The HSP World Podcast Ep. 6: Do HSPs Really Have More Empathy?

The HSP World Podcast Ep. 6: Do HSPs Really Have More Empathy?


The HSP World Podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, Podbean, and Spotify!

Thomas: Hi and welcome to the HSP world podcast. With each episode, we invite a guest with the HSP trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question that they have. We’re not coaches or therapists. We’re HSPs holding space with you. I’m one of your hosts, Thomas and your other hosts are… 

Robyn: Robyn.

Rayne: and Rayne.

Robyn: Okay, so we’re back with another episode and a new guest. Sebastian’s joining us today. How are you Sebastian? 

Sebastian: Pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’m fine. Nervous and looking forward. Yes. 

Robyn: Nervous and excited.Cool. Sebastian maybe you can start by telling us a little bit your HSP story, how you became acquainted with the trait? 

Sebastian: Okay. Uh, it’s somehow a weird story. We try to bring it to a good storyline. Um, I always felt like an alien in my family and all the groups where I was in the football club or, uh, in school, I knew something was wrong with me.

Maybe I was overreacting to judgments or stuff like that, but I knew there was something. Um, well, when I started thinking now, let’s say it was 21, when I really started reflecting what happened in my life so far. Um, I was on the search for books. Like what kind of archetype can I be? What does the Bible say there?

Uh, or what, uh, do psychologists say and I stumbled over the book of Elaine Aron. I read the title. It was really intriguing, but I never touched it because I’m not a person considered as sensitive. If you ask all of my friends they wouldn’t characterize me as such, but one day my sister watched a video with my family, uh, about my childhood somehow, or I was in that video.

And she said, ‘Sebastian, you were so sensitive,’ then I gave it a try. I made the test and yes, I scored quite high points. And I asked my godmother, who is my island in the sea, uh, when it’s about empathic, uh, about the compassion I needed. She said that, yeah, absolutely. I’m a hundred percent.

And she had already talks with her psychologist and he would characterize me as well. So that’s what made me in the end aware what kind of name the child has? Let’s say so. Uh, yes, but still as I said, I am not considered as a sensitive person, so still I felt like an alien. So I doubt one day in another time, I’m very proud of the tool could I got. 

Robyn: So it was quite a shift in your, your self-perception to come to that label.

Sebastian: The label itself, as I say, just gave the child a name like your guests in the former episodes or whatever. Um, well, it has a name. What kind of problem I might have, and that made me way more calm.

And that gave me a direction where to focus my self-reflection, yeah, my talks and my self-acceptance, especially that was always the biggest problem. 

Robyn: Okay, thank you for sharing.  Let’s move on to the question of the day. Could you let us know what your question is?

Sebastian: Okay. As I said before, um, HSPs are characterized by the acronym D.O.E.S.

And a lot of people say I elect the E so the emotional reactivity. For example, friends say I make insensitive jokes. Um, my fiancee says I’m low in compassion and my family would rather say I’m too intense or too loud. So my question is, do HSP really behave sensitively? Or is, uh, my way alleged way of, um, I see defense mechanism to prevent too much pain, maybe?

Robyn: Okay, great question. 

Thomas: Yeah, that is a really good question. And, and there’s something for me. There’s something about the difference between behaving sensitively and being sensitive. 

Sebastian: Yes. May I say something to them? 

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. 

Sebastian: I figured that out as well. The last weeks when I was thinking about my question, I talked a little with, uh, Robyn already about that. Is the, the, how I perceive things and how I process them in my brain – they can be sensitively, but yeah, well sensitive behaviors, something else. Yes, I absolutely.

But that is then related to the empathy I show. This is what I lack in the end. I would say myself, I’m an emotional, uh, cripple. I said before, and, but it’s still, even, that is a normal trait somehow, you know? 

Thomas: Well, here’s where I can really identify with this Sebastian because when I was very, very young, uh, say six or seven years old, I remember my sensitivity and I remember, you know, I would in, in the family I knew that I grew up in, I remember that I would say something and often it would be immediately shot down and, you know, I would be told ‘No, no, don’t think that way you should be thinking this way.’ And I remember making a very specific decision.

Even at that young age, I made a decision that I would not talk anymore. Basically, I wouldn’t express my emotions. And so as I grew up as a child, I tried to avoid emotions and I tried to avoid revealing to other people what I was feeling.

And by the time I was in high school and college I noticed that I had a very hard time relating with people. Nowadays it makes sense to me. And I mean, nowadays the way I feel about that is that I was disregarding my emotions as a defense mechanism. Right? I was basically trying to defend my sensitivity against criticism if you will.

