While Judith Orloff’s The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People (Sounds True, 2017) covers much of the same ground as her earlier works, this is a worthwhile, well-timed reinforcement.
Being an empath goes beyond having empathy, Orloff explains: “We actually feel others’ emotions, energy, and physical symptoms in our own bodies, without the usual defenses that most people have.” As an empath myself, I so appreciate the realism and simplicity of that last part. I don’t have the defenses most people do, but I have other abilities they do not. That’s the way we humans are; it’s that “gifts differing according to the grace given us” thing, and it’s why we can (and must) appreciate and help one another.
I received a review copy (but no compensation) after answering a call on WordPress for bloggers to review the book. Having many years ago read her books Second Sight and Dr. Judith Orloff’s Guide to Intuitive Healing and listened to the audio program Positive Energy Practices, I was interested in reading what Orloff had to say about empath survival in 2017.
Although some basic information on types of energy vampires and protection strategies is repeated here, there are many new and useful nuances and details. As an animal Reiki practitioner and animal communicator, I appreciated that Orloff included animal empaths in her chapter, “Empaths, Intuition, and Extraordinary Perceptions.” There are also good, practical tips on work, travel, and personal relationships and raising sensitive children.
Here’s where the real learning came for me: Despite the many insights and strategies for empaths’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being, in the dark recesses of my mind lurked a “C’mon, there’s got to be more here.” The “more” had to do with what actually happens when we stand up for ourselves and set boundaries, even to the extent of putting our well-being before social correctness, in a couple of the book’s examples. There will be judgement. There will be push-back. There will be consequences that will feel much different from what happens if we just go along and try to be like everyone else.
I often tell people being an empath or highly sensitive person is a gift, and those of us who are given such a gift have the responsibility to make sure we then gift it back to God, the universe, our little corners of the world, etc. It’s up to us to learn how to protect our energy and manage our sensitivity so that we can be at our best for ourselves and others. If we’re not careful, we can cross that line between empowered empath and overly sensitive problem person. So there’s got to be more, right? Explanations to roll out? Ways to defuse the anger and deflect the criticism that may come our way?
Except maybe there isn’t.
Orloff consistently emphasizes treating others with tact and kindness, especially narcissists and other energy vampires (such as rageaholics, control freaks, and nonstop talkers). For example, with a controlling or critical person, she suggests calmly saying, “I value your advice, but I want to think about how to approach this situation myself,” or politely, firmly, and unemotionally asking the person to stop criticizing you. (She also wisely suggests examining and healing the self-esteem issues that make these such a bother.) There are no detailed defense tactics here; just quiet, succinct assertion.
Taking responsibility for ourselves and our needs — without apology, explanation, or justification — in a kind, fair, respectful way is, in fact, enough. If we stand in our power and allow others to stand in theirs, we cannot become problem people. Others’ judgement is not our business, and the pusher-backers will find something else to do once we’ve walked away.
Maybe that’s the empath survival strategy I needed to review at this moment in 2017, and I’ll bet I’m not alone.