Oh wow!! Just wow. I am amazed at how confusing this can be. So many confuse themselves or are confused by others about which is happening in their lives. I admit that even I have been confused on this subject as well. I have had a blog post about “The Traits Of An Empath” posted since September of 2013 that has added to the confusion. It is time I repent and set the record straight.
Let’s start with the original definition of the word empathy. It is the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. All humans have this ability. And in order to share and understand another person’s experiences and emotions you need to have experienced them as well. Otherwise you would just be experiencing sympathy for the person in pain. But if you know and understand what the other person is going through, because you went through a similar experience, then you are experiencing empathy for that person.
Next we have the term of Highly Sensitive Person(HSP). If you do an internet search for the term ‘traits of an Empath’, you will get several dozen websites, with lists, that explain common traits of Empaths. But many like to lump the traits of HSPs in with the traits of an Empath because they seem so closely related. Even this blog is guilty of that — which I am working to correct. But there is are distinct differences between a HSP and an Empath.
Both have sensitive nervous systems. Both have heightened senses and receive more input than the normal person. Both become easily overwhelmed. Both want to hide away from public places and people for some of the same reasons. Both are reactive in emotional or social situations. Both hate violence or cruelty as this can be overwhelming to their senses. Because of so much input, both become easily disoriented and constantly have to refocus in order to get their projects or jobs done. And both feel attracted to helping others. This is because both can perceive in different ways what other people are experiencing.
And that is the main point where a HSP is a HSP and an Empath is more of an Empath. A HSP, because of their sensitivities, receive more information input than the normal person. They then easily notice the emotional states and physical postures of other people. This can lead them to think they are feeling what the other person is feeling. But the HSP is truly and completely not knowing what the other person is feeling. This can be made worse if the HSP relate what they think they are feeling to personal tragedies of their own. They then begin to react in a non-feeling way and make the moment of healing more about themselves. This can be damaging to the person needing the empathy and sometimes the person they are not helping then erroneously decide that Empaths are not helpful. A HSP traditionally has the tendency to be more reactive than normal in emotional situations. So they are simply translating the situation and recreating it in their own physical body using their awesome talents of over sensitivity.
An Empath works a bit the same, yet has an added dimension that a HSP does not have. An Empath actually is able to tie into the other person. The Empath actually feels the other person’s feelings. So in addition to the wonderful talents that they share with a HSP, Empaths are not just noticing the emotional states and physical postures of other people, but they are experiencing them first-hand with the other person. If the other person hurts, the Empath hurts exactly the same way. Empaths quite literally are the other person during that moment in time and can feel and experience what the other person is feeling and experiencing.
All people have the ability to some degree to project. HSPs and Empaths are even more capable of this and have the heightened ability to project their feelings. An Empath can even project more. But what is important is that personal experiences, being confused for what a HSP thinks is the other persons personal experience, then projecting them back, can make the situation more emotionally destabilizing. For a normal person, this can be draining. For an Empath, this is extremely draining. An Empath wants all people around them to feel good about themselves. And when a HSP is in the mode of needing constant reassurance of what they think they are feeling, an Empath becomes torn between needing to be totally honest or thinking that they have to validate the HSP. This can be toxic to true Empaths. We feel not only the pretense of a falsehood, but also the extreme emotions of what the HSP is experiencing.
So a HSP usually wants to sincerely help when they think they are validating the other person. But they do not realize that they are really lost in their own reaction. They are making assumptions about what the other person is feeling and truly are not feeling and experiencing the truth about the other person. They are not capable of separating their own emotions and the sensory input from the other person. So it is easy for them to make this mistake and think that they too are Empaths.
As I have coached and mentored many Empaths recently, I have noticed that some really are not Empaths. They actually are a Highly Sensitive Person. HSPs are awesome people. I have many friends who are HSPs. Their talents are just as important and just as much needed in this world. I fully and wholeheartedly am grateful for HSPs. They are a genuine and very caring breed of people. And they share many wonderful traits with Empaths. So I, an Empath, can really relate to most all HSPs. So I do not write this blog entry to discourage, disparage, or ridicule Highly Sensitive People. I instead write this blog entry to help HSPs to not embarrass themselves by claiming that they are something the really are not. Though the experience may seem real at the time, a HSP who thinks they are helping, can cause some real emotional damage.
A bit of advice to all HSPs. You will probably find yourself continually taking in the energies and actions of others and relate them to yourself to the point that it affects you mentally and emotionally. You need to learn not to relate everyone else’s stories to yourself. You need to begin to recognize, heal and clear your own past. Then when you begin to relate to another person’s story, you won’t make the mistake of escalating your relating it to your own story. If you understand and experience the other person’s story in a positive energetic way, you can be clear headed enough to show them lots of sympathy and be a real help to them.
And for you Empaths, you need to learn to recognize this type of situation. If you are dealing with a HSP and they think they are an Empath, there will be lots of negative projecting from the HSP and this will only escalate the relationship into strong negative experiences. Learn to recognize when this is happening by separating yourself from their emotions long enough to recognize your own. Then you will realize what is theirs and what is yours. This will allow you to see that the other is really not feeling about you what they think they are feeling. Then you can, in the way of a gentle Empath, help to guide them to the understanding of who they truly are. And it may not be you who needs to be the one to tell them they are not an Empath. But at least you can be true to the HSP and help guide them closer to what their real truth is. They are indeed a Highly Sensitive Person and can become a Higher Functioning HSP with some wonderful guidance and training.
A final word of advice. If you are in doubt about whether you are a HSP or an Empath, take the question to God. Ask him in sincere prayer. Ask him to guide you to your truth. Then when you know the truth, ask God to guide you and help you to serve using what you know to be your true talents. Learn all you can about what it means to be a HSP or an Empath then do all you can to be a Higher Functioning HSP or Empath.
Love and Light,
The LDS Empath