Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Meditations from the Mosh Pit: An Interview with Laurie Helgoe, PhD.

Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength

by Laurie Helgoe, PhD.

Sourcebooks Inc. 2008

“’Most Americans, whether introverted or extraverted, have learned to look like extraverts,’ writes psychologist (and introvert) Laurie Helgoe in this well-written and well-reasoned analysis that challenges the perception of introverts as a silent, problematic majority. The author reveals that 57% of the U.S. population identify as introverts and are so commonly misunderstood because many of them have become adept at mimicking extraversion (becoming a ‘Socially Accessible Introvert’) to get by…. Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Here’s a well kept secret: Introversion is not defined by lack. Introversion, when embraced, is a wellspring of riches. It took me years to acknowledge this simple reality, to claim my home and value all it offers.” (excerpt from Introvert Power)

LAURIE HELGOE is an author, psychologist, and serves as an assistant clinical professor at the West Virginia School of Medicine, Charleston, supervising and lecturing psychiatric residents. She has specialized in personality development and what she calls the psychology of desire. She is the ninth of ten “mostly LOUD” children and the daughter of a Lutheran minister, a brilliant and bombastic eccentric who installed wall-sized speakers in the living room that blasted classical music. As a child, Laurie shared a bunk bed in the hallway of her family home with her little sister (insert sound of collective wince from every SVP reader).

Like so many of us, at first glance, nothing about Laurie’s professional or personal resume would lead you to believe she might be an introvert, with the exception of her writing career. In addition to her years as a therapist, and her work teaching, training, and lecturing, she has worked as a commercial actress and model. Laurie has appeared on a number of television and radio shows and is frequently profiled and quoted. In short, she is living the life that some of us are struggling with, or struggling to imagine living in the future.

It’s been a rich week for me having had the opportunity to conduct a live phone interview with Laurie and to have sat for hours spellbound and occasionally tearful reading this powerful work.


Mary: What was it like being an introvert in a family of ten children? And, are any of your siblings introverts?

Laurie: Fortunately, there was a 22-year span between all of us kids, so we weren’t all home at the same. But as a result of growing up in the midst of such a large family, as a child, I developed a real love for boxes, purses and secret places. The culture of my home was very extroverted, but I think our I/E ratio is about half and half. My oldest brother is an author as well.

Mary: As a child, did you know or understand that you were an introvert?

Laurie: As a pastor’s kid, I had to learn to smile and be pleasant while the church people fawned over all of us. I fell into self-denial and tried to be a good extrovert. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s when I was going through analysis that I reconnected with the person I was. It was such a freeing time for me.

Mary: How have you managed being to survive and stay balanced being “on stage” both literally and figuratively?

Laurie: I love immersing myself in a different role. Besides commercial modeling and acting, I’ve also been active in speech, and theater. I enjoy the structure, and having a script. Also, I relish having the stage and knowing no one will interrupt me! I know that I will have time to express myself. I love that! One of the leftovers from my childhood was the habit of speaking in only half sentences. One of my friends pointed that out to me. I was so used to being cut off, that I’d just put half a thought out there. I’ve had to work on that as an adult.

Mary: Do you have any suggestions for us about educating our families/partners/friends about our style?

Laurie: I think the biggest step is getting grounded in other assumptions. Namely, that being an introvert is healthy. As an example, one extroverted assumption is that going out after work is fun. A new assumption is that many of us need time alone after work. We need to unhook ourselves from old messages. An assumption that I’ve challenged with my husband is that we all need to eat together and converse each evening. I’m suggesting that we can do that some nights, and on other nights, the kids just eat when they’re hungry. It is very empowering for us to challenge the old assumptions about the way things should be.

Here are some other messages and assumptions that that stand to be challenged:

· Parties are fun.

· Being popular is important

· It’s “who you know”

·Networking is essential to success

· It’s not good to be alone

· It’s important to be a team player

· Most people are extroverts

· The more the merrier

Mary: We spend a lot of time here at SVP helping one another learn about introverts. Is there anything you can help us understand about extroverts?

Laurie: Like introverts, extroverts are subject to stereotypes, such as “Extroverts are shallow.” What's important to understand about them is that they need social interaction to fill themselves-- to recharge, in the same way we need solitude.

I have a tendency to occasionally just disappear in my home, which is hard for my husband, who is an extrovert. I’ve learned that if I do that, he may feel abandoned, worried or confused. Learning to cue your extroverts a little better can be extremely helpful. Let them know that you are going to withdraw for a while. This also protects your space, so they don’t come looking for you.

Mary: Your website domain is Waking Desire. What can you tell me about that?

Laurie: Desire is a big theme in my life. I have found that desire is a trustworthy guide. I want to help people reconnect with those wishes and passions that they have suppressed. I’ve devoted my psychology practice to “rehabilitating desire”: helping clients revive desires that have been assaulted by external demands, and restoring their trust in their own desire-based motivations.

Mary: What are your thoughts about the internet and social media for authors?

Laurie: The internet is a wonderful tool for us! As I said in the book, in cyber-space the rules of engagement favor introverts. I enjoy blogging and commenting on blogs, especially when it is idea-oriented vs. just plain social. And I do like Twitter. I like putting out my thoughts in concise bits. But, I don’t follow others-- I think I am following one person! I personally don’t like Facebook. I find it over stimulating. But I know many introverts do enjoy it.

