Is highly sensitive person the same as an empath?

Often, people ask 'Is highly sensitive person the same as an empath?'. It is a common misconception that highly sensitive people must be empathic and vice versa. There is a clear difference, which we'll explain to you. First, let's have a look at the definitions:

Highly sensitive person

As you can read in this article, a highly sensitive person is a person who processes external stimuli on a deep level. Moreover, it is a genetic personality trait that causes a HSP to feel more alert and aware of subtleties in his or her surroundings. As a result, they react strongly towards external stimuli such as bright lights, loud noises, scratchy clothes, strong smells and much more. Therefore, when highly sensitive people are exposed to too much external stimuli over a longer amount of time, they can become incredibly exhausted and overstimulated.


Empaths have the ability to be accurately aware of the emotions of the people around them. Moreover, they don't just notice it, but actually feel like they absorb the emotions of the person in front of them. In fact, it feels as the emotions are their own. Even more, this may go as far as experiencing physical symptoms, according to Dr. Judith Orloff. To explain, this can be related to the larger amount of mirror neurons in their brains compared to less empathic people. Mirror neurons enable people to emphasize with the feelings and pain of others.

Unfortunately, not only feeling their own emotions and pain, but also the pain of others, can be incredibly exhausting for empaths. As a result, they might at times even struggle from panic attacts, chronic fatigue and depression, says Dr. Judith Orloff. 

The difference between highly sensitive people and empaths

So, is highly sensitive person the same as an empath? Initially, one might consider the two types of personalities the same. However, there is one big difference. Highly sensitive people have an increased amount of mirror neurons, just like empaths. Accordingly, this gives them empathic characteristics. Therefore, many highly sensitive people also consider themselves empaths. However, people who are solely empaths do not have a sensitive sensory processing system like highly sensitive people do. As a result, here's the difference; an empath may feel all kind of feelings in relation to other people, animals and their emotions and pain, but not be bothered at all by the sensory input such as bright lights, loud noises or strong smells. However, a highly sensitive people will, on top of their empathy, be stimulated by that.

What do highly sensitive people and empaths have in common?

Besides their increased level of empathy, highly sensitive people and empaths have one thing in common. Similarily, both have to be more aware of their boundaries and need to recharge their energy in time. As a result, self care is essential for highly sensitive people and empaths in order to thrive.

Find out if you are highly sensitive or an empath

There are tests to find out if you are highly sensitive and/or if you are an empath. For instance, they will help you to understand yourself better and thrive more in life. 

Tests to find out if you are highly sensitive

Tests to find out if you are an empath