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The Empath vs. the Highly Sensitive Person

by Dave Markowitz(more info)

listed in mind matters, originally published in issue 254 - May 2019

Have you wondered, "What is the difference between an Empath and a Highly Sensitive Person?" As these terms get more into our everyday lexicon, their meanings sometimes overlap and/or can become diluted. And as more people become aware, more definitions tend to be created.

To me, a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, is someone who is literally highly sensitive to certain people, situations, foods, and environments. Once they leave that situation, they're typically fine.


Dave Markowitz 254 Empath vs Highly Sensitive Person


An empath feels so deeply, we tend to absorb other peoples' energy. Over time, we absorb so much energy and emotions from others, we can hardly tell where we end, and where other people begin. Many of us are unhealthily enmeshed with current or former intimate partners, or even our parents' energy – even if that absorption began decades prior. We've tried and tried to no avail to permanently heal the overwhelm and our symptoms. We've tried so hard that we've missed the true underlying cause. This describes how most people feel when they find me. I call this group, the Untrained Empaths, and for this group, feeling deeply is a toxic burden.

The Untrained Empath still operates from coping mechanisms that were developed in childhood in reaction (literally, to act again) to familial situations. We can sense even as children that someone we know is depressed, anxious, frustrated or in physical pain, and we instinctively reach out to help them. If we receive any benefit at all, we repeat the action, typically in an effort to give or receive love. But while it may have worked in the past to some degree, for most, it no longer does. Coping mechanisms, similar to the Fight or Flight response, are great in the short term but are damaging in the long term.

As adults, the Untrained Empath goes above and beyond our best interests and reacts to situations from the pattern that was formed decades ago, rather than respond consciously to what the moment and each person in it truly needs. We tend to close down our empathic skills for protection, but limiting or trying to block our empathy minimizes our ability:

  • To connect and heal;
  • To receive clear guidance; and
  • You both receive and give love.

I remind people every day they can and should let themselves feel deeply because that is our superpower. But we have to do so with reverence for the gift. The gift must be fine-tuned while not fighting with what currently exists (or even what the past contained).

Life and health are always better when working with the flow rather than fighting it, so if you're an empath, or think you may be one, go with the flow of your gift. Take the time to fine-tune your empathic abilities rather than repress them and watch your health improve and become better equipped to handle life's challenges! Trained Empaths have a very different life experience than Untrained Empaths. By applying the best tools for each situation, the Trained Empath can experience freedom and vivacity in any situation. 


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About Dave Markowitz

Dave Markowitz is a two-time best-selling author, intuitive healing facilitator and guide for Empaths and Highly Sensitive Persons. His work has been endorsed by Shirley MacLaine, Lynn Andrews, Lee Harris, Dannion and Kathryn Brinkley, Karen McPhee, Dr. Meg Blackburn Losey and more. He’s shared the lecture bill with Deepak Chopra and Gary Null and has worked with thousands of empaths and highly sensitive persons (HSPs) since his “empathic awakening” in 2012. To find out more about Dave, check out

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