The Difference Between Empaths and Highly Sensitive People

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Empaths Survival GuideAs a psychiatrist and an empath, I often get asked, “What is the difference between empaths and highly sensitive people?” In The Empath’s Survival Guide I devote a section on this important distinction.

Here are the similarities and differences. Empaths share all the traits of what Dr. Elaine Aron has called “Highly Sensitive People,” or HSPs. These include a low threshold for stimulation, the need for alone time, sensitivity to light, sound, and smell, plus an aversion to large groups. It also takes highly sensitive people longer to wind down after a busy day since their system’s ability to transition from high stimulation to being quiet is slower. Highly sensitive people are typically introverts whereas empaths can be introverts or extroverts, (though most are introverts). Empaths share a highly sensitive person’s love of nature, quiet environments, desire to help others, and a rich inner life.

However, empaths take the experience of the highly sensitive person much further. We can sense subtle energy, which is called shakti or prana in Eastern healing traditions, and actually absorb it from other people and different environments into our own bodies. Highly sensitive people don’t typically do that. This capacity allows us to experience the energies around us in extremely deep ways. Since everything is made of subtle energy, including emotions and physical sensations, we energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others. We often have trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from our own. Also, some empaths have profound spiritual and intuitive experiences which aren’t usually associated with highly sensitive people. Some are able to communicate with animals, nature, and their inner guides. In my book there is a section on intuitive empaths which include animal empaths, earth empaths, dream empaths, telepathic empaths and more.

Being a highly sensitive person and an empath are not mutually exclusive: you can be both at the same time. Many highly sensitive people are also empaths. If you think about this distinction in terms of an empathic spectrum, empaths are on the highest end; highly sensitive people are a little lower on the spectrum, people with strong empathy but who are not HSPs or empaths are in the middle of the spectrum. Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths who have “empath deficient disorders” are at the lowest end of the spectrum.

The gifts of sensitivity and empathy are precious, especially at this time of human evolution. We want to keep opening our hearts and break through to new highs in the empathic spectrum. I offer the techniques in my book on empaths so that becoming empowered empaths and highly sensitive people can happen at accelerated rates in our world. We need your gifts more than ever!

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.

Judith Orloff, MD is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Her latest book Thriving as an Empath offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people along with its companion The Empath’s Empowerment Journal. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA and has a TEDX talk. Her other books are Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive HealingExplore more information about her Empath Support Online course and speaking schedule on www.drjudithorloff.com.

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13 thoughts on “The Difference Between Empaths and Highly Sensitive People

  1. im glad i found this.. i got a 17 on the quiz
    i wasnt gonna comment, but something told me to anyways. for a while, i’ve known i could possibly be an empath or hsp or possibly even both. i feel so many emotions, feelings and energies, and at times, it gets so overwhelming that i cry. i cant take it and i explode into a dark place..example is i love alone time, but once i’ve “exploded”, my alone time is a very depressing time frame. not suicidal, but not being able to explain how or what im feeling because its SOOO much. all i can do is cry.. jus to get over it , go chill with people and get all empathetic and sensitive again jus to want to be alone again in the end.. its a cycle

    so with all that being said, lol, my question is how do i not be so sensitive or empathetic at times? not complaining about this “gift” or “superpower “ but sometimes i just dont want to feel anything because of how much i feel and hold and decipher thru throughout my day. sometimes i jus wanna be numb..

  2. I got 20 and have never understood my emotions until somebody questioned me and reached out and said your an empath and somewhat on a higher level she even went as far as saying I’m gifted all confusing for me

  3. I got 15, yes’. I’m somewhat confused though. Low pain threshold for example. I don’t know how to answer that. Its kind of a yes, but I can also make myself not be. Good example is the scratchy clothes. Hate them. My wife can scratch my back, not hard and it feels like knives slicing me completely in half. Yet a few days ago I pulled my own tooth without even numbing it. I absorb others emotions, but it doesn’t make mine out of control. I understand empaths have a hard time controlling their emotions.

  4. I answered yes to 8 on that quiz and for me personally I take on my son’s issues, even when we are apart and I feel him and know he isn’t well. I am happy i found my way here thank you!

  5. I’m pretty sure I’m an empath…but how do you turn it off? Because I have problems with taking in how others feel I often force myself to be the opposite. In other words, I try to force myself to be cold and un-feeling because I don’t know any other way around this .

  6. Wow, I just asked this question on another blog and you answered it. I’ve been joining different Empath groups & listening to empath specific podcasts, trying to explore my empathic self. But something was a little off. Like I’m not depressed like everyone else in the groups. I read the energy on reiki blessed telluride stones. But I don’t read emotions on someone unless I’m reading their body language.

  7. I always wondered why I could never get through to my dad, or why he could never understand how I felt? It is because we are on two opposite ends of the spectrum, it makes whole lot of sense.

  8. This explains why my isolation has been my comfort zone from kid to Adult. I’m all listed above.
    I actually thought I was mentally disturbed therefore my inactions with others is sometimes strained. No Trust

  9. Thank you so much! I feel such a relief starting to understand myself and my over sensitive feelings

  10. Coming across this sight is refreshing. My own journey to acknowledge feed and pray for the development of ‘intuitive’ came slow for lack of priority focus. Thank you.

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