Empathy vs Empath

October 5, 2022
Clasped Hands

Clasped Hands

I thought I’d clarify what the difference is between feeling Empathy and being an Empath before we dig deeper into what it means to be an Empath for my Empath Corner series of posts.

I found this great example on Google:

Say your friend just lost their dog of 15 years. Empathy is what allows you to understand the level of pain she’s going through, even if you’ve never lost a beloved pet. But as an empath, you take things a step further. You actually sense and feel emotions as if they’re part of your own experience.

Let’s explore a little more.


Being empathetic is a positive psychological trait that makes you feel in tune with others, but still allows you to separate your experience from theirs.

Empathy is when we reach our hearts out to others and put ourselves in their shoes. 

Empathy means being in tune to other people’s feelings and life circumstances. An empathetic person may be moved by a situation in a sort of heart-tugging, emotional manner that ultimately gives rise to kind, caring, and understanding words and actions. 

Empathy is something that all humans have the capacity to feel, except perhaps, sociopaths. It is innate for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes so that we can relate to what they are going through.


Being an empath is about having empathy, but on a completely deeper level – Dr Judith Orloff

On the surface, being an empath seems very similar to feeling empathy because empaths also have the ability to share someone else’s experience. However, empaths tune into another person’s experience intuitively, without relying on external cues to do so.

Empaths are people who are high on the empathic spectrum and actually feel what is happening in others in their own bodies. As a result, empaths can have incredible compassion for people but they often get exhausted from feeling “too much” unless they develop strategies to safeguard their sensitivities and develop healthy boundaries. 

Empaths are often able to pick up on unspoken feelings as well, feeling other people’s energy and having strong intuition. 

Below are some extracts from Judith Orloff, MD’s book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” that provides further insight into what differentiates being an empath from the more common ‘being empathetic’:

As an empath, we actually sense other people’s emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our bodies, without the usual filters that most people have. 

We are supersensitive to their tone of voice and body movements. We can hear what they don’t say in words but communicate nonverbally and through silence.

Empath’s feel things first, then think, which is the opposite of how most people function.

Empath’s share some or all of the traits of what psychologist Elaine Aron calls Highly Sensitive People, or HSPs.  These traits include a low threshold for stimulation, the need for alone time, sensitivity to light, sound, and smell, plus an aversion to large groups/crowds. Additionally it take a HSP longer to wind down after a busy day because their system’s ability to transition from high stimulation to quiet and calm is slower. Empaths also share a HSP’s love of nature and quiet environments.

Empath’s though take the experience of HSPs further. We can sense subtle energy, which is called shakti or prana in Eastern healing traditions, and we absorb this energy into our own bodies. HSP’s don’t typically do that. This capacity allows us to experience the energies around us in extremely deep ways.

As you can see, in addition to experiencing their own emotions, Empath’s are absorbing other people’s emotions. This can take a toll on them, especially in situations that leave them drained (happens to me a lot). So there is a need for boundaries and strategies to help with this and I will explore these more in future posts. I’ll also look more closely at what a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ (HSP) is along with many other interesting topics.

I hope this post has helped explain the difference between having empathy with being an empath. 

What does empathy mean to you? Can you recall the most recent occasion where you’ve felt empathy? Maybe you’d like to share it in the comments. I think empathy is a beautiful thing.

Empathy is the medicine the world needs ~ Judith Orloff

Ciao for now,

Linking up with Denyse Whelan’s ‘Wednesday’s Words and Pics

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  • Reply Sue from Women Living Well After 50 October 5, 2022 at 6:06 am

    HI Min, thanks for the clarification and your new series sounds interesting. I feel that I am an Empath and your last quote by Judith Orloff resonated with me – the world does need more of this medicine. Have a great week, I’m off to Tassie for the first time to enjoy a 3 week break with my darling. We have had it planned for 2 years and finally are in a position to fly away. xx

    • Reply Min October 7, 2022 at 9:20 am

      Hi Sue, if you think you might be an empath I hope you find this series interesting and helpful! It’s actually a series to help me learn more about it myself. There’s much to learn and understand. I love that quote of Judith Orloff’s too. The world certainly does need more of this medicine! Enjoy your holiday is Tasmania. I’m very envious. We went in 2015 and I loved it there and would love to go back. Enjoy! xo

  • Reply Debbie Harris October 5, 2022 at 11:16 am

    Thanks Min, this was interesting to read and I now understand a bit more about the differences between being empathetic and being an empath. I can see how it could take a toll on those who feel so much of other people’s thoughts and feelings.

