Deeper Perception Made Practical

HSPs Versus Empaths. What’s the Diff?


HSPs Versus Empaths. Can you tell the difference?

HSPs. Empaths. Do you wonder which is which?

Could be, you could use more clarity about the difference between being a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP) versus being an empath. Well, today’s set of quiz answers may wind up helping a great deal.

When I set out to provide Answers 8-15 to our Psychopath-Inspired Quiz for Empaths, hello! The topic of HSPs became an elephant in the room.

Never one to ignore such invitations, I’m going to describe that elephant, not just the rest of the room.

But first some context. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, the originator of the term, a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.

As for the originator of the term “empath,” that has been used for generations, especially in science fiction. When it comes to the first writer who developed a system for helping empaths, or wrote a book comparable to Aron’s “The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You,” well, you’re reading her blog right now.

That system is Empath Empowerment®. The first book for empaths was “Empowered by Empathy.” Now here comes that empath coach’s definition:

An empath has at least one significant gift for directly experiencing what it is like to be a different person. All empaths are HSPs, but there’s more to them than that.

Curious about the differences between HSPs and empaths? We’re continuing our answers to our Quiz for Empaths inspired by a standard quiz for psychopaths. So you might want take the Original Empath Quiz before continuing further. Answers to Questions 1 through 7 are to found in this Empath Quiz Answers post. Or simply read if you are curious about understanding the difference between HSPs and empaths. And their polar opposite, psychopaths. Shudder and learn!

Question 8. Compassion from empaths and HSPs

“When other people suffer, I don’t like it.”


Now here comes the really fascinating nuance. HSPs are bothered, really bothered, by the suffering of others. Psychopaths don’t care one bit; they may not even notice. Or, if they do notice, the extra energy given off by a person in distress may become a sick source of amusement.

Non-HSPs who aren’t psychopaths don’t especially like it when other people suffer. Of course, the degree of distress may vary — both the average Joe’s degree of caring about anyone and how his degree of distress depends on closeness to the sufferer, etc.

But unskilled empaths — those who have not yet consciously learned an effective method to become skilled empaths — don’t leave the reaction to suffering there.

Being in the presence of someone who suffers usually triggers multiple unskilled empath merges. The empath winds up taking on STUFF, in a kind of misguided volunteer effort.

Why misguided?

  1. The sufferer receives momentary relief but no permanent healing (as discussed elsewhere at this blog).
  2. The unskilled empath takes on some STUFF from the sufferer, which is sure to linger in the empath’s aura for quite a while, maybe years.
  3. The volunteer work is generally done reflexively and not consciously, so the empath doesn’t even know “I just did a misguided, ineffective, but kinda sweet bit of volunteer work. No, the only thing an empath will typically notice consciously is, “I feel terrible. (As usual.)”

Question 9. Taking for empaths and HSPs

“Living off other people, selfishness, being a taker: Doing this would be my nightmare.”

TRUE. Both HSPs and empaths have sensitive consciences. This is exactly the opposite of being a psychopath, who has no conscience (at best). Some psychopaths take a twisted pleasure in selfishness, or worse.

However, what about differences for empaths and HSPs?

Ethically and socially, the responses of both groups are similar. But unskilled empaths can live a  kind of nightmare. Without consciously knowing what they do, empaths are takers alright. Takers of STUFF.

Remember, unskilled empaths do frequent unskilled empath merges with random people. In the process, they take on pain or STUFF from those people, having it land splat! Right into the empath’s aura.

This is why empaths can feel drained after a simple trip to the mall, as described at the start of “Empowered by Empathy.”

HSPs might feel tired after a trip to the mall, due to being overstimulated. This is an entirely different kind of fatigue. Get it?

To this consciousness nerd, distinctions like this are really fascinating. 😉

Question 10. Guilt for empaths and HSPs

“I try to act appropriately with others. If I slip up and do something inappropriate or rude, afterwards I feel terrible.”


Once again, empaths and HSPs respond in a manner that is truly opposite to the inclinations of psychopaths who can revel in using their “power” or “cleverness” unscrupulously.

