Empath vs. Highly Sensitive Person

A few weeks back I blogged about the traits of an empath. Being an empath can be nurtured or inherited genetically. Unfortunately some people become empaths as a way of surviving childhood trauma. I liken it to developing a super power as a child. Having the skill to check the emotional temperature in a room can protect a child from walking into a potentially violent situation.

Empaths can also be Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s) but they do not necessarily go hand in hand. HSP is a biological personality trait. Roughly, 20% of the population is HSP. They are often described as introverts but they can be an extroverted.

HSP’s have sensory sensitivities. They can be sensitive to any and/or all environmental stimuli. They can get overwhelmed and require quiet time to recharge after a day of life interactions. If you are HSP and empathic, everyday life can be challenging to process.

Imagine walking into a room full of people and you hear chatter in your head and begin to feel nauseous. You feel the person next to you is very sad. You feel the depth of their despair and it makes you sad. You begin to feel tired. The lights are so bright in the room that you have to squint to see. The lighting is hurting your eyes. The cologne from the guy standing 10 feet away is assaulting your olfactory senses and burning your nose. You feel a headache coming on from the smell. Someone across the room is smiling and chatting yet you know that they are depressed. Their heart is hurting. Your heart begins to literally ache. The music is so loud you cannot focus. The words in the song and the voice feel very negative and your mood drops lower. You begin to feel hungry and find your way to the food bar but all they are serving is gumbo and you hate slimy okra. You begin to get angry because you are hungry and need to eat soon. All your senses are on fire and the room begins to close in on you. You feel like you cannot breathe and you are overwhelmed both physically and emotionally. This is a typical scenario for the empath who also happens to be highly sensitive. Life can be overwhelming by simply going to the grocery store or anywhere where there are big crowds. Sensory overload happens and you retreat to a quiet place.

Are you Highly Sensitive? If you can relate to most of these, then you are more than likely HSP.

If you:

  • Need plenty of time alone.
  • Are sensitive to smells – both fragrant and pungent. Candle scents, perfumes and air fresheners can give you a headache, burning eyes or other physical symptoms.
  • Are sensitive to lighting – you might get a headache or have to squint in certain lighting. Flashing lights and strobe lighting can be uncomfortable and even trigger a migraine. (Last year I changed out our Christmas tree lights to LED. I became sensitive to the flashing LED lights and it brought on a migraine.)
  • Are sensitive to sounds – loud music, large noisy crowds. You may be prone to tinnitus. You might be able to hear sounds that others cannot such as electric buzzing and water dripping in another room.
  • Are picky about how clothing feels on your skin. Some textures do not feel good against your skin. As a child, you might have refused to wear certain clothing even though you liked the pattern or design.
  • Are picky about the texture of certain foods. You may refuse to eat certain foods because they feel slimy or gross in your mouth.
  • You are sensitive to stimulants. Caffeine can put you over the edge. You have a low threshold with alcohol.
  • Were shy as a child and kept to yourself. (I had friends but spent a lot of time in my room creating my own imaginary world).
  • Have a great imagination and inner world. You can be very creative.
  • You are sensitive to chemicals. You can develop a sensitivity to products you use on your body. (I have to use fragrance and dye free products. I’m sensitive to pest control chemicals so I use essential oils in my home to control insects.)
  • Get easily overwhelmed in crowded places.
  • Feel a heightened sense of pain. You may have a low pain threshold.
  • Get “hangry” easily. You tend to be hyperglycemic and have to eat when you are hungry.
  • Sense the barometric pressure and can feel it in your body. (I tend to get migraines with barometric pressure changes).
  • Notice details that others do not. You are very perceptive and pick up on nuances.
  • Cry easily. Whether happy or sad, you feel it very deeply.
  • Think about the deeper meaning in life.
  • Become deeply attached to those that you are romantically involved with.
  • Have a hard time letting go of circumstances. Change is very challenging.
  • Avoid crowded places or plan ahead so you avoid a crowd.
  • Need more sleep than others.
  • Seek meaning in romantic relationships.
  • May have an autoimmune disease. You might even have several autoimmune diseases. (I’ve had Grave’s Disease, lupus, rosacea, allergies and fibromyalgia along with general arthritis)

This is not a complete list of HSP traits but if you can identify with most of these, you are more than likely an HSP. If you are both an empath and HSP, there are ways you can offset the unavoidable situations in life. It is important to do radical self care. HSP and being an empath can seem like a curse at times but the world needs us, especially right now. Do not be afraid to be the rare unicorn that you are! On my next blog, I’ll dive into tools that can help you to do self care and utilize your senstivities in a positive way.

What is a Mushball?

What is a mushball?  My definition involves a very emotional person who cries at commercials and feels the highest highs and deepest lows.  They feel too much sometimes.  They love deeply and others have a hard time comprehending that they can love so easily. 

Although I have not seen this as an attribute but rather a weakness in myself, I am learning that it takes courage to be honest about my vulnerabilities.  YES, I Am a Mushball!  There I said it (blushing and feeling like I’ve attended my first AA meeting). 

I’m emotional, vulnerable, empathic…so what?  I guarantee you that I not only experience all of the black and white but the many shades of grey.  As a matter of fact I experience the whole infrared spectrum too.  I’m still working on the self judging and loathing of being so emotional but the first step in recovery is awareness of the situation.  It IS okay to feel so deep.  It is a gift.  It is a strength that can be used to help others. 

As my perception changes, I become more courageous in my own eyes.