Are You an Empath or Highly Sensitive Person?
Are they the same and what are they?
Science has not taken a definite stand on the issue of HSP’s, or Highly Sensitive People, though there is a great deal of information, and even a foundation, set up for HSP’s. “Some researchers believe that a recent discovery called mirror neurons might provide a neuro-science answer” (apa.org) to questions involving normal reactions to certain life situations. For example, we see someone fall down and scrape their knee and we automatically recoil in response to the situation. Almost like we can feel their pain, so to speak, which are your mirror neurons at work. This is the same when we see someone yawn and we immediately follow suit. Again, those are our mirror neurons. While these little affectors are quantifiable in science because scientists have found them in our brains, what seems to still be a mystery is how we affect atoms thus affecting the world around us. We all have mirror neurons and we are all made of atoms and molecules, so that is not the definitive answer for the person who is highly sensitive, though it plays into the situation. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science discovered that beams of atoms move simply by being observed, and the more they are observed, the more they change. (Sciencedaily)
However, more recently, a study was done by a very reputable scientist from Cornell University who declared after the experiment that simply observing atoms does not cause them to behave any differently. (Phys.org) What we should question in both experiments is the conditions under which the experiments were conducted, as both were done in vastly different environments and circumstances. This is the inconsistency that keeps us all in a quandary about this theory. In my reading of physics textbooks, I found that research has indeed shown that the intent to move atoms is enough to move them. As the scientist approached the atom with the intention of moving it, it would move prematurely. All this means that we affect our environment with our energy and inversely, the environment affects us. A sensitive just has a larger variance and more activity in their nervous systems. Theoretically, they have larger “antenna,” so to speak, to pick up on the emotional energy that is emitted from others.
Our emotions come from the electrical impulses in our brains and then affect our systems as a whole making heart race, pulse quicken, sweat pour, etc. There are many theories about how atoms and molecules work, but what is most important is that we acknowledge that we just do not know for sure how it all truly works. We can fall back onto the experiences of those who experience the ability to absorb and interpret others psychically, and since even police departments are known to use psychics, there must be some validity to it.
In this report, I will discuss how mirror neurons and an overactive nervous system all provide clues as to how and why you may be Highly Sensitive, and how that relates to Empathy. I will also discuss the various theories science is using to try to explain how all of this is possible.
Humans are highly social beings. Even if you are a shy and introverted person, you most certainly have even a small need to be connected to others. Even if that need is mostly satiated by remote means, be that be social media, text messaging, or even email, we have a need to stay connected to the world around us in some way. It is part of our innate instinct for survival. In this respect, we use words, emoji’s, and even slang expressions as a form of digital body language. We call this “netiquette” in most situations. In person, our body language is ninety percent of how we speak. Our facial expressions, hand gestures, the way we blink or tilt our head, and even the way we stand, all play into the words that are coming from our mouths. Even the slight inflections in our voice change the words we speak. We can say “Sorry,” and mean, “not sorry” just by changing the tone of our voice from one of genuine repentance, to one of sarcasm. We communicate to one another in lots of different and fascinating ways. But how does all that play into being a HIghly Sensitive Person, or Empath? It’s both very obvious, and yet very subtle and complex.
As You Grow
You see, from the time you are conceived and begin making your first neural connections, you are affected by noises both inside and outside the womb. Science has proven that a highly stressed mother can create a highly stressed fetus, often times even causing injury to the pregnancy. In my 15 years in the medical field, I saw how strong the connection was between mother and fetus, and then mother and child. One inversely affects the other both positively and negatively. Most importantly, a mother’s voice is shown to be a determining factor in infant brain development. The high pitched, cooing noises a mother makes towards her baby are shown to stimulate the neural pathways that form in the emotional centers of the child’s brain. As we grow, our brains form and grow more and more connections. Neurons resemble spiders in a way, in that they have a round-ish body and dendrites, or little legs, that come off them that connect one to another. The legs that come off the body are what are referred to as neural connections, or pathways. They enable electrical impulses to be conducted in the brain, which stimulate the brain to send signals to other parts of our bodies. For example, you see a puppy with “sad eyes,” and almost immediately, you feel “sad.” Your eyes told your brain what you were seeing and that electricity stimulated your emotional response.
As we grow, our mother’s voice creates exponential pathways in our emotional centers. Because our body is so highly dependent upon electricity, without it our heart wouldn’t even beat, we can sometimes even see it outside our bodies. Did you ever go to grab a door handle in the wintertime and shock yourself so hard that you could see a small flash of that electricity? Our bodies naturally conduct electricity because it is what our bodies use to function. When we combine the idea of mirror neurons (the parts of our brain that help us empathize with others) and how our bodies work with electricity, we can begin to see how the HSP, Highly Sensitive Person, is so susceptible to the emotions of others around them.
The Science of Emotion
HSP’s have highly sensitive nervous systems. The average HSP actually has a more developed and complex nervous system that most other people. Their nervous system, because of how many connections there are outside of what is normal, act like a sort of antennae towards others’ electrical impulses. They tend to be more sensitive to the electricity that most of us give off simply because they have more of that electricity themselves. It makes their brains better and faster able to pick up on the subtle cues people give off when they feel things. For example, have you ever been in a situation where one person became angry and suddenly, the whole room was in an uproar? Anger is one of our strongest emotions. When we feel anger, those impulses are firing in our brains and our emotional response is strong. This electricity is palpable for us, on a subconscious level, like pheromones in romance. When we find someone attractive, our bodies give off extra little hormones called pheromones. We can literally “smell” whether or not we are compatible with someone. While we do not realize we are literally “smelling” them, we actually are.
