A warm welcome to all my fellow empaths and HSPs. And if you are not an empath or a HSP then perhaps you know one and are curious to find out more information to get to know them better and support them.
Dr. Judith Orloff is an expert on empaths and describes empaths as those who feel and absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms due to their high sensitivities. They are incredibly intuitive and often have a difficult time sorting out their feelings. Dr. Orloff has a free self-assessment to find out if you are an empath.
Dr. Orloff discuess the differences between empaths and HSPs in her blog.
Dr. Elaine Aron is the originator of the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ concept and describes HSPs as having a sensitive nervous system. HSPs are aware of subtleties in their environment and can can be easily overwhelmed in a highly stimulating environment. Take Dr. Aron’s self-assessment for HSPs.
A person who is an empath or a highly sensitive person, or both, holds unique skills and traits that can be powerful. Both are deeply genuine and care about others with a great intensity. They are loyal in their most treasured relationships. They are excellent workers and thrive in environments that supports their autonomy. Empaths and HSPs tend to be drawn to the arts, whether they are creating it themselves or merely observing all its beauty. They enjoy a rich inner life and have numerous ideas swirling around in their heads at any given time. Deep conversations are welcomed involving the sharing of passions, ideas, meaning of life, and beyond. And with this deep thinking comes impeccable problem solving abilities. Some of the more commonly known characteristics of empaths and HSPs are their sensitivities. Empaths and HSPs are highly tuned in to the energies and emotions which surround them.
The sensitivities include but are not limited to:
- Sight: Bright lights including sun light
- Sound: Loud noises (easily startled); Yelling; Non-stop talkers
- Smells: Perfume; Food; Cleaning products
- Touch: Scratchy clothing; Pain; Hot/Cold
- Other people’s moods/reactions/energy
- Violent TV shows/movies
Research by Dr. Arthur Aron and Dr. Elaine Aron, the originator of HSP, has shown the different ways HSPs process emotion, awareness, and empathy through MRIs. 20 percent of the population is genetically pre-disposed to empathy. “We found that areas of the brain involved with awareness and emotion, particularly those areas connected with empathetic feelings, in the highly sensitive people showed substantially greater blood flow to relevant brain areas than was seen in individuals with low sensitivity,” said Dr. Aron.
I want to be clear that being an empath or an HSP does not constitute having a mental illness. However, empaths and HSPs often experience challenges due to their sensitivities. Some of these challenges include but are not limited to:
- Becoming easily overwhelmed, confused, panicked
- Feeling anxious, depressed
- Feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day
- Experiencing panic attacks, excessive rumination, negative thought patterns
- A lack of self-confidence, self-awareness, self-worth
- Somatic symptoms not due to a medical condition
Those who are not aware of being empaths or HSPs are likely to experience unexplained stressed reactions leading to confusion, guilt, and self-blame. Without proper education and guidance, these challenges may lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
My intention is to help you discover who you are as an empath and/or a HSP. I would like to help you develop your own tools and resources so you feel safe, confident, and capable navigating your chosen path. And hopefully help you see your sensitive nature as a part of you to embrace. I view our sensitivities as a strength but you may need some time before you get there and that’s okay.
Heather Hassenbein Counsellor Vancouver, BC Art Therapist Empath Highly Sensitive Person HSP Downtown Kitsilano
*Heather Hassenbein is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Professional Art Therapist located in Vancouver, BC.