While the general population, neither HSPs nor psychopaths, has more of a situational approach. It which might be expressed this way: “Sometimes I will feel guilty over my actions, other times I won’t, depending on the circumstances.”

Yet what is the standard of appropriateness for an HSP who is not an empath? Take Gladys for an example of such an HSP, while I will add Joe as an example of being an empath.

Say there has been a failed visit, where nobody had a good time: Gladys plus Joe plus their Dad, Mr. Glower.

Gladys, the non-empath Highly Sensitive Person, would be able to tell that Dad has had a bad time.

Non-empaths (and also skilled empaths) can have an excellent way to monitor any social situation they like. No empath merge required. The simple skill is called “Paying attention on the surface level of reality.”

  • What did Mr. Glower say?
  • What did he do, especially before flinging those empty beer cans onto the floor?
  • How many different ways did his facial expression show extreme boredom during the visit?
  • For those interested in body language, how did Daddy Glower give off mixed messages right from the first, “Oh, it’s you, is it?”

By contrast, what about the reaction from Joe, the HSP who is also an empath.

If Joe is unskilled as an empath, he may not consciously notice that Dad is upset until the sad conclusion of the visit, signalled by the slam of Dad’s front door, with both Joe and his sister unceremoniously kicked out of Dad’s apartment.

Unskilled empaths can be remarkably clueless about paying attention to reality. There can be an unfortunate lack of paying attention, due to being over-involved with inner reality of one kind or another. Being oversubjective, Joe may not notice too much about what has been going on. Although that won’t stop him from feeling guilty afterwards.

During that visit, as an unskilled empath, Joe will undoubtedly have done his usual unskilled empath thing — loads of unskilled empath merges, less than a second each time, sampling the distress of everybody in the room: Dad, Gladys, the cranky goldfish swimming in Dad’s glass jar, you name it. With the involuntary, unenjoyable taking on of STUFF included, of course. (For illustration of all this, see “Become the Most Important Person in the Room[now updated for the Age of Awakening as Empath Empowerment in 30 Days]. Only don’t expect to see the goldfish, which would be drawn better by the likes of Dr. Seuss.)

So an unskilled empath takes on loads of STUFF PLUS feeling guilty.

What if Joe were a skilled empath

Then Joe would act like a regular person. He wouldn’t take on STUFF. He might notice Dad’s distress but not necessarily feel guilty at all.

A skilled empath saves the use of his or her empath gift(s) for very brief periods of time dedicated to purposely doing a Skilled Empath Merge. That would involve deliberately using a technique of Skilled Empath Merge. And thereby being protected from picking on STUFF.

Those of you Blog-Buddies who have become skilled empaths know that doing a Skilled Empath Merge brings you way more intense, accurate, useful information about the person you’re merging with.

Compared with what? Doing a reflexive ooch into the inner experience of somebody else.

So this ability of doing a Skilled Empath Merge isn’t only a matter of energetic hygiene or having control. Skilled empaths can use their empath gifts to do powerful service to humanity. It’s amazing how well a skilled empath can understand, and then help, people who are suffering, as appropriate.

Question 11. Importance of sex for empaths and HSPs

“Having as much sex as possible with as many people as possible is my idea of a good day.”

FALSE, probably

Psychopaths score really high on the need for sexual variety, with an absence of personal caring for the sex object.

Yet plenty of empaths and HSPs find sex really, really important in life. Beyond that, configurations of STUFF may bring about a love addiction, pornography addiction, or other problems with sexual obsession. No way are empaths and HSPs immune!

However, unlike psychopaths, HSPs and empaths are likely to seek help from psychotherapists, practitioners of Energy Spirituality, Energy Psychology, Energy Medicine, etc. After they receive healing, the HSP or empath will have more control. Because, unlike a psychopath, HSPs and empaths may find it is a good day to have multiple partners for sex but they don’t necessarily believe that doing this, day in and day out, is a good thing.