And so I didn’t have an opportunity to develop empathy and develop emotional language. And I had to then develop that as an adult basically. So in one way, I really identify with what you’re saying there, because, as a sensitive person, we develop, I believe we develop defenses, you know, various defenses against whatever’s coming into us.

And we’re, we’re so sensitive. We’re feeling a lot. And, um, and sometimes that takes…. um, it’s sort of like a numbing, right? We numb ourselves and then that then translates into our behaviors. Does that make sense? 

Sebastian: Absolutely. I, well, I’m with you. Absolutely. Um, yeah. It’s yeah, may it, may it continue?

Robyn: I’m really glad you asked this question, Sebastian, because I think it is important to come back to that distinction between, um, the process that’s happening and, you know, inwardly versus the external behavior. Um, because really the definition of sensitivity that we’re working with is, an inner process.

It may have many typical expressions, but that can be actually very different from one person to the next, from one culture to the next, from one generation to the next. Um, and you have to look beyond the behavior to really tell if someone is highly sensitive. Um, and I mean, even, you know, even on, from one day to the next, you know, uh, ironically.

People who are highly sensitive, if we’re not doing well, if we’re overwhelmed or in a situation that doesn’t really, that isn’t really favorable to the expression of our sensitivity, we can actually be quite insensitive, right? Like if you’re overwhelmed, you don’t have room to think about other people.

If you’re, if you’re nervous system is just frazzled, you can’t be. You can’t, you know, frame things, sensitively, be patient with other people. Like you, you lose that capacity because you yourself are, are lacking in resources. So, um, that would be a perfect example of how a highly sensitive person can actually be appear very insensitive in the things that they do or say.

And then I think the other thing that was interesting, you mentioning, uh, empathy and as Thomas also a little bit like development of emotion. Another thing that I thought about recently is how even emotional intelligence is not necessarily the same thing as sensitivity. I think there is a kind of emotional intelligence, uh, to highly sensitive people in the sense that we, you know, we’re picking up on all that much more information.

So we might be doing a lot with it. So, you know, that is a kind of skill there, but, to be both those other things with like empathy or, uh, you know, knowing your own limits, right? Or negotiating boundaries with people or managing your stress. Like all of that are things that you have to learn to manage.

You’re not born with those things. So no matter how sensitive your nervous system is, maybe you don’t know how to appropriately express your needs. Maybe you don’t know how to have strong communication with people around you or how to ask the right questions to figure out what’s going on with them.

So if you don’t have the emotional intelligence skill sets actually kind of, um, and that has to be developed, I believe, I don’t know, saying this in any official capacity, my understanding is that so things would need to be developed, you know, in actual relationships with people. So if you had, for whatever reason, like if you have kind of withdrawn or isolated yourself a little bit, or, or even less dramatically just kept to yourself a little bit more, kind of, as Thomas was mentioning in his story, like that would make it harder for you then develop those skills to allow the sensitivity to express itself in your behavior.

Rayne: Yeah. I agree with you, Robyn. I think, I think for me the point that’s really kind of standing out for me and I don’t know what kind of environment you grew up in Sebastian, in the environment I grew up in, it was, you know, it was not safe to express my emotions. Just the way it was.

So healthy boundaries were not something that was practiced. Right? So I think these things, for me as an HSP, I think those things had a fairly big impact on me. Less so now as I move forward and keep learning about the HSP trait and how to create environments and relationships that are supportive of me and my trait. Then you know, it’s much easier and much, you know, much more rewarding on a soul level basically. Right?

But I think from what I’ve seen and from what I kind of gather, I think it’s tougher on guys who are HSPs because you know, that toxic masculinity, you know, nonsense that is out there.

You know, we’re all human beings. We all have emotions and being able to express them without being called, you know, a sissy or, you know, whatever, or like in my background it was the same thing, you know, I would have been called a sissy. Right?

So I think that what you kind of grow up in and what your norm is can have a big impact on how comfortable you feel expressing your sensitivity and, and being okay with your sensitivity and accepting it. And growing with it, you know, growing into it, and becoming more comfortable in your skin and owning your emotions because they’re, you know, there’s amazing outlets for our emotions, art and all kinds of things that, you know we can tap into that.

We’re not really kind of really, you know, when we’re a kid, we’re not told, well, no, you can’t express your emotions, but you can go do this, go do this creative thing to express your emotions kind of a thing. So it, it can take a little bit to get there, but I do think that’s a challenge for sensitives.

