How to Know if You’re an Empath or HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)
Updated Oct, 2020. Originally published on my website selfcareforyourspirit in 2017
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Am I an Empath or a Highly Sensitive Person?
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably heard of the terms Empath and HSP (or highly sensitive person) before. It’s also pretty likely that you’ve seen some videos and read other info where the content seems to fit you pretty well. And I’ll bet you’ve also noticed that a lot of the time both these terms are defined in the same way!
With all this information out there and the terms crossing over into each other, how are you supposed to know which one you are? And more importantly how do you find out the best way to take of yourself once you do?
What I want to do is help you define yourself as a sensitive being on your own terms and cut through any preconceived notions of having to fit into a particular description. So I’m going to present you with a little history, some definitions and scenarios. As well as a few of my favourite self care techniques and energy protection tips for sensitive people and empaths. In this way, you can see what resonates with you and take that away and make it your own.
A Little History and Some Definitions
Not too long ago Dr. Elaine Aron defined the personality type highly sensitive person and estimated that 20% of the population was HSP and 3-5% were Empaths. Dr. Aaron’s work and that of many others helped bring this information into the mainstream and suddenly there were thousands of us who could relate to these unique set of traits that gave us validity and community. Personally, I think these numbers are much higher today as many people are awakening to their gifts and the energies in the world are more supportive of our uniqueness.
The term empath has been around much longer, and more specifically the word empathy. I’m going to define that in a moment, but the application of this term to a personality type as opposed to a situational response has been pretty recent.
So let’s jump in right off the bat and check out some definitions:
- Sympathy: to feel badly or have compassion for another person, place or situation
- Sensitive: highly responsive or susceptible to external forces/agents/stimuli
- Empathy: the ability to feel the emotions present in another person, place or situation
That seems pretty straightforward, so how about a little scenario?
You are out for a walk and you come across a little girl who’s crying. She tells you that she has lost her cat and she’s very upset.
If you are a sympathetic person, you would probably feel bad for her and her situation. Even if you havent experienced it yourself, you can easily imagine how it might feel for her.
Now, if you are a highly sensitive person you may naturally feel upset for her and what she’s going through, plus it will affect you quite deeply. Her tears might make you feel sad and you may have other emotions come up. In fact it’s likely you will have memories or thoughts about a similar situation where you felt the same way and you can easily get caught up in the moment.
As an empath, you may have the same response to this situation as a sensitive person. But in addition to that, you could also feel the exact emotions that the little girl has. It may not be sadness that is causing her tears. You might feel any anxiety, fear or confusion she is experiencing. There could suddenly be new sensations or temperature changes in your body as her energetic state is interacting with yours. For instance if she’s very frantic you might start to feel fidgety and nervous or conversely, if she feels immobilized by fear or confusion then you might as well. In other words, you are having the same experience as she is.
So in defining whether you are a highly sensitive person or an empath, the question you really need to ask yourself is:
Even though I’m highly affected by someone else’s situation, am I really good at observing what they are feeling or am I actually experiencing their state of being including their emotions, senses and energy?
Take a moment and think about that.
These are very similar reactions, but there is quite a difference.
So here’s another situation for you. You know that old metaphor about walking in someone else’s shoes? Well the difference is that while the highly sensitive person is affected by the situation, they don’t actually take it on and become part of it. They see the situation (shoes) and while they can easily imagine what it’s like to wear them and it affects them on the sensory level, it ends there.
But my dear empath friends if you are like me, not only are you able to imagine wearing the other person’s shoes, you can feel your body in them, and the emotions, energy, textures, colours, smells and the whole kitchen sink full of emotions and experience that the other person is going through! Then you can feel like that for hours or even days and not even know why. Whew, no wonder life can get confusing when you aren’t aware of your sensitive and empathic superpowers!
So what you think? Are you getting a handle on which set of abilities you have?
What about different environments?
Another important factor in the lives of HSPs and empaths is how much we are affected by the environment’s that we are in. This is why it’s common for both types to become easily overwhelmed by outside energies and tend to need a lot of time to ourselves. When the world gets to be too much, hanging out in energetically neutral places or at home to relax and recharge is simply part of our lives.
Case in point. Have you ever been somewhere where suddenly a couple gets into a fight? Did you notice how the mood and energy of the space can drastically change in an instant? Both sensitives and empaths will feel this right away and be affected by it.
What differentiates us is how we respond to the energy. A sensitive person may experience discomfort and/or have sympathy for the people around them and their discomfort. But they likely won’t take on the negativity and energy of the people who were arguing. Empaths on the other hand can very easily find their entire system upset and overwhelmed by what’s going on around them. And if they haven’t taken precautions to establish where their own energy is at, get grounded and protect themselves, it’s highly likely they will find themselves full of negative emotions, or even as angry as the people who were arguing! And that serves no one.