The Highly Sensitive Person is especially susceptible to the emotions of others. The part of being an HSP that we cannot scientifically measure is also a continuous debate in the fields of psychology and medicine—HSP’s, often called Empaths (em-paths), are said to literally be able to feel the emotions of others. Not just hurt, sadness, happiness, or other more obvious emotions, but complex processes that often involve the person’s intentions, innermost opinions, and even the way that they think. An Empath is a form of Clairvoyant, or psychic, to use an old term. What makes them a bit psychic is their ability to read even the most subtle cues and to feel emotions from others. One five minute conversation with an Empath, or HSP, can tell them volumes about who you are, who you were, and sometimes, who you will be.
The only obvious difference between what science calls an HSP, and what the metaphysical world calls the Empath, is the ability to literally feel what others feel. A Highly Sensitive Person may have strong reactions and be able to literally empathise with another’s pain to the point of feeling it themselves, while an Empath knows what someone is feeling even if they are displaying no obvious body language. This is where science, psychology, and the supernatural part ways. While Science has discovered their very evolved nervous systems and psychology acknowledges their abilities with human emotion, they generally do not subscribe to the “psychic” end of things. And why would they? There is no way to measure psychic ability. Only those who experience it on a daily basis can know what that is like.
Are You an HSP?
If you are an HSP, you most likely know it already, or are searching for some definitive sign as a way of characterizing it. I can provide no easy answers, as this is a highly individualized experience, but I can provide useful tips to test your own abilities and boundaries. This will most certainly help you to decide whether or not you are an HSP or Empath, with some practice. From many years in the medical field, I have seen countless amazing and miraculous things. Because I am an Empath, I found my time in group settings particularly disconcerting, as I could empathize a bit too much with all that was happening around me. A grieving family, injury, or the cries of a poor sick infant, would always have me feeling stressed. But in all the stress, I also saw what humans were capable of, both good and bad.
What I found the most amazing was our ability to communicate a message without even meaning to. That thought crosses our mind that we really do not like something someone said or did, and even with our most active attempts at controlling our body language, something will always give us away. The silent ways we communicate I always found fascinating. This is our very complex and wonderful brain constantly working.
I saw a truck driver literally convince his heart to beat slower in response to the medical environment so that he could pass a physical examination. Truck drivers cannot drive if they have hypertension (high blood pressure), so during once every five year physicals, if a condition like this is found, they can lose their ability to drive thus losing their livelihood. The brain is our most powerful tool. Now that I have learned more about how the brain works, and after seeing it with my own eyes, I am better able to control my Empathy. A method I found most useful in the beginning, is a form of what we call “shielding.” You focus your thoughts on a bubble surrounding yourself. You are inside your invisible bubble and no emotion can get in or come out. You can imagine this bubble made of light, or any type of bubble you can most easily imagine around yourself. Other people use trinkets, like stones or crystals. These tools are used in the same ways. You simply convince yourself that any negativity coming your way will be absorbed or deflected by that stone or crystal. Our belief in these trinkets is what matters most, so you will want to chose something you can put your mental trust in.
Some people believe that natural wood absorbs the energy all around it. This person may wear a small wooden trinket, or a necklace made of wooden beads. On days I am particularly weary, since I have trained my mind for so long, I wear a mother of pearl medallion so that I can focus less on mentally sorting what is coming my way, and more on the tasks at hand. Mother of pearl is said to have positive energy effects and since I am a believer in the power of stones, I rely on this particular element.
Whether you are an Empath, HSP, or maybe you just have a big heart, you are not alone. There are group forums and sites dedicated to almost any facet of psychic ability. What is most important is that you make a connection! We naturally seek connection anyway, so redirecting that need towards something that can only be beneficial for our well-being is natural and soothing. As people, we have an innate need to belong.
Finding others like yourself and learning from their experiences can help you to sort your natural “abilities” from other issues you may need to tackle. I learned, for example, that my periodic depression was due to my Empathic abilities. Now, I am better able to sort my emotions helping me to decide when I need to talk it out, and when I simply need some alone time. Being a highly sensitive person comes with feeling more emotion than what is considered “normal.” It also affects how we experience those emotions, we well as how we identify each emotion and their extremes. It can be an emotional roller coaster from day to day, making our days harder than they have to be. Our respite comes when we learn how to sort what we actually feet from what we are feeling from others, and then learn how to “block” the emotions of others from projecting into us. While it sounds a little complicated, it is mostly about our mindset.
I hope this report has helped in some way if you are struggling with these things, and if you have any other questions, please message me here or on Instagram @2ndarbor. Thank you for reading!
Science, W. I. (1998, February 27). Quantum Theory Demonstrated: Observation Affects Reality. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
Winerman, L. (2005, October 25). The mind's mirror. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
Phys.org - News and Articles on Science and Technology. (2015, October 23). Retrieved September 23, 2018.
*Provided by Cornell University: ‘Zero effect’ verified-atoms won't move while you watch