As Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s), we are amazingly deep thinkers. As such, I love the barrage of questions I get about the highly sensitive trait. We are so inquisitive about our nature and eager to absorb all the information that is out there! So in order to quench some of your thirst for knowledge, I want to answer some of the questions I get on a regular basis:

  • “Is being highly sensitive the same thing as being an empath?”
  • “Is my depression and anxiety directly linked to being highly sensitive?”
  • “Is being highly sensitive the same things as being introverted?”
  • “Is there a scale of sensitivity?”

The fact is, there are 50 shades of being sensitive. We are like snowflakes; not a single one of us is the same. While we may all share the HSP trait, from there, our differences are many.

  • You can be an HSP and an empath.
  • You can be an HSP who also experiences depression and anxiety.
  • You can be an HSP who is neither an empath nor experiences depression and anxiety.
  • You can also be an extroverted or an introverted HSP.

Let’s take them one at a time:

What’s the deal with empathy? Is that the same thing as being an empath? 

First, there’s a difference between the ability to feel empathy and being an empath. Feeling empathy simply means being able to understand how someone is feeling. It’s the old, “Imagine walking in his/her shoes” technique of trying to understand how someone else might be feeling from their perspective. Highly sensitive people tend to excel at this.

An empath, on the other hand, is someone who absorbs the feelings or energy of those around them. The empath will excel at understanding what others are feeling, but goes one step further and takes those feelings on as their own, which can be very confusing for them. It makes it quite difficult to determine if what they are feeling is truly their own feeling or that of someone else.


Inherently, being highly sensitive does not necessarily mean that you are an empath. For example, my mother has most of the traits of an HSP, but she does not absorb the feelings of those around her. She is very sensitive to how other people are feeling and can intuit their moods without absorbing them. I, on the other hand, tend to do both. I would consider myself an HSP and an empath, although the intensity of my empathy is in direct response to my vibration, energy, and how grounded I am, which is impacted by my self-care and how overwhelmed I am at any given moment.

Depression and anxiety are not necessarily caused by your high sensitivity. 

This one can be very confusing because there are many HSP’s who experience depression and/or anxiety, yours truly included. However, you can be an HSP without necessarily experiencing either of these. My completely unprofessional take on this (I am not a trained psychologist or therapist) is that high sensitivity can exacerbate depression and anxiety. I experience this when I abandon my self-care, or if I’m put in a situation that is too overstimulating for me.

One story I like to share is the time my dog almost sent me to the nut house.

I have mentioned before that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, which means that in the winter, my body doesn’t produce the serotonin it needs because of the lack of sunlight. Up until the winter we got Jasper, it was mostly managed without light therapy or medication. I still got depressed and was certainly not thriving, but I wasn’t depressed enough to do much about it. (This was before I became a badass, a pleasure-diva, and self-care ninja!) 🙂

Jasper, our adorable and sometimes insane English Setter, came to live with us in December of 2012. I adore him and thank the lord he’s pretty, because he is a handful. His energy is either off the charts or he’s fast asleep. It’s the off the charts energy that was the problem. I work from home, so I was around his energy all the time.


Jasper is a born hunter. His favorite past-time is running around the house, jumping up and slamming his paws against the window panes, barking at everything that moves outside. I was so overstimulated on an hourly basis by his chaotic energy, that my nervous system didn’t have adequate time to recover. Add a completely stressed out nervous system to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I was at rock bottom. I was frazzled, and I was a mess. There were daily breakdowns and rivers of tears. I was the most depressed I can ever remember being, and it was scary.

I firmly believe that my depression would have been there regardless of my sensitivity, but adding massive overstimulation to depression made the depression much worse. My winter with Jasper was the catalyst to my deep dive into massive self-care, so thank you, Jasper. I love you, and I am grateful every time you are asleep. 😉

Introversion and the HSP: Are all HSP’s introverts? 

Short answer: Nope.

It’s a misconception that HSP’s are introverts or that all introverts are HSP’s. In fact, 30% of HSP’s are extroverts. It’s likely that this is a misconception because many HSP’s relish alone time and this is typically thought of as an introverted quality.

Is there a scale of sensitivity? 

Personally, I believe there is. If you take the quiz, Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? on my website, you will likely answer “yes” to a certain number of questions, but you will also answer “no” to some. I answer yes to all but one, indicating that I’m quite sensitive. There are other people who will answer with enough “yeses” to qualify as highly sensitive, but who don’t have all the sensitive traits.

You can also be moderately sensitive. My husband wouldn’t be deemed an HSP, but he answered “yes” to 10 of the questions. We all have sensitivity, HSP or not, but some of us are more sensitive than others.

I also believe that lifestyle can directly impact how sensitive a person feels at any given time. There have been hard times in my life where I’ve been convinced that I must be the most sensitive person on the planet. I used to describe myself as, “Allergic to life.” However, there have also been times where I’ve wondered, “Am I still highly sensitive?”

The severity of my sensitivity seems to be directly reflected by my self-care.

What do I mean by this? I mean the amount of pleasurable self-care activities I’m doing to regenerate my energy and nourish my soul, my mindset and the thoughts I’m thinking, and the boundaries I keep in place to honor my sensitivity. This is my mission: To help other HSP’s find their sweet spot of self-care.

I would really LOVE to hear from you on this topic, so please share your comments below!


With so much love,

P.S. If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person and would like some tips on empowering your own Inner Badass, I’ve written a special FREE eBook just for you.

Free eBook: From Highly Sensitive Hot Mess to Highly Sensitive Badass: 8 Steps to Empowerment for Highly-Sensitive People, Empaths and Intuitives.

Simply sign up below and it will be delivered right to your inbox! You’ll also get my blog posts delivered via email.

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Cortney is a transformational coach, writer, speaker, mentor for Highly Sensitive Badasses TM, and founder of the coaching program: The Sensitive Badass Badass Personal Coaching Program and the Sensitive Badass Sisterhood. She is passionate about helping women tap into their unique brilliance through divine self-care so they can live their highest purpose and reach their full potential. She offers private and group transformational and empowerment coaching programs for highly sensitive and empathic women.

Cortney earned a B.A. from Vassar College in Art History and a Masters of Architecture from Catholic University. Following her heart later in life, she became certified as a health coach with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She became a “health architect,” dealing with her own health crisis and struggle to manage anxiety and depression. She is also a proud graduate of Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts Mastery program, a NYC institution that teaches women to use the power of pleasure to have their way with the world.

Cortney lives in Baltimore with her 2 kids, her dog and her husband. A passionate traveler, photographer, gardener and foodie, when she isn’t dancing or listening to music (her favorite things!), Cortney is all about engaging all of her senses in service to her inner badass—and awakening the inner badass in every highly sensitive person she encounters!

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  1. Carolyn November 28, 2016 at 7:42 pm Reply

    I have a Jasper too. And I love her to death, but she wears me out. Her barking at the mail man. Ugh. And I have two young kids. She’/ my third ‘child’ but she was first. She’s an English Cocker and similar to your dog. I think she makes me happier than she drives me nuts but it’s close! 😉

    • thehighlysensitivebadass November 29, 2016 at 9:13 am Reply

      Carolyn, I hear you! That’s exactly how I feel. There are days when I just think, “Thank God he’s cute!” 🙂

  2. Amy April 14, 2017 at 9:21 pm Reply


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