You know, I mean, it’s getting better. It feels like it’s getting a lot better. I think the culture overall, um, for males. And being open to talking about their emotions and expressing their emotions and not just anger because that’s, you know, the most common fallback that men are taught that it’s okay to have that emotion, but none of the others, you know? Which is not healthy, you know, because we experience all, you know, there’s the rainbow of emotions we can experience.

I think for me, I get more comfortable expressing my emotions as I go on. At first, when I started to do it in a healthy way, you know, I was clumsy at it. Sometimes it’d be okay. Sometimes I’d go too far off one side or the other, you know?

And it’s kind of hard because it’s like, how can emotions be right or wrong? You know, they just are. And you’re entitled to feel whatever you’re feeling. Nobody can tell you how to feel. You feel  how you feel. 

Sebastian: Well, but sorry, the people do, and that is the thing we have to learn as well. Let’s say I especially have to learn it because my, sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt you. 

Rayne: No, I was done. You go ahead. 

Sebastian: I was raised up in the family with lots of heads, let’s say so a lot of characters and, well, you said, um, to hold back and so on? I did exactly the opposite so people called me punk or freak or whatever.

Uh, just, well, I shooted my emotions out like a cannon. I know that is not good. And especially in poverty is, uh, it’s not really a good thing to do, especially if you have nine people around you. Yes, and the thing is, I, my character, let’s say so, I’m not a really feeler anyways, so I don’t value them too high.

I know my mechanism in my head is so fast that I break down emotions to the core and I accept them. Like they are. Um, yes, but absolutely. I have to understand my emotions before I can dissemble them with my thoughts. And that is exactly the crucial point of you never learn, um, how to do that. Cause people don’t understand you and tell you all the time you have to do something normal or you have to behave normal and you should not be always so, uh, exotic.

Or the most favorite sentence of my mom was ‘Don’t think too much.’ That makes life only difficult. Okay? Everyone knows that and is so absolutely not helpful because it makes you even more lost. 

But then, I learned to accept myself and this is why pushing buttons for me is a fun thing to do somehow.

And, um, well, because it makes people laugh. And, uh, I think that is my way of facilitating my sensitivity. It doesn’t have to be the bad way. But I feel with my tools, I could be a super villain if I want to. And that somehow really scares me if you get my point. 

Thomas: Yeah. Um, there’s one thing that came up for me. Um, I remembered a conversation that  the researcher Brene Brown was having with Oprah Winfrey and they weren’t talking about sensitivity specifically, but they were talking about shame and vulnerability and things like that.

And one thing that Brene has found in her research is that empathy is hard. It’s hard for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re sensitive or, you know, if you have the sensitivity trait or not, empathy, which is, you know, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, um, in terms of thinking is, um, it’s just something that we don’t really naturally do.

It’s something that we have to practice. And when I heard that, um, because empathy has always been a struggle for me, when I heard that I was like jumping up and down for joy because here’s the premier researcher on shame and vulnerability saying empathy is hard. It’s just, it’s just hard for everyone.

So there’s that, you know, it’s like we don’t need to beat ourselves up over lack of empathy because it’s hard for everyone, you know, it’s just a matter of practicing, I guess, is what I want to say.

Rayne: Well said, well said Thomas.

I suppose that does that makes a lot of sense because the easy, the easy way always, you know, the quick and easy ways are always the downfall and not having empathy is a quick and easy thing to do. Right? But having empathy requires a lot more strength. Um, and you know,

Thomas: imagination, 

Rayne: imagination. Yeah.

And to, and tapping into you’re tapping into your own feelings, you know, like how would I feel, how would I feel if this, if that were me, you know, kind of thing. So, yeah. 

Robyn: Well, my, uh, I like what you said also Sebastian about self-acceptance and I think you’re right. That it has to start with you, right?

It has to start with you genuinely thinking that it’s okay for you to be like this. It can even be positive for you to be like this and then you can decide. ‘Who do I explain this to?’ Right? Some people are gonna always say, ‘Oh, you’re overthinking it or stop caring so much.’ Some people, it doesn’t matter. Okay? Let them think that, whatever. Sure. I think a lot, whatever.

Other people, it could be important to get them to understand so you’ll save your energy for them, you know, but you would never be able to explain it properly if, you know, if you yourself are not first convinced, like yeah, okay-it’s this, this is what’s going on with me and it’s okay. 

Sebastian: I absolutely get the point and I agree, but, well everyone has their wound and one family don’t understand. That is always a big problem. But like you said before, um, that empathy is a hard thing. I think empathy has a PR problem because if, well, I understand a problem that doesn’t mean I have to react with compassion.