Have I had clients who are both empaths and obsessed with sex, one way or another? Yes. Have I been able to help many of them? Yes.

Compared to plain-vanilla HSPs, it is especially important for empaths to get over a love addiction. Because guess what unskilled empaths are taking in, every love affair, every single random time? STUFF, of course. This doesn’t happen to the HSPs who aren’t empaths, or to “normal people” or to psychopaths.

Blog-Buddies, are you beginning to appreciate the difference? Unskilled empaths suffer enormously, until becoming skilled empaths. Just like anyone else, empaths can get away with using multiple sexual partners (or perhaps giving them “The thrill of a lifetime). Only empaths will become so terribly bogged down by STUFF.

Energetic literacy is, of course, how I came to notice all this. I don’t expect all empath coaches or HSP coaches or recovery coaches or anyone else to necessarily agree with my findings, theories, techniques, etc.

But I sure wish that my colleagues would use energetic literacy in the first place. Otherwise they will miss really important information that could inform all theories… and help clients enormously.

Question 12. Ethics for empaths and HSPs

“Early in life, I cared about being a good person. I still do now.”

TRUE. And how different this is from being a psychopath or anyone else who experiments this time around in having a perpetrator lifetime.

What about the difference in ethics between a regular HSP versus the kind of Highly Sensitive Person who is also an empath?

Both types of HSP will be sensitive to ethics, of course. But unskilled empaths tend to include a sad, unhelpful habit as though it were an ethical requirement in every conflict-type situation.

Bet you know what that is.

Does any situation in everyday life require that a person do an unskilled empath merge, all the better to understand all participants in a conflict? Definitely not.

Empaths have a kind of subjective super-power. It needs to be used with care, on purpose, appropriately. Without skills, empaths tend to bring out their empath super-powers during everyday situations that really require objective, regular, human powers — a.k.a. “Speech” and “Action.”

Question 13. Deferred gratification for empaths and HSPs

“I live just for the moment, with no realistic long-term goals. This would cramp my style, make me boring.”

OFTEN FALSE, but not necessarily

Psychopaths generally live this way, zero deferred gratification. But empaths and plain vanilla HSPs may live this way, too. And it may not even be a matter of STUFF that distorts behavior.

Just one example: If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs type indicator, you know that one of the four variables used for personality typing is Judging vs. Perceiving. A person’s score on this variable could impact deferred gratification.

Making any kind of correlation between Myers-Briggs scores and being an empath or HSP would be a terrible mistake, incidentally. As with this quote from Wikipedia on the typing system: “So TJ types tend to appear to the world as logical, and FJ types as empathetic.” Perhaps a conversation for our Comments section below? The day that Wikipedia gets anything right about empath, energetic literacy, aura reading, or even face reading — well, let me know. Provided that I live to see the happy day.

To really understand what is going on with your own relationship to deferred gratification, I would recommend some in-depth aura reading. Could be, some patterns of STUFF get in the way of your ideal functioning, whether you like to defer gratification or not.

This can a great clean-up area. “Improve my ability to defer gratification” would make a fine intention for just about anyone doing a session of RES Energy HEALING.

Question 14. Impulse control for empaths and HSPs

“If there’s something I want, I’ll take it. Right then. I pride myself on my spontaneity.”


What one person calls “spontaneity” another person calls “selfish” or “inappropriate” or even “criminal.” Empaths and HSPs squirm at pure taking… unless a bunch ‘o STUFF is in the way.

Psychopaths have no such scruples.

What’s really interesting about impulse control in the lives of empaths? Many of us show excessive impulse control, at least until we become skilled empaths. (And move out cords of attachment with STUFF related to experiences of playing “doormat” in life.)

Why would that be different from plain vanilla Highly Sensitive Persons? They base impulse control, like everything else, on a sense of identity that is spontaneously, relatively, clear.

By contrast, born empaths are loaded with gorgeous spiritual talent. However, an unskilled empath’s sense of identity tends to be blurry — because of habits of using consciousness, doing unskilled empath merges, etc. Until becoming a skilled empath, the needs and desires of other people may seem as real to us as our own.

