How To Know If You're An Empath — Or Just A Highly Sensitive Person

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how to know if you're an empath

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 to this important distinction. Here's how to know if you're an empath or a highly sensitive person. 

These are the similarities and areas of overlap: 

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, and 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.

Another way to learn how to know if you're an empath? 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

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 now more than ever!


Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide.

Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist and an empath who combines the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. She is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. To learn more about Dr. Orloff’s book tour schedule, and to sign up for her Empath Support Newsletter visit

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.