The Difference Between Empaths and Highly Sensitive People

As 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 Empathic Spectrum

Narcissists           Loving empathic people                HSPs                   Empaths
Zero                                 Mid-range                                               Highest
(Empathy deficient disorder)

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!


Toni 9th June 2017 1:18 am

Twas the empaths that extended the paths or timelines beyond 1999 by absorbing all the fear and transmuting it back to love within self. It changed humanities frequency and raised them above the usual end of cycle armageddon.

There is also a vibrational frequency beyond the empath, its the telempath. (or whatever name it gets labelled with in the future) Telempaths not only absorb the emotional feeling they also absorb the mental telepathy.

When humanity has evolved to the 9d telempath frequency only truth and respect can exist. There shall have no need for politicians, lawyers or even police. Altho logically these careers could not exist within the 6d empath field.


laughlight 9th June 2017 11:26 am

Love the timeline, as this empath has to contend all too often with a family member 2 doors down from me who is narcissistic.
Good to know where we each dwell and why it seems so extreme.

Thanks for your many articles that help us all.
Peace & Blessings


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Author Information

Dr. Judith Orloff

Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty.

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