Maybe some of you Blog-Buddies can share stories here of “impulse control” that automatically veered into “sacrifice” until you became a skilled empath.

Question 15. Freedom for empaths and HSPs

“Living in the moment and doing whatever I please — to me, that’s freedom.”


It is a form of freedom, living this way. Also saying whatever you please.

Psychopaths can live that way but so can empaths and plain vanilla HSPs. In most life situations, isn’t that perfectly compatible with being an honorable, kind, generous person?

Choosing to compromise, for the sake of kindness etc., is another glorious exercise in freedom — although admittedly not what a psychopath would do.

In a funny way, then, we have finally located a quiz question where everybody could score the same answer, though for different reasons. For instance, check out the nuanced answers from those who posted responses to our Psychopath-Inspired New Quiz for Empaths.

What do you think?

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  1. 1
    Curious to Know More says:

    Thank you, Rose. This is terrific!

  2. 2

    Thank you for this, Rose!

    Many years ago when I first heard of HSPs (long before I heard of the term empath), I was convinced that that was what I was.

    But I later discovered that I am an empath. Still, I felt the line/distinction between an HSP and an empath was very blurred. Thanks for the thorough clarification!

  3. 3

    LINDSAY, great to hear from you. So happy to have helped. These distinctions are the opposite of trivial.

    Also (if I’m not mistaken), this is your first comment here. So welcome to “Deeper Perception Made Practical.”

  4. 4
    Jody G. says:

    Soooo interesting. Thank you, Rose.

    All rings true for me, and it has been hugely helpful for extending my self-understanding by understanding more about these differences.

  5. 5
    Amanda says:

    Hello Rose,

    This is turning out to be very interesting indeed. Thank you for this insight which does make sense.

    I have a bit of a burning question relating to your point that empaths tend to have excessive impulse control. Presumably empaths would be more likely to have other excessive conscience-driven responses to life which would perhaps make it difficult to exercise self-forgiveness or indeed forgiveness towards a seemingly brutal world?

    This is also related to a point made by you that ‘perfectionism slows you down’. 🙂

    I must say I can have struggles with simple, personal self-forgiveness, often equating it with being ‘callous’ and ‘getting away with it’ (indeed I find it funny and rather terrifying to imagine a world in which I could just ‘get away with it’ – as this aspect of me sees full forgiveness).

    The upshot of this struggle is that I am rather envious of this aspect of psychopathic behaviour! Aargh, aargh, more guilt, aargh! (You can’t see me laughing but I assure you I am) I would LOVE for someone to come along and say ‘It’s over. Who cares? It’s done. Off you go, be as callous as you please, you’re let off, just don’t do it again.’

    And of course it’s that kind of approach that comes from true friendships and from true teachers and, of course, in your sessions :).

    To me that’s a big insight if a rather uncomfortable and challenging one. Because what purpose does guilt serve once you’ve done what you can in reparation or in efforts to mend? in a way, what purpose do the original reparation or efforts to mend serve if you’re an empath with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for what happens in life and a consequent difficulty with letting go?

    Rose, I know with my head that this is something I need to develop, this callousness is actually healthy and that the torturing of conscience counts as STUFF, but it provokes a strong reaction in me, for sure!

    Thank you for this post and indeed this series of posts, which I certainly count as having been challenging, productive and enlightening.


  6. 6
    Grace W says:

    Rose, I can relate to what you described as excessive impulse control and sacrifice. It used to be the primary way I did relationships. I’d basically completely lose myself in the interest of connecting with the other person. I’m grateful to have a much better sense of who I am.

    Here’s a question that’s bubbled up recently that is related to this topic as well as others, so I’m hoping that it’s appropriate to raise it here. And if not, and/or if it’s too personal, no problem, just skip it.

    I’m thinking of any of the various ways that our culture doesn’t tend to support certain ways of being — whether it’s being an introvert or an HSP or even an empath (though I think that most people just plain don’t even get what that means), or not wanting to drink a lot while socializing, or being gay… basically any of a number of ways of being wired that are not necessarily in the majority.

