Empaths and highly sensitive people detect things in human behavior that others miss.

Have you ever met someone that everyone else liked but who made you feel uncomfortable? Did someone ever give you a compliment that made you feel angry and irritable rather than happy? If you are an empath or a highly sensitive person, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Empaths are ultra-sensitive. They pick up on microscopic cues in body language more than other people do. By nature, they are more finely attuned to people’s behavior than to their words. And they can recognize when people are wearing a mask, even when it’s very convincing.

Nothing is more disconcerting to an empath than manipulative behavior. Manipulation is a way of trying to control others in an underhand way. Most people are offended when someone openly tries to assert power over them, but a highly sensitive person can sense this kind of behavior even if it’s well hidden, and it provokes a hostile and fearful response in them.

But inauthenticity, in general, is a problem for highly sensitive people and empaths. In part, because it requires an inauthentic response, which is extremely draining and exhausting for them, and in part because interaction that’s artificial just seems pointless.

The following kinds of fake behavior might cause problems in interactions with empaths and highly sensitive people:

  1. People are friendly for self-interested reasons

You know the type. The kind of person who walks into a room and launches into their very own PR campaign. They’re friendly to everyone and everyone reacts well to them.

Your heart sinks as they approach you. You know they’re more conscious of themselves when they’re speaking to you than they are of you. They don’t seem to absorb anything you’re saying, but they look right at you and smile and nod all the time. You know they don’t really don’t give a damn about you, so why bother having the fake conversation?

Empaths and highly sensitive people might find themselves avoiding engaging in this kind of conversation at all. When they have to, they may end up seeming flat, dull, and unwilling to share.

Lack of trust causes a mental block that prevents them from expressing themselves openly. This could be in response to the lack of feeling in the interaction that they can sense beneath the friendly exterior.

Empaths might mirror the behavior by being equally fake, but this has an exhausting and draining effect on them and could leave them feeling anxious and ill afterward.

  1. Compliments aren’t always genuine

There are compliments and there are compliments.

There are times when people genuinely compliment you, and there are times when people compliment you without meaning it. People sometimes compliment you through their teeth, while really feeling envious. And there are times when compliments are criticisms in disguise.

Highly sensitive people can tell the difference between all these kinds of compliment giving, and if your compliment isn’t genuine, better not to give it at all.

It’s typical for an empath or a highly sensitive person to be more attuned to non-verbal signals in behavior. Therefore, these types of people understand the feeling behind the compliment more than the words actually used. For that reason, anything other than a genuine compliment is certain to offend rather than please.

  1. People adopt personas to hide their authentic self

In cases where people are hiding their real personalities because they have an unstable sense of identity, it can be frustrating for an empath. In this situation, highly sensitive people might feel a good deal of compassion for the person hiding because they know it comes from a lack of self-assurance.

But it can make it difficult for them to go any further with the person. If you know you’re not engaging with the real person but with someone who doesn’t really exist, you can’t form any real bond with them.

In some cases, the empath might make the effort to coax the real person out – if they see that it’s worth the trouble. Otherwise, they might just find themselves in stunned silence at the performance they’re watching.

  1. People mask pain beneath a tough exterior

Empaths and highly sensitive people know all about the reasons people hide their suffering from others and are likely to do it themselves, too. Nevertheless, this doesn’t make it any easier for them to be around people who are covering up their pain with a mask.

Empaths will pick up on the pain the person they’re speaking to is feeling regardless of the efforts to keep it hidden, and the fact that it’s hidden makes the feeling all the more powerful.

They might not be aware of it until afterward, suddenly feeling sad and desperate for reasons they can’t explain. Or, if they’re aware of it, they know they can’t broach the subject out of respect for the other person’s privacy. They feel like there’s an elephant in the room the whole time, and this can make interaction strained and stilted, or block it altogether.

We all have reasons to be inauthentic at times. In some cases, when inauthenticity hides toxic intentions, empaths should avoid fake people altogether.

But at other times, they could use their gift of heightened sensitivity to unmask the pain of others gently, without exposing them, and help those who are suffering.

No matter how depleting this might be on their energies, helping others is the best thing you can hope to do in this life. And what’s the point in having a gift if it’s not used to benefit other living creatures?

Are you a highly sensitive person? Do you identify with the experiences described?

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Rahul Choudhuri

    Thanks Caroline for your engaging angle on empaths and highly sensitive people. I have long been aware of the presence of such a sensitivity in my own inner self. I have been particularly sensitive to non verbal gestures of hostility to myself from people who are otherwise quite friendly .This has led me to lead the life of a classic loner more or less, and sometimes to even consider myself to be a typical social misfit.But I now feel thankful to you for posting such a nice piece on a problem that I will no longer view as a problem. I am sure I’ll be able to draw a lot of comfort and consolation from this article.Thanks again..

  2. Jonathan

    I totally relate to all of these. I’ve been struggling with it lately and wondering why and this is one of several articles I’ve now read that have helped me to understand. Thank you!!

  3. Lynda

    I have struggled with this my entire life – but only in the last year or so have I begun to understand why – why I find most human beings to be so exhausting, and why I’ve usually tried to avoid most human interactions. Thank you for bringing this article to the world – perhaps people on both sides will develop a better understanding of why Empaths behave the way we do -.

  4. Tom spies

    Have had this problem all my life.reading this was like reading my autobiography .thank you for your insite and knowledge.this IS me.

  5. Anka

    I recently went to a lecture at a Swedish hsp society. The person talking was (to me) an obvious fraud claiming to have worked in the psychiatric field (but not a registered hcp neither in sweden or his land of origin when I checked).
    When he was finished half the audience left the room immediately but half of the people stayed asking questions about how to raise their children and being told that the “emotional healing” he was offering in his business can cure both advanced cancer and broken hip joints! I was completely blown away, that anyone would put any value to his rambling, but there was a whole bunch of “highly sensitives” that obviously did…

    So, I’m pretty sure that you shouldn’t trust you intuition 100% even if you identify as hsp. You need to check the facts as well and keep yourself informed. Manipulative people are, well… manipulative!

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