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  • Writer's pictureDr. Elena Duong

Empath or Highly Sensitive Person?

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Have you heard of empaths? Ever wonder what is the difference between empaths and highly sensitive people? You are not the only one thinking that. There is a significant overlap, but there is a difference.

What Does it Mean to Be an Empath?

Empaths are similar to highly sensitive people in feeling overstimulated and requiring alone time to reset (Orloff, n.d.). Dr. Judith Orloff, author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, noted empaths have the ability to sense subtle energy changes and absorb it into their bodies, which allows them to deeply feel emotions, including pain of others. This can happen to the point of not being able to separate one's own emotions from another.

Dr. Orloff shared that there are scientific explanations for the existence of both empathy and empaths (n.d.). One of the explanations is the mirror neuron system allowing for our cells in our bodies to mirror and resonate with the feelings of others. If you are interested in seeing whether you are an empath, Dr. Judith Orloff has an Empath Self-Test on her site:

How Do You Become an Empath?

Dr. Orloff revealed that empaths are born with the trait (n.d.). Factors contributing to being an empath include genetics, having a trauma background and not feeling “seen” by the world, and supportive parenting (Orloff, n.d.). The trauma background and supportive parenting do not seem to be mutually exclusive. A person can have both or either contributing to their empath trait. These factors can impact a person by making them more attuned or sensitive to the feelings of others.

What is the Difference Between Empaths and Highly Sensitive People?

According to Judith Orloff, M.D. (n.d.), empaths and highly sensitive people (HSP) exist on a spectrum with everyone else. The slight difference between the two is the intensity in the experience of other's emotions, i.e., empaths tend to experience a stronger reaction to other's emotions than HSPs. People who are highly sensitive are next to the empaths on one end of the spectrum. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people without true empathy exist like people who are psychopaths. Everyone else who experiences empathy are somewhere in the middle. If you are interested in seeing a visual representation of this spectrum on Dr. Orloff's site, feel free to click here.

Due to the many similarities with highly sensitive people, the coping skills are very similar. Feel free to refer back to the highly sensitive people page. Dr. Orloff recommends their book to help those living in the world as an empath. Their book is listed in the resources below.

If you want mental health support in your journey as an empath, feel free to contact us through our site. Our psychologists both identify as having traits of empaths. We are here as supports if you need us.

Stay tuned. The next topic is "Anti-Asian Hate."


Orloff, J. (n.d.). 4 Reasons Why People Become Empath: From Trauma to Genetics. Judith Orloff M.D.

Orloff, J. (n.d.). 5 Scientific Explanations of Empathy and Empaths. Judith Orloff M.D.

Orloff, J. (n.d.). The Differences Between Empaths and Highly Sensitive People. Judith Orloff M.D.


Orloff, J. (2017). The Empath’s Survival Guide. Sounds True.

Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.

Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.

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