Empath vs. Highly Sensitive
Is there a difference?
Not too long ago, I was faced with the question “Am I an Empath or am I just Highly Sensitive?” JUST Highly Sensitive? Every time I asked myself that question I came up with the same thing… JUST Highly Sensitive? Many people believe them to be totally different and some, in the Empath community, believe that if you do not meet certain guidelines you are not an Empath. Well… I believe you are!
So what does it mean to be an Empath or even Highly Sensitive? I’m sure that you’ve heard both terms before. If you are reading this article you have at least seen the terms or are curious. There have been many debates within the spiritual groups regarding these two terms and how to define them. There are even some spiritual groups that will tell you that you are not an Empath if you don’t feel this or that. So what’s up with these terms and why does it make you feel less of a person if you are labeled JUST Highly Sensitive?
In order to make sense of what these two terms mean, we will need to go on a journey into a world called my mind. There are many debates that go on within it. I am a Gemini after-all and Geminis tend to do that. So get a snack and a drink, sit back, get comfy and let the show begin! I promise it won’t hurt too much. LOL
Empathy: What Does It Mean?
I was going to list and quote definitions from different well known dictionaries but after doing that a couple of times I realized I was headed in the wrong direction. I mean, who hasn’t done that already right? So instead of rehashing what dictionaries tell us, I’m going to dive in and tell you what I think from my own experiences as well as experiences from others.
First, I want to talk about the word “empathy”. What is empathy all about? Empathy is something the majority of the population has already built into our psyche. Notice I said majority. There are some humans that simply are unable to experience empathy. These types of people have a mental illness that literally takes away emotion. They are born without the capability of expressing or feeling emotion. But we aren’t here to discuss that although that would make for a very interesting subject! So, on to empathy. Even animals experience empathy. Empathy is our reaction, usually an emotion, to someone else expressing an emotion. Let me give you some examples… when someone is crying over a sad circumstance… they are expressing an emotion and we react to that emotion, typically with an emotion. So empathy is a reaction to someone else’s expressed emotion.
Examples of Empathy:
So say a dear and close friend of yours is getting married and they just shared the news with you. They are totally excited! What reaction do you have typically? Typically you respond with excitement! That is unless you are one of those jealous types… then you will probably respond with a false response of happiness while inside you are sad that you have not been proposed to. That happens to the best of us. LOL
Another example… You see a homeless person looking very sad and lonely. Typically, you respond with a sympathetic reaction and feel the need to help them. Another response would be one of disgust saying it’s their fault they are in that situation in the first place.
One more example… A child is sad because his/her father/mother has gone off to fight for their country. The family pet comes over to comfort the child by placing part of its body on the child. The animal is showing empathy for the child… its friend. The reaction to the child’s sadness is one of comfort. Ya… that example brings a tear to my eye as well.
So I think we have a pretty good understanding of what empathy is. Let’s move on to what an Empath is or experiences.
What is an Empath and What Do They Experience?
An Empath, from my own experiences, is a person that can sense, feel, and sometimes take on another person’s emotion and/or pain as if it is their own. So using the examples above, if you are an Empath, there are many ways you can experience those emotions and/or feelings. Let’s look at each one more closely.
Example 1: Excitement of a friend’s engagement. As an Empath there are many ways you will experience your friend’s excitement.
A. You can sense the energy of your friend’s excitement which causes you to react similarly.
B. You can feel the energy of your friend’s excitement surging throughout her body which will then send surges of energy into your body.
C. You literally experience the exact same emotion as your friend even if you were not feeling that way seconds before.
Example 2: The homeless person: As an Empath, this experience could cause a major flood of emotions or sensations that can completely overwhelm you. The reason I say that is because by just looking at the person, sometimes we don’t always see what the person is feeling. So here is a list of the many things that the Empath could experience.
A. You could get an overwhelming sense of depression which could cause you to become depressed the rest of the day.
B. You could feel the aches and pains from the person either caused by an illness, injuries, or drugs. Your body could literally be wracked with pain.
C. You could simply take on the emotions of helplessness, depression, sadness as if they are your own even though you were fine a few moments ago.
Example 3: The sad child: This type of experience affects more than Empaths because it is a child but here is what the Empath can experience.
A. You could sense the deep sorrow of losing a parent.
B. You could feel your body droop and your heart sink.
C. You could take on an overwhelming emotion of abandonment and cry even though a few moments ago you were perfectly fine.
Being an Empath means you could literally take on the emotions and/or physical feelings/pain that others are expressing as if they are your own. Have you ever gone into an area, anywhere all of a sudden have the urge to cry? You have no idea where that emotion came from and then find out that there was a person close by that had just lost a loved one? Sometimes you never know why… it just happens. Some people have been diagnosed as being bipolar even though it does not fit the description as being bipolar.
Now there are other types of Empaths that can take on physical pain and/or illnesses. Have you ever been around someone that had broken their leg and is in a cast and then start to feel the same pain in your leg? Or have you ever been around someone who has a cold and then you start to experience cold symptoms even though you were perfectly healthy a few minutes earlier? Yep… these things truly happen. I kid you not!
One other type of Empath is the kind that senses the energy from others emotions. Have you ever walked into a room and the air seemed so thick you feel like you could cut it with a knife? You find out later that there was a highly emotional discussion that had just taken place. Yep… you sensed the energy from those highly charged emotions. Or have you ever met someone, shook their hand and felt almost a zing of energy giving you all kinds of information? You can sense that they are really very depressed but they don’t act like it at all? Even as you ask others what was wrong with that person they think you’re crazy and then you find out a few days later they had commit suicide? Ya… that one is a little over the top but it truly happens. That sense of knowing is also a clairsentient ability but that’s for another discussion.
There are many Empaths out there that don’t believe the last section, about sensing, is an Empathic ability but I have come across many that have this ability. I would still consider them an Empath.
One thing I want to make clear because you may think that everyone experiences these things. Not everyone can experience emotions the way an Empath does. Not everyone can sense emotion the way an Empath does. The example that I used above of walking into a room where you feel you can cut the tension with a knife… seriously… not everyone feels that. I was seriously blown away when I discovered this. I truly thought everyone experienced what I experience but was totally wrong. So, the things you feel… the things you sense… they truly are a gift and NOT your imagination. Quit believing people when they say you’re crazy because you’re not.
So… with that said… we’ve gone over quite a bit about the Empath. In Part 2 of this discussion I will talk about what it means to be Highly Sensitive and how I believe it fits into being an Empath.