Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

The Difference Between Empaths and Highly Sensitive People

 
Judith Orloff - Friday, June 02, 2017

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.


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
___i_________________i_______________________i________________i____
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!

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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. 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, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

Comments
John Lunn commented on 25-Jun-2017 04:40 PM
It has just come to my attention that I may be an Empath. Until about a month ago did not even know what an empath was but after reading and viewing many empaths on the internet I am reasonably sure of it. I believe my mother was an empath and I think this has been passed down to me. I could use some help with dealing with this. I understand now that this is a gift after many years may years of feeling that there was something wrong with me. I would like to correspond with someone about this. Thank you for reading this comment.
Anonymous commented on 27-Jun-2017 12:28 AM
Is your book available in Mexico?, if so, how xan i buy it?
chrissy commented on 08-Jul-2017 10:21 AM
Hi,

I am in my late 50s and only found out i have all the traits of an empath and if thats not enough, my empath traits go hand in hand with my mediumship gift which I had all my life but didn't know until recently. i would love to correspond with someone on this subject

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