What is the difference between a highly sensitive person, introversion, social anxiety, empaths, and shyness? Good question! If you’re asking, then you may have a combination of these traits. The categories often overlap.

    Quiet Can Be Good!

    None of these traits are inherently problematic. All of the above named traits can be used as personal strengths. Extroversion, assertiveness, and boundaries (or lack thereof) can expand beyond productive levels. Thus these more introspective traits can do the same. There is always the possibility of “too much of a good thing.”

    Highly Sensitive People

    Highly sensitive people, also known as HSP’s,struggle with sensory processing sensitivity. If someone has sensory processing sensitivity, they are easily overwhelmed by certain sensory stimuli. They may experience strong smells as overpowering. For example, a strong smell might be so overpowering that it completely interrupts their focus or a loud sound could be debilitating.

    HSP’s also tend to feel emotions intensely. This internal reactino can be so strong that it’s unbearable to be around people in pain.


    Empaths are people who don’t have sensory processing sensitivity but still experience others’ emotions. It is confusing for them to decode whether emotions are internal versus belonging to someone else.

    Social Anxiety

    Self-criticism and overanalysis of speech and behavior dominate the minds of the socially anxious. They fear judgment by others and definitely judge themselves.


    A shy person is hesitant to engage right away in social interactions, often due to fear of being vulnerable. They may be quiet or stay physically distant from the group.

    Shyness can be an inborn trait or it can come from modeling by family members or peers. Shyness is a cultural norm as well. Some Eastern countries value reserved and quiet behavior more than Americans do.

    Shy people can become talkative and relatable once they warm up to a new situation and become comfortable with others.


    The core definition of an introvert is that they recharge their energy by being alone. Social interactions are tiring because introverts process group dynamics on a deep emotional level. They are usually intellectual and may need extra time to think and respond to questions. While extroverts feel excited and rejuvenated by time with others, introverts need downtime.

    Where Can I Find Help?

    To clarify the main differences, this is only a simplistic breakdown. There are much more nuanced ways of analyzing the varieties. See this page for more information on HSP’s and introverts, which are two of my clinical specializations.

    People in these categories often struggle with eating disorders, difficulty processing grief, addictive behaviors, and more. It’s ok if you are stuck; seeking professional help is always a strength, not a weakness.

    Please contact me to find out more about my skills and approach. I hope I will be able to help in some way!

    1. Ben Noble
      November 1, 2016 at 9:38 am

      I’ve found that mindfulness meditation absolutely helped with negative self talk. It basically trained my brain to keep quiet! I recommend it for anyone who has SAD.