Before anyone used or even heard the term, Empath, most of us were known as Highly Sensitive Persons. I remember being in my favorite local bookstore in Santa Barbara, when I first saw Dr. Elaine Aaron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person. This was back in the 90’s and I was still very much in the closet about most things spiritual, especially my spiritual gifts. I wouldn’t dare mention that dead people had been talking to me since the age 16, or that I regularly went to seek counsel from psychics or tarot card readers. At that time being a HSP did not include spiritual phenomenon.
I took the self-test in her book and was so relieved to know there was a term for what I had been experiencing my entire life. I felt vindicated. I wanted to take this book and shake it the face of all those who had dismissed me as, “too Sensitive” or those who said I “needed thicker skin, or I needed to toughen up.” It wasn’t me, I thought to myself, it was the rest of the world that was just too insensitive! I was perfectly normal, I said with relief. I had been teased, sometimes tormented, for not being able to tolerate violent movies or the news. “How will you ever know what is happening in the world if you don’t watch the news?” I was often asked, “you will be ignorant.” These qualities were just two of the 24 out of 25 questions that confirmed I was a highly sensitive person.
Dr. Aarons is the first person to put a name to set of the traits experienced by a HSP as she is a HSP herself. At the time of the first printing of The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), Aarons estimated that 15%- 20% of the population qualifies as such. She defined a HSP as someone whose central nervous system was overactive causing them to become easily overwhelmed by too much stimuli and someone who needed to retreat or to schedule plenty of down time to recharge. Aarons asserted that being around crowds, loud noises and bright lights would cause a very unpleasant reaction and surely cause the HSP to become irritable or unsettled. I knew she understood me when I answered yes to these matters: I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once, being very hungry causes a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood is not good. I live in a household of HSPs and we call it being “hangry,” and trust me, the struggle is real.
Dr. Aarons authored a self-test, asking questions like “are you bothered by certain fabrics on your skin? Do you need to walk away from violent movies or TV shows? Are you profoundly moved by music or the arts? Do you have a rich inner life? When you were young were you told by your parents or teachers that you were shy or too sensitive? Click on the link below to take the HSP self-test and see if this sounds like your vibe. In order to be considered a HSP, one needs to have 14 of the 25 traits listed.
I have given this test to many while working as a Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor and roughly 98% of the time my clients are HSP. My theory, based on what I have observed in my interactions with clients, is that two things are necessary for the development of a substance use disorder. #1. The client is highly sensitive and #2 The client experienced some type of trauma in their formative years. I included this to let you all know that most people with a substance use disorder, which includes alcohol, are highly sensitive persons. So please use caution if part of your evening ritual to unwind from the world includes a few glasses of wine, you may want to change it up and do yoga or meditation instead.
Click this link to visit Dr. Aaron’s self-test for a Highly Sensitive Person. If you are like me, you might think, “who isn’t deeply moved by the arts or music?” Or “isn’t everybody affected by other people’s moods?” We live like this so we think it’s normal and take for granted how truly unique we are. Remember to embrace your gifts, to be highly sensitive is to be gifted. The higher the sensitivity, the higher the intelligence so please own your super power of sensitivity and be proud of who you are!
If once you take the test, and feel like it sounds an awful lot like being an Empath, it is. All Empaths are HSP but not all HSP are Empaths. Are you confused yet? Do you see the one big difference yet? There are many HSP that have not experienced any paranormal behavior, nor do they feel any particular connection with the divine. An Empath, has all of the traits of a HSP but could look back on their life and talk about paranormal experiences they had or witnessed at an early age.
I saw a video of Dr. Aaron’s asking her community to not allow the term Empath to be used to describe them. She stated the term “Empath” discredits her work and makes it appear “too woo woo.” Whereas, Dr. Judith Orlaff M.D. has written a few books about being an Empath and identifies as one herself. Therefore, one can surmise that semantics and politics play a large role in the “differences” between a Highly Sensitive Person and an Empath.
What are your thoughts? Do you identify as a HSP or as an empath? Do you notice any considerable differences between the two? Is it possible to see them as separate or do you feel they are one in the same? We would love to hear from you!