Editor’s note: No compensation was received for this review. It comes purely from a desire to help HSPs wade through the literature about their trait. And, let’s be honest, to justify reading more self-help books.
As you know from my previous book review, I am a self-help book junkie. I love reading about psychology, personal development, and social issues. Given I work primarily with Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and empaths in my private practice, it made sense to tackle a review of this book and see if it was worth a read for HSPs and empaths.HSPs vs. Empaths
What’s the difference between HSPs and empaths? Before we dive into the review, let’s talk about some common language. Some say HSPs and empaths are the same thing. Others say empaths are a subtype of HSPs. The author (Dr. Judith Orloff) believes HSPs and empaths are different, in that empaths are a step beyond HSPs. She says in addition to being overwhelmed and highly sensitive to stimuli, empaths take the sensory information around them into their own body or spirit. I tend to use HSP and empath interchangeably, because I haven’t met an HSP who wasn’t an empath in some way.
When most people think of the term ‘empath‘, they think of someone who is able to sense and absorb other people’s emotions. However, this is what the author would call an ‘emotional empath‘. Dr. Orloff categorizes empaths based on what they are attuned to. She believes there are many different types of empaths, including (but not limited to): plant empaths, food empaths, dream empaths, earth empaths, animal empaths, sexual empaths and intuitive empaths.
This highlights how sensitive people can take in all kinds of sensory information and absorb it within themselves. It showcases the amazing diversity of experience and the scope of abilities and sensitivities within the HSP/empath community. It also stresses the importance of self-awareness to identify which sensory information HSPs/empaths are absorbing, because it may not be what they think.
What I Like About This Book
- As I said before, this book offers a broad description and information about both empaths in general and different types of empaths. This can be validating for people who feel like they don’t fit in the ’emotional empath’ mold or those who feel they absorb more than just emotions.
- Each chapter has concrete strategies, guided imagery, and practices to help navigate various situations (love, work, etc) as an empath.
- The author provides a warm, encouraging, and nurturing tone, making it accessible to the reader.
- The author is a psychiatrist and an intuitive, so there is a blend of medical, mental health, and intuitive/spiritual perspective.
- The clear and organized presentation makes it a great reference book to keep on your shelf and access when you need ideas or support in a particular area of your life.
- There are ample quizzes and questionnaires to help you discover your empathic and HSP characteristics, as well as assess where your life needs more growth and exploration.
- The author has a chapter specifically devoted to the seven types of ‘energy vampires’ and how to protect yourself from them. Energy vampires are people that tend to drain your energy or with whom you have a hard time setting boundaries. (I struggled with the harsh labels in this chapter, but understand its purpose within this book.)
- There is a chapter for helping professionals and therapists who identify as empaths and HSP with practical strategies to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue. (If this topic interests you, I also recommend reading this book.)
My Favorite Chapter: Empaths in Love and Relationships
Balanced empaths are naturally skilled at love and relationships, due to their capacity for kindness, empathy, and ability to intuit their partner’s needs and motives. Yet, it can be a double edge sword. If empaths are not fully aware of their trait and how to manage it in relationships, their well-being and partnerships suffer as a result.
Connection is an essential component of our lives. Therefore, the information in this chapter is crucial because empaths and HSP, by nature, can be more distressed than others when their relationship isn’t going well or even just feels ‘off’. Their ability to intuit their partners mood and needs can be beneficial at times, but also overwhelming or even destructive. Sometimes, HSPs and empaths can’t separate their emotions from their partner’s, leading to codependency or other unhealthy patterns. They may misattribute general overwhelm as an indicator something is wrong in their relationship (when there isn’t).
Thus, skills for a thriving romantic life are essential for an empath’s well-being. The ways HSPs and empaths need to take care of themselves in relationships can often be viewed as counter-cultural, making them think something is wrong with them. Partners of HSPs and empaths may also feel confused or offended by the empath’s need for considerable downtime, stillness, and space. The author normalized some of the basic needs empaths have in love and relationships, giving the reader permission and tools to ask for what they need from a partner.
Critiques Of This Book
To be clear, I do not have many critiques of this book. What I discuss below is more of a ‘devil’s advocate’ perspective, including ways I wish the book would have delivered more in ways of social justice and recovery perspectives.
- While an accessible and easy read, more analytical or data-driven types may find the tone of the book to be too casual. If you are seeking a more clinical or research-tone to a book, you’re better off with any of Elaine Aron’s books.
- The author talks about the importance of diet, nutrients and exercise in managing empathic sensitivities. If you’re in recovery from disordered eating, it may be best to skip these parts. Overall, the author advocates for ‘attuned eating’, yet some of her suggestions still come across as a strict diet. If you want to learn more about attuned eating in recovery, read here for resources.
- During one chapter, the author references the 12-step program for addiction recovery. If you are not a fan of the 12 step program, this can be a turn off. However, it’s such a small component of the book, this is no reason to not read the book.
- The author’s strategies and tips become a bit redundant and similar. This highlights how essential and practical some of her strategies are, but can be frustrating if you need a different approach than she provides. For example, if you don’t jive with affirmations, you may find the affirmations in each chapter to be unhelpful. However, I trust the reader’s ability to take what works and leave the rest.
- From a queer and/or social justice perspective, this book falls short. The author references Native American practices, which may feel like cultural appropriation depending on context. There is little to no mention of LGBTQ* people, people of color, differently-abled people and how racism, discrimination or oppression may contribute or interact to one’s experience as an empath. Perhaps that’s not the scope of this book, but I can help but wish for this perspective when considering HSPs and empaths. (If you know of a book like this out there, let me know!)
Although a bit saccharine in tone for my taste, it’s a solid introductory book to help you understand HSPs and empaths, gain self-awareness and knowledge, and learn practical strategies to help manage and understand your trait.
Do you identify as an HSP, empath, neither or both? What type of book or article would you like to read about HSPs and empaths?