Book Review: The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People

Book cover: The handbook for highly sensitive people by Mel Collins

The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People is written by Mel Collins, who describes herself as a counsellor, spiritual healer, and reiki master, as well as a highly sensitive person (HSP).

The book begins with a description of the characteristics of HSPs. The author explains that they process emotions on a deeper level than others, and tend to be highly empathic and intuitive. They also have difficulty tolerating high levels of sensory stimulation. She also says that HSPs are more intuitive. The author writes that HSPs “are some of the strongest people I know and can be assets in any environment, personal or professional, if understood and respected for who they are.”

The book includes a top ten list of challenges faced by HSPs, with tips to address them. They include being empathic sponges, deep emotional sensitivity, and a feeling of not belonging. The author also observes that HSPs appear to dissociate more easily.  They also tend to be susceptible to chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and digestive issues, which she says may “represent problems with HSPs ‘digesting’ other peoples’ issues and processing them.” Whether or not that’s true in a literal sense, it’s an interesting idea. There is also a helpful discussion of the masks that people may construct to hide their real selves.

A number of strategies are laid out to boost self-love. These would be useful to anyone, but the focus is on how they relate to HSPs. One chapter focuses on strategies to prevent over-stimulation and overwhelm. Some of these are fairly obvious, such as focusing on the breath and spending time in nature. Others are less mainstream, such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (“tapping”), progesterone skin cream for females, and various vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements.

There is a significant amount of non-mainstream alternative material in the book. My biggest concern was statements that were presented as scientific fact without anything to back them up. A few examples of things that struck me as dubious:

  • HSPs can be more sensitive to the effects of electromagnetic fields.
  • For HSPs working in stressful environments, “it has been scientifically proven that the challenges are amplified on so many levels due to increased brain activity in the areas that react to such stimuli.”
  • In the chapter devoted to the Law of Attraction, thoughts are likened to magnets that “give off a vibrational frequency and will draw to us that of the same frequency”.

The book recommends walking barefoot for the purpose of “earthing.” This:

…allows electrons to flow between your body and the Earth and infuses the body with negatively charged ions, which the body needs.  Grounding or earthing in this way also discharges electromagnetic fields… This was named the ‘umbrella effect’ by Nobel prizewinner, Richard Feynman in his lectures on electromagnetism.

Being the skeptical person that I am, I felt compelled to look this up, and it turns out no one except proponents of grounding seems to be talking about this umbrella effect attributed to a Nobel physicist.

I’ll pause here for a brief detour. Pseudoscience talk about “ions” annoys me, because I suspect that these people have never taken a chemistry class or looked at a periodic table of the elements. We’ve all heard of electrolytes, and another term for electrolytes is ions. Chloride (Cl) and bicarbonate (HCO3) are negatively charged ions and sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) are positively charged ions. Both types are necessary, and normally our kidneys are rockstars at helping us keep them in balance.

The third section of the book is devoted to spiritual healing, which the author acknowledges that not everyone will connect with. It includes topics like reincarnation of the souls, spirit guides and guardian angels, and the creation of blueprints for our next lifetime. The author writes that “HSPs are often more aware of their spiritual helpers [guardian angels and spirit guides] than non-HSPs, mostly because they are sensitive to feeling subtle energies due to their high sensory processing sensitivity, but also because they are gifted with natural healing or psychic abilities.”

The author writes about past life regression, and common unresolved past life issues for HSPs, including abandonment and guilt. She also touches on “earthbound spirits”, spirits of the dead that remained on earth and attached themselves to the living. She suggests that HSPs can be vulnerable to having these earthbound souls attach to them, and recommends “energy protection” strategies and aura and chakra cleansing to avoid attracting these spirits.

The biggest positive about this book is that it encourages HSPs to recognize their strengths rather than look at themselves as flawed. However, it isn’t as broadly suitable as the title (The Handbook For Highly Sensitive People) would suggest. The cover gives no indication of the heavy focus on alternative concepts, which is potentially misleading. For science-minded me, this book wasn’t a good fit, but I think it could be an interesting read for people who are interested in some of these non-mainstream ideas.

The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

I received a reviewer copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People”

  1. I tend to be very sceptical of alternative health, reincarnation, spirits etc., which surprises some people, so I don’t think this is for me. I am sensitive in some of the ways listed, but not in others, which I think is autistic sensory sensitivity and difficulty processing emotions. I do wonder how we can know that someone feels emotions “on a deeper level” than someone else. This is a problem I’ve had ever since I started looking again at an autism diagnosis: how can I compare my subjective experience to that of other autistic people and to that of a supposedly objective benchmark neurotypical?

  2. I’m also a highly sensitive person. I’m learning to embrace this instead of hiding it and thinking it’s a flaw. This book would be very interesting. I already read in another book which was less spiritual. I can understand that some things may sound strange. I like some spirituality but not too strange or too much 😂

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