The Highly Sensitive Person

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Back to Comfort ZoneAugust 2006: Comfort Zone ONLINE
Looking Back:
How the Concept of HSP (Quietly) Entered the Public Consciousness

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! Ten years ago we got on the map, and now things are changing.

For example, I recently read a set of articles in the American Psychology Association's magazine about bullying in the work place (more on that in the next issue), and what it came down to, I thought, was that companies are realizing they are losing or destroying their most valuable employees—the sensitive ones. Mind you, it's not understood quite that way. Nor is the movement to bring some basic respect and good manners to the work place exactly striking a strong responsive cord in business, yet. But, the talk is that to be bullied is like sexual harassment. Twenty years ago it was the norm. Now it is illegal. I think we will see some changes coming, for us.

What Happened in 1996

I've thought about how to celebrate. Most of you know a little of what happened in 1996, but here are some notes I made that I found in an old file.

The first printing (6000) books sold out in five weeks, and all five weeks it was on the Chronicle best seller list. It was also on a national list (Ingram, the largest independent book distributor). Then it was sold out for six weeks. The second printing sold out to distributors as soon as the books were available. Now in its third printing [in 2002 Broadway did the 19th printing of the paperback and I haven't heard the current number]. Bookstore owners are saying the books "fly out of the stores." "Can't keep them in."

My first talk show was on KPPC, a large public radio station in Pasadena, CA. Many more called in than I could talk to. (Next half hour, with an author on shyess, received no calls.)

The first book signings were at Printer's Inc in Palo Alto and Gaia in Berkeley. At each they filled their 150 seats and others were standing. It was the best selling book in both stores for the next two weeks.

Heady stuff. What was I feeling? What I remember best was early 1996, before the book was published. In a typical HS way, I was quite anxious that the response might be too much for me to handle. I kind of dreaded what might be coming. And as my notes from 1996 suggest, I was right that a powerful wave was going to overtake me. Of course I was more than distressed. I was proud and flattered, too. It was exciting. I found I was very comfortable speaking to the crowds because I knew my topic so well, and because they were all highly sensitive and very grateful to me. I was also just flabbergasted by the reality of all of these highly sensitive people.

Still, I was not sure I liked it. Speaking to crowds always drains me—the larger the crowd, the bigger the drain--even when I am not anxious. And I doubted it was good for my character. The first time I signed someone's book I felt utterly presumptuous. Why was my signature any more important than the signature of the person whose book I was signing? But I got used to it. Was that good?

I felt even more uncertain about behaving as if my time were more valuable than the people who wanted to speak with me. I have never felt comfortable with that, even though I have become very firm about my boundaries, most of the time. However, I can be inconsistent, in that if someone is right there, it is hard for me to say no, which is unfair to the people who do not pester me.

I recall at one of the book store signings I was talking with the manager who was saying they have many authors come through, of course, but the self-help authors are the very worse. They are demanding, grouchy, rude, and often belittle their readers in private. Some of them. I am sure not all. I think it is the trap one can easily fall into, feeling superior. I am proud that I don't think I have done that. But no HSP would.

Queen of the City

Back to 1996. That fall and winter I hired my own publicist to keep the momentum going, since my little publisher, which since went bankrupt, still did not believe the book was important enough to publicize it themselves. (If they had published the paperback, they would still be in business. But they sold the rights to Broadway Books, then part of Bantam, Doubleday, Dell, which was bought by Random House which is all owned by Bertelsmann, a huge German media conglomerate that includes Sony but began in 1835 publishing Lutheran hymnals.)

So my publicist sent me to Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Houston, and Dallas. I had never been on a book tour, of course, and it was all very strange. I learned not to do such trips alone, but I managed it all. There were more and more book signings, radio interviews, TV shows, and so forth—all regional, never anything national. It all happened over again the next year when Broadway paid for two separate book tours after they published the paperback and it kept selling so well. They also wanted two more books from me, a workbook and book on relationships.

Jumping ahead a year, I recall the Sunday morning in the summer of 1997 when we found the book was number one in the San Francisco Chronicle. That day I was also on a large syndicated live show called West Coast Live. We went out to breakfast after the show and heard people talking about the book. I felt like I was queen of the city for a day. That was something.

Queen for Only a Day

I also recall the day Marcia Norris, Spencer Koffman, and I tried to "get organized" by inviting all those on the growing mailing list to come to a meeting and organize to do a newsletter, perhaps form a nonprofit, etcetera. No one showed up at all. Of course we did the newsletter anyway. The first issue came out in November of 1996. Fast work. And Marcia and I are still at it, ten years later. So November is the anniversary of Comfort Zone. How shall we celebrate that?

I also remember the monthly social events we tried to have in the Bay Area. A few, very few, would show up and stand around awkwardly. But when we stopped them, everyone said they were so disappointed and meaning to come "soon." Ah, HSPs!

Those relative flops helped me stick by my determination not to be overly impressed with myself. I like to say that I was just walking down the street and a parade formed behind me. Some are still joining, but most parade marchers fall out of line after awhile, glad to know now they are highly sensitive but having other important parts of their lives to which they must attend.

My greatest regret, really, is that over these ten years I have not had enough time to speak with those of you who wanted to speak with me. I would have truly enjoyed it. I don't like seeming so unavailable. No, I don't like BEING so unavailable. But given limited time and limited bodily energy, plus high introversion and sensitivity, it has turned out to be that way.

Looking back now, I know that finding out I was highly sensitive was essential to improving my life, as it was for some of you. I bless the woman who made the off hand comment that I was "just highly sensitive." She really began it all. And here we are, born anew ten years ago. Ten years old. A very nice age.


August 2006 Articles:
A Letter from Elaine
Looking Back: How the Concept of HSP (Quietly) Entered the Public Consciousness
Coping Corner: Thoughts on Vacations and Travel
Book Review : The Temperament Perspective by Jan Kristal

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