The difference between empaths, highly sensitive people, and introverts
- There are a few subtle differences between introverts, highly sensitive people, and empaths.
- HSPs tend to be introverts, but empaths can be anywhere on that spectrum.
- Not all introverts are highly sensitive people.
- There are many similarities that link them together, including having empathy and compassion, and needing time alone to unwind.
- The people who lie on the other end of the empathic spectrum are narcissists.
Our neurodiversity is what makes us all different. Some people are extroverted, and require a high level of social and environmental stimulation to keep them occupied. Others have ADHD and express a great deal of creativity, but have trouble concentrating in typical learning environments because they are high in energy.
On the other end of the personality spectrum are empaths, introverts, and highly sensitive people. They share a lot of the same characteristics, such as being easily stimulated by the outside world, but there are a few distinct differences between them too.
Being an introvert often doesn't mean what people tend to think it does. It is an inherently biological difference in how people react to certain situations, and how they unwind afterwards.
Introverts enjoy social events just as much as extroverts, they just approach them differently. An introvert will gain enough stimulation by talking to just a couple of people, while an extrovert needs to go around the party and meet as many as possible.
Introverts become overstimulated and exhausted a lot easier than extroverts, which is why they also need to have their alone time - known as an "introvert hangover."
"It has nothing to do with confidence; it has to do with pressure and arousal," said psychologist Linda Blair. "How extroverted or introverted you are is something you need to wear. You need to work with it, live with it, and use it to your advantage."
Highly sensitive people
When someone is a highly sensitive person - known as HSPs - it tends to mean they have a low threshold for stimulation from their senses: light, smell, and sound, as well as from socialising. It takes them a long time to wind down after a busy day, because being overly stimulated from every angle can easily drain their energy. HTPs tend to be introverts, but not all introverts are HSPs.
Empaths can be introverts or extroverts, or somewhere in the middle known as ambiverts. Judith Orloff, the author of "The Empath's Survival Guide," told Business Insider empaths "absorb the stress and also the positive emotions into their own bodies from other people."
In other words, they feel what other people feel, and have a high level of compassion and empathy. They also love nature and quiet environments, and have a strong desire to help others.
"They have gifts of intuition, of depth, of really caring for others and having deep compassion," Orloff said. "They often give too much. They sometimes take on their loved ones' pain in their bodies, so they actually feel it."
The opposite of empathy is narcissism
The characteristics of introverts, HSPs, and empths overlap quite a lot, and some people may be all three. The subtle differences tell them apart, but essentially what all of them require is space and understanding when they need their down time.
Both HSPs and empaths sit on one end of the empathic spectrum, while on the other end is narcissism - being completely devoid of empathy.
However, narcissists and empathetically sensitive people attract each other, because the sensitive person wants to heal the narcissist, while the narcissist just wants to cause them chaos.
"What narcissists see in empaths is a giving, loving person who is going to try and be devoted to you and love you and listen to you," Orloff said. "But unfortunately empaths are attracted to narcissists... because narcissists present a false self, where they can seem charming and intelligent, and even giving, until you don't do things their way, and then they get cold, withholding and punishing."
According to therapist Shannon Thomas, empathetic people have to learn to recognise that not everybody needs to be in our lives.
"We're going to come across people who we realise might not be healthy for us, and you have to be okay with letting them go," she said.