When I first started my journey of self discovery – trying to figure out my personality and preferences – I was more than a little confused by some of the terminology I encountered.
HSP? Empath? Introvert? Intuitive?
I could relate to much of what I was reading about each, but I couldn’t really tell the difference. Were they all just different terms for the same thing? And why would I even care?
Many years later, I now finally have it all straight in my head, so allow me to clarify for those of you who are still going “..huh?!”
Are HSP, Empath, Introvert, And Intuitive The Same Thing?
No. HSP, empath, introvert, and intuitive are not just different terms for the same concept.
The confusion lives on for two reasons.
First, there’s a lot of overlap in that many highly sensitive people (HSPs) also identify as empaths, introverts, and intuitives.
Second, when people describe themselves, their various characteristics often get jumbled up into one big whole. It becomes unclear whether someone likes to spend a lot of time in solitude because she is an introvert or because she is an HSP.
But even though there’s lots of overlap, not all HSPs are introverts. Not all intuitives are HSPs. Not all introverts are empaths.
Why Would You Care?
Some people are resistant to labels and don’t want to be put in a box so to speak. I agree that you don’t want to let an “HSP” or “introvert” label restrict you. If you have a party animal hiding inside you, you should feel free to let it out every now and then even if it’s not a typical introvert preference. If you love heavy metal music, you should feel free to blast it in your car stereo even if it’s not a typical HSP preference.
But I also think that having words to describe yourself can be immensely helpful. It can help you identify your needs and wants. It can help you communicate them to other people. It can help you find people who are similar to you and who you can learn from.
And the deeper your understanding of yourself and your “descriptor words”, the more potential you have to reap all these benefits.
So let’s proceed with the clarifications. 😀
Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
High sensitivity is an inborn temperament trait possessed by about 20 percent of people. Highly sensitive people have a more reactive nervous system, and therefore, experience the world more intensely than the average person. They are more sensitive to:
- Sensory stimuli like lights, sounds, smells, and touch.
- Social stimuli like meeting new people or receiving criticism.
- Emotional stimuli like their own and other people’s feelings.
According to Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You, HSPs differ from non-HSPs in the following four ways:
- They are more likely to use areas of the brain associated with deep processing.
- Because they are more sensitive to sensory stimuli, they are more vulnerable to overstimulation.
- They tend to have stronger emotional reactions and higher levels of empathy.
- They are more likely to notice subtleties that other people miss and can therefore appear more intuitive.
You can find out if you are a highly sensitive person by taking a test here.
And you can:
- click here to read more details about what being a highly sensitive person means.
- click here to read how high sensitivity is different from various health conditions and disorders it’s sometimes confused with.
The word “empath” has a couple of different meanings, so whether you “qualify” as one might depend on which definition you use.
Empathy is the human ability to understand and share the feelings of another human being. We have something called mirror neurons in our brains that help us imagine ourselves in another person’s situation and then trigger emotions as if we were in that situation ourselves.
All healthy people are capable of empathy, but it is thought that some people are a bit more capable of it than others. The people toward the more capable end of the spectrum are called empaths, but it’s not clear where exactly the cut-off lies. Like are we talking “you cry whenever someone else cries” or are we talking telepathy?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
Empath = Person With Higher Than Average Sensitivity To Other People’s Feelings
Some people define empaths as those people who have higher than average sensitivity to other people’s feelings.
So if we go by Elaine Aron’s characterization of HSPs as having higher than average levels of empathy, then all HSPs are, by definition, also empaths. And people do often use the terms Highly Sensitive Person and empath interchangeably.
Empath = Person With Paranormal Sensitivity To Other People’s Feelings
Some people define empaths as those individuals who are extremely sensitive to the feelings and energies of other people, animals, plants, and/or physical locations – so sensitive that they are considered psychic. They have abilities that are beyond the current scientific understanding.
According to this definition, the pool of empaths out there would obviously be much smaller. For example, I personally fit the first definition, but not the second. No psychic abilities here other than sometimes my dreams come true. 🙂
Introversion and extraversion are personality traits that determine your preferred orientation to life. Do you prefer to turn inward or outward? Introverts prefer to pay a lot of attention to their inner world of thoughts and ideas, enjoy engaging in solitary activities, and tend to be socially reserved, especially in large groups.
Introversion and high sensitivity are often confused, because highly sensitive people share many of the characteristics usually associated with introverts – need for time to recharge, need for time to process, and need for depth rather than breadth in relationships.
However, not all introverts are highly sensitive people and not all highly sensitive people are introverts. 🙂
Close to half of all people are introverts, but only about 20 percent are highly sensitive people. Non-HSP introverts like spending time alone and tend to be socially reserved, but they don’t have the same degree of sensory sensitivity or emotional intensity as HSP introverts. In the Myers-Briggs personality typology, non-HSP introverts often identify with one of the introvert sensor (IS) personality types.
And although a majority – about 70 percent – of HSPs are also introverts, about 30 are extraverts. HSP extraverts are similar to their introvert counterparts in many respects, but they have a higher need for social interaction than HSP introverts. And when they are in the thick of that interaction, they tend to be more expressive and outgoing.
Many HSP extraverts feel a constant tug of war between their need to be out interacting on the one hand and their need to withdraw to recharge on the other. Because of this conflict, they often self-identify as ambiverts.
Intuition is the ability to reach an understanding without conscious reasoning. You just instinctively know something without being able to explain how you know. The classic example of this would be mother’s intuition.
Everyone uses intuition, but some people are thought to be more “intuitive” than others. According to the Myers Briggs personality type theory, about a third of people – the intuitives – have a particular preference for using intuition to draw conclusions about the world around them. In contrast, roughly two thirds of people – called sensors – would rather rely on their five senses.
Just to be clear, everyone uses both intuition and their five senses. The distinction here is that people tend to have a preference and lean a bit more toward one or the other side.
According to Elaine Aron, HSPs are more likely to unconsciously gather information from their environment and notice subtleties that non-HSPs might miss. And therefore, HSPs might appear more intuitive.
So, we might then expect all or most HSPs to identify with the intuitive personality types. And it is my impression that most in fact do. However, I have also encountered HSPs who identify themselves as ISFJ or ESFJ personality types.
And it’s also possible to be an intuitive personality type without being highly sensitive and without being an empath. I suspect that most people of the ENTJ and ENTP personality types would fall in this category.
So where does that leave you?
So if you are a highly sensitive person, then you are probably also an empath (although maybe not psychic) and you have a high likelihood of being an intuitive personality type. You are more likely to be an introvert than an extravert, but you could be either.
If you are a non-HSP introvert, then you are probably not an empath and you have a high likelihood of being a sensing personality type.
So… What are you? And how has your temperament impacted your life? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