Today it was an absolute pleasure peeking into the mind of author, speaker, and educator, Dr. Laurie Helgoe. I was excited to interview the prolific writer who penned an article entitled Revenge of the Introvert. I found it delightfully refreshing, and I screamed yes! when my eyes met her declarations regarding what not to say to an introvert.
Interestingly, Laurie authored a fantastic book entitled INTROVERT POWER: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, which “teaches introverts how to gain energy and power through reflection and solitude, live fulfilling lives, and challenge the extrovert-centered biases in society.” Read more below to discover more about an introvert’s power.
- I love your assertion that you are a “card-carrying introvert.” As an introvert myself, I found it difficult to accept. I wasn’t as social as others would have liked, which made me feel that something was innately “wrong” with me, at times. Did you have similar feelings at some point? If so, how did you grow to accept yourself as an introvert without apology?
“Yes, these feelings are what inspired me to write INTROVERT POWER. I recall traveling with a group and not having access to privacy. I felt drained even as I was exploring a beautiful part of the world. I also felt very alone with these feelings, because everyone else seemed to enjoy the constant social stimulation. I thought of other introverts in situations like mine, feeling what I was feeling, and I wanted to let them know they weren’t alone. That’s when I started writing the book.
The starting point for accepting myself was simply to recognize that I was an introvert, and to take seriously what that meant to me. It was extremely liberating to say out loud that I didn’t like all the people contact I was having at the time – not because I didn’t like people, but because I didn’t have enough solitude and thinking space.”
- In your article, you asserted being overstimulated at one point in your psychotherapy practice. This “cognitive fatigue” was obviously a result of having to act in a “counter-disposition.” Now that you don’t feel burned out by a large case-load, do you find that you are better able to assist your clients? Do you feel more rewarded?
“Absolutely! I think that a good indicator of success is generosity. By establishing a better balance between people contact and thinking space, expanding my work to include more writing and teaching, I felt freer to give my best. My greatest act of generosity was the writing of INTROVERT POWER. I continue to hear from readers around the world who tell me the book changed their lives by freeing them of the belief that they were somehow impaired. The secret is, writing the book freed me as well. Now that’s a win-win!”
- Saying no to expectations can be difficult for many people. I commend you for your ability to do so in your career. What changed inside of you that allowed you to say no to things that no longer served you? How did you come to release yourself from what was expected? Also, was it gradual, or immediate?
“I do recall the moment when I released those expectations. I was going through a personal psychoanalysis, and during a session said, out loud, that I didn’t like my work. I still wince a little at the memory, because it felt like a taboo declaration. But that is what freed me. In that moment, I recognized that I get to choose what I like and don’t like. It was as simple – and powerful – as that.”
- When you mentioned an introvert’s reflection and solitude as a safe-haven, that is certainly a concept I understand. In your opinion, why doesn’t our fast-paced society value introverts more?
“I think it goes to the fact that, as a capitalistic society, we thrive on competition. We have a shared belief that fast and loud translate to the best rewards, that taking the time to reflect is too expensive. Introverted billionaires like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are showing us the other side of the story.”
- I have often felt judged for my introverted nature, and in turn, I judged myself for not being as socially adept in situations as more extroverted counterparts. Was there a time in your life where you judged yourself harshly for failing to be more extroverted?
“Yes. I was working at a busy psychiatric clinic, and felt constant pressure to increase my caseload. I initially judged myself for bucking the system, until I recognized that the system was not supporting my best work. I needed to challenge the system or find/create a system that was healthier for me. I also recall group social events that left me feeling bad about myself – “everyone else” seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I was thoroughly bored. I put “everyone else” in quotes because I learned that other introverts, like me, often feel quietly miserable while playing the extrovert game. My book encourages introverts to be more honest — with themselves and with others – about their preferences. If your “happy hour” means coffee with a special friend or digging into a book at home, say so! You may be surprised how many people wholeheartedly agree with you.”
- One subject you did not mention in your article was introverts and extroverts in romantic relationships. While I have no doubt that relationships with introverts can be highly rewarding, do you believe introverts and extroverts can flourish in a romantic relationship together? If so, why? If not, why?
“Yes – I’ve been happily married to an extravert for 33 years! That said, introvert-extravert relationships come with their challenges. In a way, both partners have to learn a new language. This is usually harder for the extraverted partner, because “introvert” is not a shared language in our culture. Introverts need to be more transparent than may be natural with their extraverted partners. For example, if I am pausing after my husband asks a question, I may need to tell him I’m thinking about it so he doesn’t assume I’m ignoring him. If I need some quiet time, I avoid potential misunderstandings by simply saying so. Just disappearing –which I have done! – can send all kinds of unintended messages to the extraverted partner.”
- Introverts have a rich inner world, no doubt. However, is there anything you particularly admire about extroverts?
“I admire the curiosity extraverts have about other people. My husband often knows more about my own family members than I do, because he is highly inquisitive and loves interacting with others. While I seek intimacy, he covers more ground. Extraverts also have an exuberance that can be contagious. Carl Jung talked about how the personality longs for its opposite. People who are comfortable with themselves can more easily respect and admire contrasting qualities in others.”
- Please discuss your book and anything else you desire to share.
“Check out my book, INTROVERT POWER: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, visit my website at www.drlauriehelgoe.com, and join the quiet conversation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IntrovertPower.
I think this conversation is particularly relevant to introverted young adults, who face daily pressure to be “out there…
Thank you for inviting me!”
Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and clinical psychologist with a special interest in the inner world of the introvert. She serves as a clinical assistant professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, Charleston Division, in the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry.