You won’t find a lack of fictional Empaths in pop culture. Perhaps the most popular is the Star Trek character Deanna Troi.
Troi served as the counselor aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard. The show explained her empathic abilities as coming from her Betazed heritage. As an empath, she can sense emotions and intentions. She uses her gifts to advise the Enterprise crew on approaching specific situations and avoiding danger.
Another pop-culture example of an Empath is Jean Gray from The X-Men comics and film franchise. Like Troi, Jean has the ability to sense emotions. But she can also read thoughts and manipulate energy to her whims.
The portrayals of Deanna Troi and Jean Gray have given regular folks colorful, if somewhat misleading, ideas of what Empaths are like. Add to this the fact that there’s a new term for a rather similar personality trait – the Highly Sensitive Person.
Let’s define here what an Empath and a Highly Sensitive Person are and what makes them different from each other.
What is an Empath?
First I want to say I approach this as two different types of Empaths. There is the Born Empath and the Conditioned Empath.
I define a Born Empath as someone who may feel physical sensations or emotions more deeply in their own physical body or digest them on a psychic level. They are like sponges – they absorb all the energy coming toward them.
Sometimes, the energy sticks to them instead of passing through. When this happens, they can have a hard time shaking it off, discerning what is their own energy, physical experiences or emotions and become overwhelmed.
A born Empath is someone who connects with energy naturally. It’s an ability they innately have.
On the other hand, a Conditioned Empath is someone who has learned to read social cues, body language, and other subtle forms of communication, often from an early age, usually out of survival or as a trauma response. They learned to read a person’s energetic state or emotional response because they had to.
They may have grown up in an environment that’s not safe or nurturing, which means they may constantly be in survival mode. They may also have mistaken this type of energy or emotional matching as a healthy connection as they probably very much wanted a deep emotional connection with a parent or caregiver in childhood and this wasn’t available to them.
Whether you’re a Born Empath or a Conditioned Empath, you’re exposed to emotional and energetic overload. You feel other people’s feelings and energy as if they’re your own. Also, you can have a strong intuition and often know exactly what needs to be done in most situations. Conflict distresses you, so you avoid it as much as you can – which means it can be difficult for you to say “no” and set boundaries.
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
What about Highly Sensitive People? A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is someone receptive to energy as a whole, whether that energy comes from a living or non-living source. This means they get downloads or information varying from people, deceased spirits, a building, an heirloom ring, pets and so on.
Depending on how a HSP has crafted their skill this can be information communicated to them or give them an alert to their body, especially their nervous system and senses. This can range from a HSPs body feeling “lit up” to having their “clair’s” activated.
They are also vulnerable to sensory overload – bright lights, loud noises, strong smells or certain textures. HSPs are highly appreciative of beauty, whether it’s in nature, art, or music. They can also pick up on the subtle details existing in their environment.
Not all HSP’s necessarily feel people’s emotions or physical symptoms in their body for prolonged time like a Born Empath might. It may feel more like passing through. HSP are less likely to hoard energy as they are a powerhouse of energy processing. One major clue of a HSP can be they run from always being really cold to really hot as their body’s temperature can change as they process energy.
Because of their tendency to become overstimulated, HSPs commonly avoid situations where they can experience sensory overload. They often retreat to familiar and safe spaces where they can decompress.
So, what’s the difference?
As you can see, Empaths and HSPs have a lot in common. They’re both sensitive to the energy surrounding them. Empaths, however, are more in tune with other people’s emotions and tend to absorb them as if these emotions are their own. HSPs, on the other hand, are sensitive to energy in general, regardless of the source.
As an Empath or an HSP, you can learn how to connect more fully with the energy around you. More than that, you can use it for your own healing and manifest your dreams and desires in the external world. Find out how by signing up for my workshop for Empaths and HSPs.