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Are You An Empath or Just A Highly Sensitive Person?

empath or hsp

Empath or Highly Sensitive Person?

When you hear the word “empathic”, it may conjure up imagery of fortune tellers, mind readers and all things woo-woo. This makes sense when you consider how empathic people have been depicted in movies and on television.

An example can be found in the popular science fiction television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. If you watched this show, you might remember the character Deanna Troi (played by Marina Sirtis).

Part human and part Bedazed, she served as the ship’s counselor. She also happened to be an empath. In this way, she used her abilities to sense the emotions of others and sometimes, almost in a supernatural way, communicate through non-verbal means.

While these kinds of depictions are fun to watch, they also can (unintentionally) misrepresent the true nature of empaths.

Perhaps this is why some have tried to broaden the definition of “empathic” to include a newer term called highly sensitive person or HSP for short.

But are empaths and HSPs the same?

Empaths and HSPs: Differences

Not exactly, according to Dr. Judith Orloff, a California based psychiatrist and author of the book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People”.

Here is what she said:

“We [empaths] 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.”

Orloff goes on to state: “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.”

As you read this, you may be thinking you’ve entered the realm of science fiction, the stuff of Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island and Yoda from Star Wars.

On some level, I can’t say I blame you. At first glance, there does seem something pseudo about it all.

But before you reach any conclusions, I encourage you to read about a study on the possible existence of empaths, featured right here on PsychCentral.

HSP or Empath?

So, how do you know if you are a highly sensitive person or an empath (or both)? Orloff offers an assessment on her website. You can also review the eight common traits of an empath from Exemplore.

There’s also an insightful article on Highly Sensitive Refuge that dives deep into this topic. If this piques your curiosity, it’s worth checking out.

Do you consider yourself to be an empath or a HSP? Are you both? What do you see as the differences? Share your thoughts below.

Main photo: Pexels

Are You An Empath or Just A Highly Sensitive Person?

John D. Moore, PhD

Described as folksy and down to earth, Dr. John Moore infuses current events and pop culture into his posts as a way of communicating wider points on issues related to wellness and goal attainment. His work has been featured in nationally syndicated media, including Cosmo, Men's Fitness and CBS Market Watch. He is a consultant to a number of Fortune 500 companies and institutions of Higher Learning. Dr. Moore is author of Confusing Love with Obsessionand Editor in Chief at: Guy Counseling.

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APA Reference
Moore, J. (2020). Are You An Empath or Just A Highly Sensitive Person?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Jan 2020
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