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Who Are Empaths and Highly Sensitive People?

First of all,  the above terms refer to people who have an extremely high degree of sensitivity to the various types of inputs and stimuli they receive from their environment. Because of the specificity of their brain and nervous system, they deeply experience and feel the world around them, recognizing the subtle nuances that people who are not highly sensitive rarely notice.

They tend to think a lot and process the information they come in contact with, in a very complex manner. Although they sometimes perceive their high sensibility as a gift, practice shows that they perceive it much more often as a flaw or handicap.

However, from a scientific perspective, it is neither a gift nor a defect, nor is it a handicap, deficit, disorder, or diagnosis, but an innate personality trait that is, in itself, completely neutral and which, taking into account varying degrees of sensibility, is shared by about 20 percent of the population.[1]

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When it comes to the phenomenon of high sensitivity, in addition to the concept of a highly sensitive person – which is scientifically based and quite thoroughly researched – in practice, a new category, or, perhaps better said, subcategory is created. It refers to a certain percentage of highly sensitive people, and the name most often used for them is empaths.

Despite the fact that empaths share most of the traits of highly sensitive persons (a list of common traits follows below), unlike other highly sensitive persons who have more or less than one of the basic senses – enhanced sensory perception – empaths also have enhanced extrasensory perception, which transcends the basic senses and, accordingly, is able to feel and perceive even more subtle nuances and energies in their surroundings.

In addition, empaths not only tend to feel the emotions of the people around them – as is the case with most highly sensitive people – but also tend to literally absorb other people’s emotions and experience those same emotions as if experiencing their own emotions. It is also difficult to recognize the difference between one’s own and others’ emotions. A similar thing happens when it comes to various other subtle energies that empaths automatically “pick up” within themselves and feel as part of their personal energy.

In addition to the above, the vast majority of highly sensitive people are introverts, while this is not the case with empaths who often know how to be also ambiverts and extroverts.

Thus, all empaths are highly sensitive persons, but not all highly sensitive persons are empaths at the same time. However, I repeat, unlike the category of “highly sensitive person” which is scientifically based, empathy as a separate subcategory is mentioned more in various books, articles, and coaching programs, rather than as a subject of scientific research.

Related article: Empaths and Highly Sensitive People and Their Most Common Traits

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My experience in working with highly sensitive people very clearly confirms the accuracy of the data that came to significance when researching the phenomenon of high sensitivity. However, practice unquestionably indicates to me that there really are a smaller percentage of people who, in addition to scientifically researched and proven traits of highly sensitive people, visibly have enhanced extrasensory perception and I think it is only a matter of time before technology evolves to the point that empaths become the subject of scientific research. Personally, I think that empaths consist of about a fifth of the category of “highly sensitive person”.

Sensitivity Scale

For a clearer understanding of the concept of high sensibility and a clearer positioning of empaths and highly sensitive persons, imagine one hypothetical scale of sensibility with values ​​from 1 to 100. Number 1 represents the highest value and represents the highest level of sensibility, and number 100 represents the lowest value and represents the lowest level of sensibility.

On that scale, approximately the first 4 percent of the highest values are occupied by empaths. They are the most sensitive group and, with an extremely reactive neurological system and enhanced sensory perception, are able to experience people and the world around them extrasensibly.

The next 16 values ​​are taken by other highly sensitive people.[2] Then, the next 20 percent of the values ​​are taken by sensitive people (these are mostly people who are said to be very empathetic), then moderately sensitive people (people who can be empathetic if they make an effort), less sensitive people (people who are empathetic only in exceptional cases), and at the very bottom of the scale are narcisses, sociopaths, psychopaths and various other types of “patha” (people for whom it is questionable if they can be empathetic at all and rarely bother with how others feel).

Again, I want to reiterate that this is an imaginary scale that I use only to describe the various degrees of sensibility a little more vividly and to classify empaths and highly sensitive persons more categorically in relation to other people who are not highly sensitive.

High sensitivity is a genetic trait and it is something that you either are or you aren’t – either we have it in us or we don’t have it – and a person who is not highly sensitive by nature only in exceptional situations can seek high sensitivity in a short time.

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Excerpt from EHSP COACH™ program – Do you want to become a certified EHSP COACH™ and further train to work with empaths and highly sensitive people? Get to know the EHSP COACH™ program and learn the approaches and methods for converting high sensitivity into superpower! Click HERE to learn more about the program.

© Tomislav Tomic – 2021. All rights reserved.


[1] For these phenomena, the terms Sensory Processing Sensitivity (more for academic purposes) or, in a somewhat practical sense, Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) are most commonly used in scientific circles.

[2] Scientific research shows that about 20 percent of the population falls into the category of “highly sensitive people.”