I don’t have to, uh, to sit in the dark with a person who has pain. Well, I, that is a problem I have often with my fiancee. She says, okay, I have a golden heart, but I’m way too fast. I cannot, I don’t want to sit in the dark because it’s pure pain. And why should I do that? And yeah, that is the thing with the empathy.

I wonder, is it not better to find a solution? Um, that is my way, no. That doesn’t I mean I don’t understand the feelings. I think I do understand the feelings very well. So I take them into, I always say I project them into myself. And I feel pain and I don’t want to feel pain. So I go into the solution part right away.

Thomas: Yeah. It’s like, I’ve experienced that from others where I’ll, you know, say how I’m feeling and then it’s like,’ Oh, but you could do this.’ And the truth is all I want is someone to listen. I don’t necessarily want them to feel my pain. I just want to, I want them to acknowledge me.

Um, and that’s a hard learning when you’re the one that is asked to listen because you know, not all of us are good listeners. Not all of us have patience. Right? There’s a certain, um, uh, there’s this, I suppose there’s a certain tolerance that you need. Like I go fishing, uh, out here in the Bay in San Francisco, I go fishing once a week. I go early in the morning. And I put my waders on and I’ll go fishing for a couple hours. And I’ve been doing this every week since May. I still haven’t caught a fish. And yet I do it because I have a certain amount of tolerance and patience for just being out there.

And there’s of course, many positives of being out there, being out in the fresh air and being in a beautiful place. Um, but I recognize that there are not many people that would join me doing that. Because I have a tolerance and a patience for that. And so I think that’s something that one can develop it. I don’t know. What do you think? 

Robyn: Yeah. Yeah. 

Rayne: I think it’s very possible to have empathy and not feel pain to such a degree that it’s unbearable. You know? I do think it’s possible to do that. I think it’s up to you or me or whoever we’re talking about to decide how much that relationship means to you to be able to give it that attention. As well as your own, you know, your own personal boundaries.

I mean, as an HSP I mean, it’s a, you know, a common thing HSPs experience where people just walk up to them and they don’t know them and they tell them their life stories, you know? And they just dump everything out, kind of a thing.

And that, you know, that’s not acceptable. That’s something, um, the receiver, the listener has to agree to and be okay with. And, you know, if someone I was close to, I could listen to them and share that space with them and have empathy for them and be there for them and not get lost in their pain, essentially.

Um, you know, I can do that, but you know, it has to be at a time where my level of being able to do that is good. You know? 

Robyn: Yeah. I agree with that.

Rayne: Yeah, because it’s, um, you know, it, it’s a gift to be able to do that.

It’s a gift to be able to be with someone and listen and only listen. You know, not try to solve their problem or do anything else, but just to listen and be there for them to know that, you know, you care and you’re there for them and you’re not judging them or making any kind of, you know, whatever, um, that you’re just there.

Um, that’s an amazing gift to be able to give somebody. So yeah. I think that’s one of the beautiful, beautiful things HSPs possess. I have some close HSP friends that have just, you know, I mean it’s priceless. It’s just, it’s an amazing thing. 

Robyn: I was just gonna say, yeah, yeah, it’s a great gift. And it just means that it’s not, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always there doesn’t mean we can always give it doesn’t mean we always know how to give it.

So I think, uh, sometimes it’s, it’s good for us also to tell ourselves, like, and not hold ourselves to that standard and to not say like, okay, I’m an HSP, so I have to behave sensitively, you know, like reminding ourselves that whatever behavior we engage in, like you have a choice about that, you know, and it doesn’t have to, because we perceive things a certain way. And we feel things a certain way.

We still, there’s always a range of behaviors that we have access to. So I think the more conscious we can become about that choice, like kind of the better we feel about meeting our expectations and meeting other people’s expectations or not meeting them, you know, based on what’s right for us.

Sebastian: I absolutely agree with that. Um, when, when I try to explain people what a highly sensitive person is being the most of the people never heard that. Um, and I always explain it. I have an, uh, electric screwdriver and I have to learn how to use it.

And well, if no one explains to you how to use it, or if you never have to build a, say a wardrobe or whatever, you would never learn how to use it properly. You just, yeah. You have it in your toolbox and it makes you heavy and it makes you, I say, complaining actually about who you are and, uh, what the fork is wrong with me? And all this stuff.