    The question I have I ask with the hope that others might be curious about this, too, and that it isn’t too personal. Sometimes I find myself bumping into some form of judgement or another within myself that really has not come from a particular encounter with someone else, at least not to my recollection.

    I’m wondering if broader cultural messages, such as those transmitted through advertising or the media in general, among other ways they’re transmitted, can be considered forms of psychic coercion.

    I’ve often been amazed by stories of people who were told specific, awful things by their parents or teachers, and how they overcame them. Like the classic, “You can’t sing” comment being made to someone who goes on to become a famous singer, that type of thing.

    I’ve healed many limiting beliefs over the years, but have recently had this striking realization that often they didn’t come from particular statements made to me directly. I seemed to have absorbed them from who knows where, even. The broader culture and beyond, I guess. I wonder if other HSP/empath types have had this experience, too.

    One example that comes to mind specifically related to HSPs is the comment I heard not too long ago from a colleague about a female student, supposedly in jest, “You’re high maintenance.” Those kinds of comments are made often in the wider culture, in movies, on TV, etc.

    Again, maybe I’m the only one who’s had that experience, but I’m wondering if that’s yet another way that unskilled empaths and unaware HSPs pick up STUFF in the form of psychic coercion. I guess the underlying message would be “It’s not OK to be the way that you are” even though it’s not communicated directly to an individual.

    I’d say that in my case, I picked up many more limiting beliefs in that way than through specific, direct comments made to me. I’d be curious to hear if any other blog-buddies have had similar experiences.

  7. 7

    GRACE W., you have asked about something important. Very real. Yet it is not psychic coercion. Instead, it is (at a minimumum) cultural conditioning.

    Psychic coercion requires a sender, plus your being a receiver. It consists of, literally, globs and blobs of stuck energy that can be moved out by techniques of Spiritual Cleansing and Protection.

    By contrast, cultural conditioning happens when you are born in a particular place and time.

    How you are socialized, from parents etc., can contribute to this, too.

    There are so many factors that one could consider theoretically. Of course, I favor doing an empath merge with one person at one time and assessing which STUFF can be released and how.

  8. 8
    wrinkle in time says:

    I read The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron few years ago. And even though I scored high and could identify with most of what was being said in the book it was still “close, but no cigar” feeling.

    Become the Most Important Person In the Room was such a pleasant shock of fresh air for me. It was like Rose wrote that book by opening my head and reading exactly what was going on in there. So thank you very very much, Rose, for all those wonderful insights and for validation of my own realizations.

    GRACE W., yes I feel very unsupported by the current culture. I do struggle with it on the daily basis. There is one thing that I realized recently — if I want to change the culture I must engage the world, not hide away.

    I have no idea how to do it – yet, but I see the challenge staring me in the face. I might be an HSP/empath and what not, wanting to hide from the big bad world, but, on the other hand, I do like a good challenge. 🙂

  9. 9

    ERIC COLE, good to hear from you. Welcome to the blog!

  10. 10
    Eric Cole says:

    The only question in the set of 1 – 16 where I differ is 15 on freedom.

    Though when I answered it I was conflicted as I’ve found a kind of freedom in creating structure and/or commitment. Not that I’ve been stellar in the application! On the other hand I really can spend hours watching clouds float by.

    I’m reading and working through “Become The Most Important Person In The Room.”

    Great book and looking forward to becoming a much more skilled empath. The boundary work I’ve done at a spiritual level has helped a little. These gifts can sure feel like huge anchors at times.

  11. 11
    Blue's momma says:

    I don’t know if I am an Empath and/or a HSP. I am very skeptical and don’t want to label myself as either of the above mentioned. Although I do believe that others have such gifts.

    That being said what I am looking for is help. I come home from family gatherings (my family gatherings usually consist of 10-20, my fiance’s family gatherings usually 15+) absolutely drained to the point where I need to go to sleep.

