What are the Differences between Highly Sensitive People and Empaths?

The easiest way to think about the differences is to think of “empaths” as a smaller subset of “Highly Sensitive People”. This is not 100% accurate, but good enough as a rule of thumb.

So, both empaths and HSPs have a more sensitive nervous system. Both pick up on more subtle cues from people.

The core difference is that people who are only HSP, only pick up on cues that are noticeable with the five senses. These are cues like body language and facial expression (sight), tone of voice (sound). A Highly Sensitive Person use these indications to create a better sense of what someone is feeling and thinking, but it’s always an educated guess at best.

Empaths on the other hand – while they also receive the above sensory information – also receive information with their sixth sense, so on the psychic level. And in a very specific way at that.

Empaths are people who feel and absorb emotions from other people. Often, they also pick up on thoughts. Yet what is defining about empaths is that they both feel and absorb other people’s emotions.

I’ve explained this in more detail in this article.

A list of similarities and differences between Empaths and HSPs:


SIM: Empaths and Highly Sensitive both have a more sensitive nervous system. Hence, they both pick up on more subtle cues.

DIFF: Empaths however also pick up on things on a very subtle, energetic level. They often feel exhausted around drama because they absorb the drama and take it home with them, and they tend to get confused about what their feelings mean because so much of it actually has nothing to do with them. Highly Sensitive People do not pick up on this kind of information.

SIM: Both Empaths and Highly Sensitive People tend to need more rest and down-time than other people. They both notice more in the world and need time to process.

DIFF: Empaths often struggle with “what I feel from this person, doesn’t match what they are saying” syndrome. That’s because they are tuning in to multiple communication “layers” that are not necessarily aligned (we people are complex creatures and often have all kinds of inner conflict). Highly Sensitive People don’t notice that specific kind of conflict, unless someone’s body language e.g. doesn’t match their words (which are both noticeable with the 5 senses)

SIM: Both Empaths and Highly Sensitive People tend to struggle with conflict. We like things quiet and harmonious. However, while HSPs will focus on creating “visible” harmony, Empaths tend to focus on creating harmony on the energetic planes, beneath the surface.



Empaths are not the only ones with psychic abilities


Note that empaths are not the only people who can sense energy or have psychic awareness about others.

There are actually a lot of different ways to interact with the energy of other people, and being an empath is just one of those ways.

What makes the psychic abilities of empaths different is that they both feel and absorb painful emotions from others.

So, it’s not just that they know, or had a dream about it, or spontaneously channeled information. Rather, they feel and sponge.

Go to this article for an in-depth explanation of other ways that you can be sensitive to energy. Oh, and this article too.

Please note that you can be multiple types in one! Just like most empaths are also HSP. You can be an empath and also just know things sometimes, or have dreams that are more than just dreams.

Because you can be multiple types in one and many people online write from their own perspective only, you’ll see a lot of different descriptions of all the things empaths can do. But keep in mind, just because one person is an empath and is also a medium, that doesn’t mean all empaths are mediums. Being an empath and a medium are different abilities, but you can have and be both.


What makes life hard for empaths


What makes life hard for (untrained) empaths is that in dealing with other people they are often dealt a quadruple whammy:

  • Other people sense that empaths really “get” them, more than most people. So many people will share very personal experiences with empaths.
  • Empaths absorb a lot of the painful, emotional overspill, so they tend to leave intense conversations feeling worse, while the other person feels better. This makes empaths go-to targets for others to dump their feelings on (because it makes those other people feel good, without necessarily knowing about the impact it has on the empath).
  • Because empaths both feel and absorb so much from others they tend to get very confused about what they are feeling, what they really want, and what their purpose is.
  • Because there is so much information on the internet saying that empaths are lightworkers that are here to “clean up” the planet (by the way, I don’t agree with that at all!), many empaths feel burdened by their gift. They wonder how to survive. They don’t see a future for themselves with their abilities so instead they try to tune them out, numb out, or shut down emotionally.



The good news?


Empaths are not meant to be psychic sponges for other people’s pain.

They can learn how to be and feel clear, without having to do endless amounts of daily cleanses. The world needs empaths. But not to be the world’s trashcans!

Instead, the world needs empaths to own their inherent emotional intelligence in a way that they enjoy. Whether that means helping others, or not.

It takes some work to get there, but there is a feel-good destination waiting.


P.S. Not sure which is you? Set up a Clarity Call so we can talk about it and work out if you’re Highly Sensitive or also an Empath. Plus, which steps to take to get you to feeling better.

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