Among the thousands of topics that fly around in social media, two seem to have surfaced in recent months that are ripe for distortion and for pollution with egregious misinformation. One is “The Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP), and “the highly empathetic person”. But most disturbing is what I discovered today…. What appears to be a weird conflation of the two called…” The Empath”.
I was very sad to discover “empath” being used as a noun in a widely read pop-psychology publication. I feel embarrassed for them. They should feel ashamed of themself. A term came to mind that I first heard thirty years ago – intellectual masturbation.
Here is a picture of an Empath:
Here’s another one:
They are reading you now. Are you feeling it?
Someone, somewhere, decided to use a shortened version of the word “empathy” and make it the label for a person who is highly empathetic AND a highly sensitive person. My take-away from a website’s article explaining ‘empaths’ was that non-empaths better watch out or else! Empaths wreak vengeance on anyone that dares to deceive them, or feel jealous of them, or for whatever else pisses off an empath. Got it? Good.
I searched the word ‘empath’ at Merriam-Webster.com. Here’s the result: “The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.” Turns out it is in the “Urban Dictionary”. It may be noted the Urban Dictionary explains itself as “a crowdsourced online dictionary of slang words and phrases”. Take from that what you will.
What follows are basic definitions and descriptions for which I found citations on short notice. Wikipedia was utilized, but I did not stop there.
- A highly empathetic person’s native language is Body Language. Body language is defined as “the gestures, movements, and mannerisms by which a person or animal communicates with others”  and includes body posture, the use of space, and eye movement.
- “Microexpression” is a transient facial expression of an intense, concealed emotion, generally lasting a few tenths of a second.  But highly empathetic people don’t only notice the face – they are highly perceptive to the body language of the whole person. An outgrowth of the term microexpression is “micro cues”, and it seems fitting. Micro cues encompass all transient revealing indicators that may be observed in the whole person.
- Empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this”.  “Empathetic” means “of, relating to, or characterized by empathy, the psychological identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of others”.
*************Being highly empathetic does not equal being psychic.****************
- Personality is “the unique psychological qualities of an individual that influence a variety of characteristic behavior patterns (both overt and covert) across different situations and over time”. 
- Traits are “enduring personal qualities or attributes that influence behavior across situations”. 
- Cognitive processes are understood as the “higher mental processes, such as perception, memory, language, problem solving, and abstract thinking”. 
Empathy is a measurable personality trait (however imprecise that may be) and ‘psychic’ is a subject of metaphysical and mystical schools of thought (or however you prefer to characterize it).
Here’s some information about the so-called ‘Highly Sensitive Person’….
The following points are more fully discussed at The Highly Sensitive Person website :
- According to Dr. Elaine Aron’s definition, the highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment. These characteristics are innate, i.e. not learned or acquired. The HSP personality trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting.
- 15 to 20% of the population are believed to possess this personality trait. This is too large a proportion to be a “disorder”, but not common enough to be well understood. Biologists have found these high sensitivity traits in over 100 species (and probably there are more) from fruit flies, birds, and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates.
- Compared to the roughly 80% of people without the trait, the HSP processes everything around them more—reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations — more than most other people. They are more aware than others of subtleties — they seem to “see more” than others because they notice This is mainly because their brain processes information differently than most people.
- HSP’s are more easily overwhelmed. If a person tends to notice everything, they are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time.
- This personality trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer exercising some caution in new situations, they are often erroneously called “shy.” (30% of HSPs have been determined to be extroverts.)
- Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures. In cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told “don’t be so sensitive” causing them to believe they are abnormal or somehow flawed.
- Booth, Charlotte; Standage, Helen; Fox, Elaine (1 Dec 2015), “Sensory-processing sensitivity moderates the association between childhood experiences and adult life satisfaction”, Personality and Individual Differences, 87: 24–29.
- Boterberg, Sofie; Warreyn, Petra (2016), “Making sense of it all: The impact of sensory processing sensitivity on daily functioning of children”, Personality and Individual Differences, 92: 80–86.
- Wolf, Max; Van Doorn, G. Sander; Weissing, Franz J. (2008). “Evolutionary emergence of responsive and unresponsive personalities”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 105 (41): 15825–15830.
- American Psychological Association Glossary of Psychological Terms www.apa.org/research/action/glossary.aspx
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/empathetic
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy
- Aron, Elaine N. PhD, (2013) The Highly Sensitive Person, Citadel (Penguin Random House Publisher Services).
- The Highly Sensitive Person (website) http://hsperson.com/