I think that that is not really helpful. Yes? Yeah. But people don’t understand that. And well, I don’t want to judge people, but well, when people tell you, you are very good in causing wars, just because you point at problems, that is really painful, you know, and this is why the sensitive thing is really, uh, I say, really important. I think so the behavior thing, I, what I learned now, and that is really good that, uh, yeah. It’s uh, well, we have to know how to behave and how to learn that we are pack animals. We are not lonely bulls. That is what is the thing? 

Rayne: I also think that that’s something though that that’s another thing that HSPs, um, bring to the table.

That’s a strength in that they will point out where they see, you know, an issue or something that is either an issue now or could be an issue in the future. Um, because they’re processing information on a deeper level. Which takes a lot of energy. So, it’s kind of that a lot of people have that, um, kind of kick back, um, behavior where it’s like, shoot the messenger, the person that’s pointing out the issue.

And where they might not understand. No, it’s just something that’s being noticed and, you know, blame isn’t being, you know, kind of pointed out or anything anywhere. It’s more like, ‘Oh, look at this, you know, this could be a problem.’ And, you know, we could, we could solve this problem, you know, and I wonder how we could solve this problem.

So I think it’s, it’s misunderstood a lot of times too. And, and also too, it could be the way that, you know, the way that the HSP is saying that, you know, depends how. Wherever they’re saying it to how defensive they are or whatever, you know what I mean? But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to notice those things.

Sebastian: Yeah. It is a bad thing or not. 

Rayne: No, I don’t think it is. I think it’s a very good thing. And I think in a lot of family dynamics, um, like I know in mine, you know, it’s the same thing, you know, I’ll point out a problem and if people don’t want to look at the problem or solve the problem, you know, and maybe they don’t care because they don’t feel like it affects them, you know? Um, so then really it’s a matter of me deciding, okay, well, how big of a problem is that for me, you know? Is that problem impacting, you know, any kind of healthy boundary I have or that I’m working on or that I’m setting up? In order to create my life in such a way so that, you know, I enjoy it and I have a good environment that I’ve set up for myself. Because you know, for a lot of HSPs, you know, they’re the only one in their family or they, they’re the only one that identifies as one in their family. And they’re usually the scapegoat, you know, they’re usually the bad guy. 

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. 

Rayne: Or the black sheep or whatever. Right? So I think you just kind of have to decide for yourself, you know, what does a healthy relationship look like and what kind of healthy relationships do I want to develop? That are going to feel good for me that are going to improve my life that are going to, um, you know, have meaning for me, where I can grow my sense of empathy and, you know, all these things that make being an HSPs, you know, a gift. Just my opinion. 

Sebastian: Yeah. Well, well, as I said, I really consider it as well as a gift, but as well, you can use it as a weapon or like all the good things. You can use as a weapon. Um, yes, it is. Sorry. I always say that I use the metaphor to explain people being a problems, um, like every massive monument throws a long shadow. And I think that is exactly what HSP thing is. You just have to look at it, the good thing. Otherwise it eats you up. 

Like with your podcast before I realized that people have problems, I already faced myself, but it’s just a matter of time and peace with yourself.

That is so hard to give you something you never learned. And this is why, sorry, I have to say it’s so amazing that you guys do that because you really offer a home for people who search, you know?

Thomas: Well, Sebastian, I really want to thank you for, for posing this question because it really resonated with me. I mean, I really identified with it. So I really appreciate that you asked this question and I’m curious how you feel about our conversation and if there’s anything that resonated with you?

Sebastian: Well, everything resonated with me. Well, I think that is a really common problem with all of us. Um, because emotions are very dangerous if you show it to the wrong people. Yeah? Um, yeah. I am really glad that we were able to talk about that. Yes. And I should care more about the hows and less about the whats. So I am what I am, but I should try to use the tools correctly or let’s say in a good manner. 

Thomas: Yeah. Well, thank you for joining us today. 

Sebastian: Absolutely. And that was a pleasure. 

Rayne: Thank you Sebastian. And thank you for complimenting us on what we’re doing. We wouldn’t be able to do it unless you and people like you came on with your questions.

So thank you and I really appreciate you. And thank you for your courage to ask your question. I really enjoyed chatting about it with you. And I know your question is going to be helpful for other HSPs too. 

Sebastian: I hope so, too. 

Robyn: Thank you, Sebastian. Thanks everybody. And to our listeners as well.

So please do join us for our next episode when we will be talking about another interesting HSP question.

If there are any HSPs out there who have a burning HSP-related question, big or small, feel free to write to us at feel free to get in touch with us at Catch you next time. 


Pic credit via sasint

Music credit: Intro and Outro music from the YouTube Music Library. Song is Clover 3.

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