    • Reply Min October 7, 2022 at 9:22 am

      Thanks for reading Debbie and yes there’s quite a difference and though it’s a good thing, it can be exhausting!

  • Reply Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au October 5, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    Hi Min – I think it would be absolutely exhausting to live in a world where you’re constantly absorbing the feelings of others – particularly if you’re exposed to difficult or demanding people on a regular basis. Boundaries would be super important and a lot of time out and a home that’s a haven would be essential.

    • Reply Min October 7, 2022 at 9:27 am

      Hi Leanne – it certainly can be but I’m just so happy to finally understand better why I am like I am! I think boundaries are essential and as you said – quiet time at home to recharge. I think that subconsciously I’ve been doing that anyway. Sometimes, like right now (I won’t give details), there comes along a person in pain and need that is worthy of every bit of energy loss and pain absorbed and other times I come across people who I know I need to distance myself from or spend less time around. There are strategies to help that Judith talks about in her book that I’ll probably write about in the near future.

  • Reply Jennifer Jones October 5, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    The example you gave certainly clarified the difference between and empath and being empathetic. I’m sure I’m a sympathetic person but not sure I feel deeply enough to be labelled an empath. I look forward to more in this series and perhaps it will give me more clarity.

    • Reply Min October 7, 2022 at 9:28 am

      Hi Jennifer – I’m glad the post helped clarify the difference between empathy & empath. I hope you’ll enjoy future posts as part of this series!

  • Reply Susanne October 5, 2022 at 7:28 pm

    Interesting post, Min! I sometimes think I have some traits of an empath but don’t really know if some of them could simply be effect of previous burnout (because it affects your ability to wind down, tolerate stimuli in times of pressure, etc) and other things. I still feel it must be exhausting to be an empath – but then if you know you are one, I’m guessing there are strategies to live with it.

    • Reply Min October 7, 2022 at 9:33 am

      Thanks Susanne. I’m still learning to understand it all myself. I’m hoping this series will help me and others. THere is a questionnaire in Judith’s book that lets you know if you are a partial empath, a moderate empath, a strong empath, or a full-blown empath. My score made me a full-blown empath! Seems I don’t do things by halves! There are strategies to help empaths that Judith outlines in her books. I’ve yet to use them and I think they would take quite a bit of practice. I’ll probably write about them eventually. Meanwhile, I think that subconsciously I had already been putting boundaries in place to protect myself, and retreating when needed to quiet time at home to help restore my energy. It can sounds a bit woo woo but to be honest I am just so happy to finally understand better why I am like I am.

  • Reply Christie Hawkes October 6, 2022 at 8:00 am

    Thank you, Min, for the clear explanation of the difference between having empathy and being an empath. I would consider myself a deeply empathetic person, but not to the level of being an empath. I believe a regular practice of meditation has helped me learn to feel and accept emotions and not get swallowed up in them. I agree with you that empathy is a beautiful thing.

    • Reply Min October 7, 2022 at 9:38 am

      Thank you Christie. I find my yoga and pilates practice every morning helps keep me grounded and feeling more zen like. I meditate occasionally – still haven’t mastered making that part of my daily routine. When you’re absorbing pain and emotions from others it’s hard to know what is yours and what is not. I’m still learning how to protect myself from this and to differentiate what is what. It’s why I decided to do this series as it will help me to learn and hopefully others too.

  • Reply Denyse Whelan October 6, 2022 at 5:36 pm

    I agree that empathy is necessary and a good thing for us to know more about. I am listening to Brene Brown narrating Atlas of the Heart and she was referring to empathy and at the same time knowing how to recognise and use our boundaries. I know that it’s good to know what makes us tick and how we can better understand ourselves as a result. I know I am a feeling person but use my head quite a a bit to enable myself to apply some distance at times, to keep me safe. Knowing what I know about me now so very well enables me to self-care and prepare well for what lies ahead. This being human thing is very interesting isnt it?
    So good to see your post in the Wednesday’s Words and Pics link up for this week. How can it be early October??

    Thanks so much for sharing and being part of the #WWandPics Community.

    Hope to see you next week too.


    • Reply Min October 7, 2022 at 9:42 am

      Thanks for your comment Denyse. I’m aware that subconsciously I’ve already put lots of boundaries in place to protect myself. I’m a real homebody nowadays spending a lot of time here to recharge my energy. I space out my social activities. I reduce time with people that seem to drain me. I plan for rest if I know I have something coming up that will exhaust me. There are some things though that I still need to learn to do to help myself not to absorb so much pain from others. Sometimes it is worth every bit of it but other times it’s not so much. It’s complex but I’m learning. I agree with you – this being human is certainly very complex and interesting indeed! xo

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