Having Empathic Abilities vs. Being a Highly Sensitive Person

empathic abilities vs. highly sensitive person

Empathic Abilities vs. Being a Highly Sensitive Person

Having empathic abilities (a.k.a. being an empath or clairsentient) is different from being a highly sensitive person (HSP).

I know that many people use the words empath, empathic, and highly sensitive person interchangeably. But it’s important to know the difference so that you can learn to work with the gifts you have, and not be overwhelmed by them.

Let’s jump right in and compare the differences, starting with empathy.


One of the things that makes us human is the ability to feel empathy for other human beings.

We’ve all felt empathy and experienced something like this:

Your best friend’s dad dies, and your heart goes out to her. You check on her and cook her family dinner, complete with salad and your signature coconut-fudge cake. When you deliver the goodies, you make her a cup of hot tea, and sit with her as she cries. On the day of the funeral, you support her. After the funeral, you feel tired, but are able to return to work when the service ends.

Empathy is something we can all relate to. Now, let’s look at the traits of psychic empaths vs. highly sensitive people.

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Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Traits

You go out to dinner with a friend. It’s fun until a party of eight walks in and sits at the table next to you. You think, “Oh no, they are getting loud.”  You feel like you might crawl out of your skin and wish you had come to dinner at 4pm to enjoy an early bird special in quiet.

Someone who is empathetic, or as it’s often called now, a HSP, automatically tunes in to their surroundings.

They pick up on sensory stimuli in their environment without trying to or even being aware they’re doing it, which can cause sensory overload.

HSP Traits

Here are some common traits that highly sensitive people share.

  • Sensitive nervous system. Crowds, bright lights, and noise make empathic people feel as though they could crawl out of their skin. Crowded restaurants or big city life = #NOTHANKYOU. A quiet night with a couple of friends or a house in the country = #YESPLEASE.
  • Feel emotions intensely. Think: Cam from the TV show Modern Family. HSP’s are often told they are too emotional, sensitive, or are being a “drama queen or king”. When HSP’s are up, they’re way up. When they’re down, they’re way down. 
  • HSP’s cry easily. The lyrics to Fight Song. Hallmark commercials. Weddings.  Forrest Gump. Enough said.
  • Super nice. Empathic people care about the feelings of others and don’t want to make anyone feel bad. They also find it hard to set boundaries or say no.
  • Sensitive to pain. HSP’s may have a low pain tolerance and be told by others to “suck it up,” or be called a baby.
  • Find it tough to make decisions. Because they understand the possible consequences of each potential decision, HSP’s can suffer from “analysis paralysis.”
  • Feelings get hurt easily. Empathic people take things personally, even when the words or deeds aren’t necessarily directed at them.
  • Anxious. HSP’s deal with a lot of anxiety, including social anxiety.

Being an Empath

A friend adopts a cat. You go to her house to meet the little guy and feel a wave of intense emotion. You can feel what this poor kitty went through in his prior home and start to cry. He’s scared and doesn’t understand what’s going on or that he’s safe now, and you feel this energy emanating from him.

An empath (or clairsentient) can experience the emotions, feelings, and pain of others. They take on the emotions as if they were experiencing them.

Empath = Psychic clairsentient

Empath Traits

Now, let’s explore empath traits. Again, empaths are those who can feel the emotions of others, and typically have the psychic gift of clairsentience. Empaths:

  • Find violence intolerable. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an empath watching the nightly news or watching a horror movie. These sensitive souls find it intolerable to see violence, which means they avoid watching or reading the news because it’s emotionally painful. You’ll also find that they avoid social media and other forms of entertainment that contain violence, like movies, TV shows, and video games. 
  • May experience mood shifts. Empaths can quickly shift between the emotions of the people they are around. One minute they’re feeling great… until they pick up their negative grandma and drive her to her doctor’s appointment. When you drop her back off at home, you feel drained and irritable.
  • Find it overwhelming or painful to be in large crowds. Even when they have found a way to “shut down” their clairsentience, going to places like a mall or a festival can be more than they can handle.
  • Empaths take on the emotions and energy of others. They may even mirror these emotions back to the world without realizing it and experience the physical ailments of those around them.
  • May struggle with addictive personalities or use drugs, alcohol or sex as a way to escape experiencing the emotions of those around them.
  • Have a strong sense of knowing about people. What they experience is stronger than intuition because they take on the feelings of others. They can immediately tell if something is worrying someone that they don’t even know.


What it boils down to is that people who are empathetic or HSP are not necessarily empaths, but an empath is an HSP on steroids; there are many more HSP’s than empaths.

Our fast-paced world of constant bombardment of stimuli can make it really tough for empaths to enjoy a fulfilled and peaceful life. As an empath myself, I totally get that!

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