healing to the world, but sometimes, this healing comes at the cost of their own personal well-being. It doesn’t have to, however. For those who identify as this special type of empath, neglecting self-care and solitude simply isn’t an option.

Your healing powers are a marvel, but it’s important to take good care of yourself so you’re capable of putting your sacred jester spin on life. You can always find something to laugh about, and your dark and twisted humor is often just what the situation calls for even if no one knows it until you’ve delivered the perfect zinger.

You heal simply by the life that you live — always absorbing, always reflecting, and managing to laugh through it all as you show us all a new perspective.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash


Thursday 29th of June 2023

100% PLUS!

Plus! Use of humor in a bad situation. (Professional child psy all my professional life. A natural. Retired and missing it!)


Okonye Grace Etil

Tuesday 19th of July 2022

I am glad to inform you that the descriptions match most of my personality.

The Truly Charming