Introverts and extroverts can both be empaths, but the two have a very different “style” of empathy.
If you’re an empath, you have a finely-tuned radar for the emotions of other people — and sometimes you might find it overwhelming. That can give the impression that all empaths must be introverts, who are known for getting drained, or even overwhelmed, by people in general.
But the truth is much more nuanced — empaths can fall anywhere on the introversion/extroversion continuum, and where they fall can make a big difference in how they experience and use their high natural empathy. It can also lead to different struggles for the two types of empath, who each need different things to be at their best.
Here’s how to tell the difference between the two kinds of empaths and what each one needs to thrive.
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Aren’t All Empaths Introverts?
Simply put, no, not all empaths are introverts. Although there is no hard data, empath expert, and bestselling author, Dr. Judith Orloff says that empaths do skew toward introversion. This may be because introverts spend more time reflecting on things, including the feelings of others. But Dr. Orloff makes clear that there are also many extroverted empaths out there, which makes sense since empathy is such a powerful tool for socializing and understanding people.
But both introverted and extroverted empaths are united by the common experience of sensing, or “absorbing,” the emotions of others. In many cases, this means they feel the emotion as if they were experiencing it themselves firsthand. This can be true even with strangers or with people not directly interacting with the empath.
For example, if an empath enters a coffee shop and someone at one of the tables is stressed out, the empath may find themselves feeling stressed, as well, for no clear reason. This is why being an empath is sometimes a struggle — although empaths also get the joy of feeling the positive emotions of others and helping people gain insight into their own emotions. If a friend is elated with a job offer they received, the empath will feel this joy, too.
It might help to think of introverted and extroverted empaths this way: Introverted empaths tend to be the “wise listeners” that everyone implicitly trusts. Extroverted empaths, on the other hand, tend to be the emotional “cheerleaders” who rally others and make people feel better when they’re struggling. Both have a valuable gift, and both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s look at them in more detail.
Common Strengths of an Introverted Empath
When introverted empaths sense the emotions of others, their first instinct may be to go deep and seek to understand the cause or source of those feelings. They may do this without speaking, through quiet contemplation, or they may do it by listening attentively to the other person.
Often, rather than declaring what they sensed, the introverted empath will let the person say it in their own words. This can allow the person to open up more and help them feel heard and seen, or even to develop a sense of trust and closeness to the introvert.
Likewise, an introverted empath’s quiet nature means they may reflect longer on an interaction after it’s over and they’re alone. This can lead to a deeper understanding and seeing things that an extroverted empath might miss. As a result, when an introverted empath does weigh in on someone’s situation, their words can seem incredibly insightful.
Thus, the main strengths of an introverted empath are depth of connection and wisdom.
Now, let’s take a look at some strengths of an extroverted empath.
Common Strengths of an Extroverted Empath
An extroverted empath, by contrast, may be more likely to engage in a two-way conversation with someone to learn about their feelings or what they’re going through. This is rewarding for the extrovert — it gives them energy and they often enjoy the exchange. It can be rewarding for the other person, too, particularly if the extrovert shows they can relate to what’s happening or is good at asking open-ended questions that let the person explore their feelings.
Because extroverted empaths are so energized by connecting with people, they can be a source of strength to others. They instantly become passionate advocates who help people regain motivation, hope, and confidence when they need it most. You will never feel as empowered as you do after an extroverted empath gives you their full focus.
Extroverted empaths also connect with more people than introverted empaths. They will get to know almost everyone wherever they go, and they remember little details, like the person’s favorite food or band, their dog’s name, or when their birthday is. Extroverted empaths often go out of their way to stir up good feelings for all these casual acquaintances, dropping off a handwritten birthday card or sending a cheerful text. They are experts at making people feel better and building people up to feel good about themselves.
Thus, the main strengths of extroverted empaths are inspiration and empowering others.
However, both introverted and extroverted empaths face some challenges, too…
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Common Challenges of Introverted Empaths — And How to Thrive
The most common challenges of introverted empaths include:
- Staying too long at a gathering or event out of a sense of obligation or to avoid appearing “rude.” This can be a real stumbling block for them, because they may run low on social energy and absorb too many emotions, leaving them feeling drained and overwhelmed.
- Saying “yes” to invitations or commitments they won’t really enjoy. Again, they may do this out of a fear of hurting others’ feelings.
- Not knowing how to break off a conversation that is becoming draining for them. (Hint: It’s all about setting boundaries!)
- Not knowing how to express their limits. This can be due to lacking the confidence that they can do so without feeling like a “bad” person or disappointing someone.
- Feeling overwhelmed by the emotions of others. Then, they cannot get rid of these emotions.
- Above all, the number-one challenge of introverted empaths is not knowing how to express their own needs. Learning to master this is essential, though.
Based on these struggles, the biggest step introverted empaths can take to thrive is to turn their empathy inward — to themselves. Remember, your needs are just as valid and important as everyone else’s, and that includes your need for silence, quiet time, your need to be heard and understood, your need for days with no obligations, and your need to be able to process and feel your own emotions — rather than always being inundated with those of others.
In other words, empower yourself to speak up and say “no.” Or say, “I’d love to have a deep conversation about this, but I’m actually pretty overextended right now, and I need to get going.” Or say, “I’m sorry you’re going through that, and I really want to help, but I don’t have time to talk this week. Is there someone else you can talk to?”
Once you give yourself permission to say no, you’ll find that you aren’t drained and overwhelmed all the time — and that you actually end up doing more good for the people who need you most.
Now, what about challenges extroverted empaths may encounter?
Common Challenges of Extroverted Empaths — And How to Thrive
The most common challenges extroverted empaths may face include:
- The risk of assuming they are correct in their assessment of what someone else is feeling. Instead, it’s best to let the other person explain it in their own words.
- Giving prescriptive advice for how another person “should” handle a situation. Giving opinions is fine, but not saying “should.”
- Speaking rather than listening. (Hint: Don’t talk just to talk, extroverts!)
- Not sensing when someone would prefer to keep their feelings private. So, support that choice.
- Above all, the number one challenge for extroverted empaths is how to cultivate greater self-awareness, which often comes through quiet reflection or meditation rather than talking with someone else. It’s this self-awareness that will allow the extrovert to channel their empathy in a truly healing direction for others.
Thus, one powerful change you can make as an extroverted empath is to practice creating space in a conversation. This means speaking less overall and using more open-ended questions when you do speak, so the other person ends up shaping the conversation more than you do.
For example, rather than sharing a story about how you went through a similar hurdle, ask the person, “I would feel so afraid in that situation, how are you feeling about it?” or “How are you dealing with the stress?” Then, let the other person share as much or as little as they’d like. When you do speak, consider sharing things that make you feel vulnerable, which will make it easier for the other person to do the same versus feeling put on the spot.
Creating space pays off for both parties. As an extroverted empath, you’ll find that you make a deeper connection with people, end up forming close relationships, and also gain self-insight by listening more. And the person on the other side of the conversation will benefit, too — they’ll feel heard and seen, and likely feel truly helped by the experience.
You might like:
- The Difference Between Introverts, Empaths, and Highly Sensitive People
- 11 Things That Explain What It’s Like to Be an Introverted Empath
- What Introverts Can Do When They Feel Overwhelmed by Life
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