    When I am around his mother usually by phone, sister or some of his aunts the same thing happens.

    I had just recently attended a funeral and when I came home and sat down in my room by myself found my self sobbing.

    Granted I know I was sad but wasn’t THAT upset. If you could recommend which book I could read (or if you think neither I would really appreciate the honesty) that would be the most help I would really appreciate it as it is not in my budget to afford both. Thank you very much!

  12. 12

    BLUE’S MOMMA, there can be many reasons for the problems you mention. However, it would be smart to spend the $15 and get a copy of “Become the Most Important Person in the Room.”

    Read one short chapter a day. Do the homework in a sloppy way. Skepticism won’t matter for this. Just spend the 10 minutes, maximum, on the homework.

    Then assess what changes in your life.

    There are ways I could help you in a personal session of RES Energy HEALING but the do-it-yourself, cheapest solution is to start in this way.

    Thanks for daring to write! And welcome to this blog, which can also become a useful community and resource for you.

  13. 13
    Nea says:

    Thanks for writing this, Rose.
    I think the thing I have the hardest to define, is what constitutes as ‘taking on stuff’. I know I am an HSP, and I definitely relate to Empath traits, but since I am a very skeptical person and that have a hard time accepting this kind of difference in me, I constantly have a nudging thought that I am just imagining and that I can’t be an Empath. But since I don’t really want to rely on own subjective thoughts (they can go around in criticism circles), these kind of definitions and distinctions that you write about here really helps.
    My question is – what does taking on stuff really mean?
    If I understand you correctly, an untrained empath doesn’t always know he/she takes on stuff from others, only that they feel badly after being around certain people or situations.
    The last part I can really relate to. I can ‘feel’ other people, and it does goes beyond just getting tired. I recognize it as having a big, uncomfortable lump in my stomach – I sometimes feel physically ill. Especially when I was younger I’d analyze a social gathering for hours up to days afterwards, as if for no reason at all. Many times I will be convinced that I did something wrong, and I still do sometimes, although I’ve learned to take it with a grain of salt. I seemingly can’t trust what I feel.
    I need to intellectually come to the conclusion that I can feel other people’s emotions, but since I don’t recognize that I ‘take on’, it doesn’t make sense to me.
    And more than that, I seem to get more information than just people’s emotions. It’s like I get all this scrambled information – people’s views, perception etc.
    I don’t know if I’m making sense, but it feels like I simultaneously have both sensory overload and can’t ‘get’ anything, like it’s blank. The next second I’ll second guess myself, thinking I’m imagining it.

    So I guess that’s my second question – how do I trust myself, to know who I am and how to deal with it?

  14. 14
    Rayne says:

    I am an empath. Raised by a father who was a violent psychopath and a mother with narcissistic tendencies (survival mechanism for her). I don’t feel guilt, I don’t remember ever feeling guilt. My conscience is driven entirely by empathy. My own survival mechanism growing up. If I could accurately intuit the needs of my parents and meet those needs in meaningful ways, I would be safe… Safe from their anger as well as safe from experiencing their personal pain which was even more difficult for me than dealing with my own. Being an empath without guilt means I also forgive easily and am very accepting of others however they come, I don’t judge myself or others. I am able to love easily. It also meant that I had to learn how to discipline myself and others through love, or easily be taken advantage of repeatedly while never holding the other person responsible for their actions. So essentially what separates me from a psychopath is that the pain of others is painful to me and I avoid being the source of that pain. If I inadvertently hurt someone or even make them uncomfortable, I feel bad because they feel bad and I don’t want them to feel that way, but I don’t feel like I am bad or wrong. Sometimes things happen that are undesirable and I’m just as human as anyone, so I make mistakes… And I ask myself, how can I help make it right or at least better? I also tend to get a bit annoyed with people who seem to carry a lot of guilt, because I see guilt as selfish… Self-protective. If you have done something that caused pain or discomfort in someone else, your focus should primarily be on helping the other person feel better for them, not assuaging your own guilty feelings.

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