Cover Image: The Space in Between

The Space in Between

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Member Reviews

I found this book to be a breath of fresh air among the guides out there for empaths and other sensitive or intuitive people. Author Signe Myers Hovem does work as a spiritual counselor that is somewhat adjacent to my own, and I found her takes to resonate with my own worldview as someone who is particularly interested in self-trust, nature-based practices, and unlearning harmful conditioning. 

Most strikingly, she doesn’t treat the empath as a “special” (read: superior) person on one side of a bright line that can be evaluated through a brief quiz, whose ability should be seen mainly in relation to others’ feelings. Instead, perhaps curious to some for a topic that is all about expanded external sensing, she invites the reader to focus inward and center their own work in becoming what she terms a functional empath. Rather than teaching esoteric techniques she offers reflections that can be meaningful to anyone, empath or not.

The title of the book is a nod to the liminal nature of the empath, sensing what lies between physical observable reality and everything else. Of course, not only an empath can experience this liminality. I found its centering deeply meaningful as an intuitive who, according to Hovem’s definition, is likely not empathic. I also really resonated with how she describes her frustration with science dismissing intuitive experiences out of hand while religious people want claim empaths for their own. The “field guide” portion of the subtitle gives a clue as to Hovem’s style: a little meandering but still organized, weaving in personal experience as our “guide” to the topic in what she also calls a “teaching memoir.”

In focusing on self-knowing, Hovem rejects the framing of empathic sensibilities as either a gift or a curse. She generally avoids a binary sense of virtue, focusing instead on teaching empaths to develop a supported neutral channel. In a lot of ways she normalizes empathic experience as not being indicative of anything, really, other than exactly what it is: an ability to sense displaced thoughts, emotions, and other energies. Her description of a functional empath—someone who has empathic sensibilities and then goes on to develop them consciously, thereby attaining inner balance—reminds me a lot of how we might describe a mindful person in more general spiritual discourse. The functional empath not only receives the displaced sensations but processes and marks them separate from her own, stays present in the moment, and offers compassion.

Although Hovem does use some New Age language (particularly with reference to dimensionality), I wasn’t as bothered by it as I am in some contexts given the explicit acknowledgment of spiritual bypassing dangers, as well as a focus on responsible use of empathic abilities. Hovem’s approach is not about avoiding or escaping the body or the planet in favor of another plane, nor is it about arming the sensitive individual to protect themselves from “invading” energies. It’s about interacting with an expanded environment as a sensory experience, being in conversation and relationship with said environment without attempting to understand the energies they perceive. As an intuitive, I find this framing both beautiful and familiar. 

Hovem’s passion is for language and it shows. She distinguishes between experiences such as empathic sensing, exercising empathy (empathetic as opposed to empathic), and being a Highly Sensitive Person, but she also takes care to emphasize that our sensory experiences are very personal and that we may receive impressions in different forms, so it’s up to us to self-identify using these definitions. While I would love to see a book that specifically helps neurodivergent people detangle neurodivergence and empathetic abilities (as I often read these definitions and think “…could I be an empath that’s hard to recognize because I’m also ADHD and autistic?”) I did find this fundamental acknowledgement of difference quite affirming. I actually felt more like an HSP from Hovem’s explanations (funnily, I was less sure when I read the original book on the subject!) but that didn’t stop me from finishing this book given its broader applicability.

Another area of categorization involves the subtle bodies, where Hovem uses a framework that incorporates seven energy bodies making up a field outside the physical body as well as the seven chakras. It’s always important to acknowledge when talking about chakras that this term is often used pretty broadly and that certain aspects (color associations, for example) were added on by practitioners in the US, but the general concept of energy centers and the subtle body is not only found in a wide variety of cultures but is also becoming scientifically observable (if not with the level of specificity described by spiritual teachers). I personally share Hovem’s enthusiasm around this evolving research, and I think many readers will find this framework to be a relatable tool for visualization even if they relate to it more conceptually than sensorily. 

The issues Hovem brings up in discussing the importance of self development have universal relevance, particularly in modern culture. She especially emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance, self-love, and self-care when seeking a sense of security and belonging, which I personally have found in my work to be at the heart of nearly every challenge we individually face. While we may feel like we uniquely “don’t belong,” in fact this is a common human experience and the key comes in your relationship with yourself, to whom you always belong, rather than in seeking external acceptance. 

For an empath in particular, “knowing what’s yours” is important not only in the sense of distinguishing “my emotion” from “your emotion,” but also in the sense of understanding what is and isn’t yours to take on, respond to, or fix. Seeking belonging through trying to hold someone else’s work never works out in the long run and inevitably leads to burnout. By contrast honoring your own boundaries, rhythms, and cycles means that you can compassionately witness displaced emotions without taking them on as your own. You can hold space, rather than holding the energy itself.

These lessons, I’d argue, are critical not only to empaths but also to people pleasers and those in imbalanced dynamics of care who might try to hold others’ stress or do the emotional work for them. The concept of projected thoughts and feelings similarly, while I may not experience it energetically per se, really got me in the gut thinking about how often I’ve experienced harm or discomfort just in response to the sense I got (often inaccurately, but it certainly felt real!) from someone else’s body language towards me. 

Whether you end up identifying as empathically sensitive, a functional empath, or something else entirely after reading this book, I think you’ll enjoy and learn from the journey!
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The Space in between: an empath's field guide
By Signe Myers Hovem

Is a very personal diary of sorts of her life and its influences on her character. She evaluates from the scientific to the science fiction portrait of empathy. She looks how her life formed her belief system from the characters in TV she connected to, to the portrayal in books of the empathic nature.
Many stories of her family and friends. And her connections to her world. Thought provoking reflections as the reader to look into their experiences and see the connections.
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An excellent book for sensitive people. I appreciated the words of wisdom on setting boundaries; this was very helpful for those who pick up negative vibes from others and from the media. The author speaks from experience both personal and anecdotal, with clear examples and stories. Highly recommended for those struggling to cope with stress and negativity in these challenging times.
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