This is why it’s essential to know what type of person you are and what abilities you have, because your self care will depend on it.
Self-care for the Empath and HSP
As HSPs and empaths, we have a responsibility to ourselves to know how we are feeling and to honour that in ourselves. Both types need to be aware of their energy and to be grounded and connected to our physical bodies. This helps protect your energy from leaving if you get overwhelmed. And just as importantly, it protects you from taking on any unwanted or discordant energy from the people and places you are around.
Grounding and Energy Check-in Technique
As Empaths and HSPs we have a tendency to go up into heads when we get overwhelmed, so it’s very important to check in on our energy and learn how to get grounded. This is actually really easy to do. I have a technique I call the Energetic Check-In you can do anywhere, at any time (okay, well not when driving) and it will help you get clear on your own energetic and emotional state of being. And more importantly, you can make it a habit that becomes part of your daily ritual.
So try this out
Take a moment. Big breath in, hold it for a moment and then release it as you consciously feel your feet on whatever surface you are standing on. Wiggle your toes if you need to. Feel your connection to the earth and the gravity holding you there. Slowly let your mind travel up your body. Allow yourself to feel any sensations as you do and then stop at your heart area.
Now ask yourself How am I feeling inside? Are these my feelings or have these come from someone or somewhere else?
Trust the 1st answer that pops into your head. Don’t overthink this.
Now you are grounded and have a sense of how you’re feeling inside. Time to look at protecting the outside.
All sentient beings have their own energy source that extends out from them, often known as the aura. When two auras intersect and overlap it is very easy for sensitives and empaths to take on the aspects of who or what we are encountering.
If you are mindful and conscious about your aura you can easily protect it so that you can intentionally choose how much or little energy and information you want to take on. Here’s another fun and really effective technique to try.
The Magic Door Shield
With intention, prayer or any ritual that you like, imagine setting a boundary of energy in the space where your home door leads to outside. Set the intention that every time you leave, your aura will be wrapped in a protective film that keeps your energy intact. Imagine any colour, texture or material you like that makes you feel safe and secure. Tell it that positive and loving energy can flow in and out, but no negative energy can come in. In fact it bounces right off your awesome shield. Feels good, right?
Next, set the intention for when you come home. As you walk through your door any and all unwanted or discordant energy you may have picked up (whether you remembered to put a shield around you or not) is automatically filtered from you and your aura. All that energy is taken by the universe to be recycled, released and renewed back as neutral energy to the source where it came from. You can even add a sound effect to the Magic Door Shield as you walk through it. Make it your own and have fun with it!
- As an Empath you might also want to add a little extra “flavour” to your energy boundary by adding the intention that you will still be able to feel the people and places around you, but that you won’t take on any information or energy that will overwhelm you and that isn’t for your highest good
- As an HSP you might try adding an extra filter which still gives you sensory access to everything, but dampens down the overload of information to a level where you aren’t flooded by it
Now you know how to check your energy, get grounded and have some basic protection techniques.The next step is to get familiar with your abilities and to be responsible in keeping your energy clear and protected.
For those of you that are feeling like you are more of an empath, it is essential for you to make sure you are taking time every day to open, clear and balance your chakras. Like the energy check-in, it will give you a sense of how you are feeling inside, but will also allow for a healthy flow of energy in and out of your system. Try a guided meditation or consider doing some distance energy healing.
For HSPs, chakra clearing and balancing is also a good idea. But first and foremost you need to be very mindful of yourself in your body. When you have that sense of comfort in your physicality and are protecting your energy, your ability to tolerate, if not totally roll with high sensory situations will become easier and with less down time afterwards.
You’ve Totally Got This
Now that you have an understanding of some definitions, scenarios, self care and energy protection techniques, you should have good insight into what type of special gifts you possess. But ultimately, there is no definitive guide.
So keep on reading and watching videos. Connect with other empaths and HSPs (Facebook groups are awesome for this) From all the information you’ve gathered, it will be easy to know what feels right in your heart and trust your instincts. Because after all, your unique abilities to sense are what make you such an awesome empath or HSP.
- Check out my Pinterest Board specifically for Lightworkers, Empaths, highly sensitive people, HSP and Energy Workers. It’s full of great ideas, links to articles and resources, plus the graphics are super fun!
- The original HSP highly sensitive person test by Dr. Elaine Aron
- Dr. Judith Orloff, Author of “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” has a quick 8 point Am I An Empath quiz here.
So now Id love to hear from you!
COMMENT BELOW & TELL ME
- What did you discover? Do you think you are an Empath, HSP or something else?
- Do you have your own style of energetic shielding? Tell us about it.
Did You Enjoy this Article?
It’s my mission to help inspire and support as many lightworkers, energy healers, empaths, intuitive, sensitives and HSPs as possible! So if you know someone who may benefit from this article, please share.
Because its true, sharing is caring!