Mary: What has been the hardest part of marketing and promoting your work?

Laurie: Short radio interviews are the worst. I have to really stay on my toes with prepared talking points. I will often schedule pre-interviews with the host so we can flesh out our interview. I don’t like “tennis ball” media events where the conversation is short and fast. Since introverts need to think before we talk, the uncensored “off the cuff” stuff is hard. We can sound flustered and dim. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to take every interview offered. I stopped doing TV interviews where they take unscreened calls.

Mary: If you could have dinner with any introvert, living or historic, who would you select?

Laurie: Probably someone nameless—such as the people behind cameras who shoot film. I’ve been mesmerized by the Planet Earth series and the lives of those who live in solitude while filming. I’d also love to have dinner with Vincent Van Gogh, who was such a tortured introvert. Oh! And Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, and Henry David Thoreau.

Mary: Tell me about the consulting you do with writers that I saw on your website called Book It! Consulting.

Laurie: I believe that everyone has figured out something that the world needs. I want to help writers draw that out, with the intention of getting it published (not self-published). What is the thing that the writer needs to tell? I hear a lot of authors say that publishing is “anti-climactic.” That’s not been my experience at all. I love all the surprises that come with it.

Mary: Do you work with writers of both fiction and non-fiction?

Laurie: I’ve worked primarily with non-fiction writers, but would be very open to working with fiction writers. I’m good at dialogue and character driven work.

I’m also doing a seminar in Columbus on November 6th and 7th and would love to have any of you join me. You can read more about it by by clicking here.

What I love about leading the seminars is summed up in that moment when a participant's book comes to life in the minds of everyone in the room. And the moment consistently happens to every participant. I believe that we each carry a book (or many books) inside us. We just need to figure out what it is and get it out!

What I am most proud of about the seminars, is that, after the seminar, the participants write. And submit. And begin the writing life. After my first seminar, the participants kept it going by starting a writers' group -- and they're still meeting!

Mary: I’d like to close with one of my favorite passages from your book, if I may, and ask that you consider coming back with us again this year. Reading Introvert Power (which I bought on my own) has been a bit like discovering the Dead Sea scrolls. I’ve indulged myself to capacity, and I want to savor all that I’ve experienced and read. But we’d love you to come back and share with us about designing a room of your own, taking a retreat, the movie rx, and the art of changing your mind. We’ve miles to go!

Laurie: I'd love to come back!

“Introverts are energized and excited by ideas. Simply talking about people, what they do and who they know is noise for the introvert. He’ll be looking between the lines for some meaning, and this can be hard work. Before long, he’ll be looking for a way out of the conversation. But when an introvert is hanging out with a friend, sharing ideas, he is in his element. The conversation is ‘mind to mind, rather than ‘mouth to mouth’."


If you'd like to read more about Laurie, here is a link to an interview she did with Psychology Today magazine last month. And you can also follower her on Twitter!

One of our SVP followers this week will be the lucky winner of an autographed copy of Introvert Power, which appears to be flying off the shelves! If you haven't signed on yet as a SVP follower, we hope you will! We don't want you to miss out on any of our raffles.

Lastly, congratulations to A. L. Davroe, winner of PJ Hoover's new novel, The Navel of the World, launched on Monday. A.L., if you contact me off line, I'll get that right to you.

I hope you'll join me in thanking Laurie for her generous interview! Hope you all have a truly divine week.



Laura Resau said...

Great interview-- I look forward to reading this book!

Barbara Jean said...

I almost cried when I read this interview--it feels so "true." I am still trying to learn how to successfully look like an extravert for the sake of my writing career, but it feels so unnatural and it certainly doesn't always work! I'll be looking for Helgoe's book. Thanks, Mary, for the interview.

R.L. LaFevers said...

How much do I love this interview! I think Laurie should be the patron saint of introverts...

I have her book right here and am going to start reading it TODAY!

Thanks for such an awesome Q&A!

Shonna Slayton said...

Love that final quote from the book : "Introverts are energized and excited by ideas..." So true. I'll have to add Laurie's book to my stack! Thanks for posting this interview.

Anonymous said...

There is so much introverts can do by playing to our strengths. She's right; it really isn't limiting.

Shari Green said...

Loved this interview - thanks! And that's a great quote. When I reflected on it, I realized it's very true for me -- completely comfortable and happy talking about an issue/idea with someone, but chit-chat definitely hits me like noise and makes me want to escape.

Elizabeth Loupas said...

What a wonderful interview! Thanks to Laurie and Mary. Laurie, I was particularly struck by your comment about boxes and purses. I also love lidded boxes, purses, tote bags (with lots of little pockets) closed organizers, and other "secret places." It never occurred to me that this is connected with being an introvert, but now it makes so much sense!

Sabrina Favors said...

An addendum to "It's not good to be alone," if I may: It's bad to eat alone.

When I was entering college and living on-campus, my older sister (who attended UH, too) told me to find friends and eat dinner with them. Don't go alone. You'll feel awful, basically. I actually spent most of my first semester eating by myself--I'd usually bring a book to read, or I'd people-watch--and rather than feel left out in the crowded cafeteria, it was a nice time to think without interruption.

Also, I don't know why I never really connected my introversion with the 'taking a long time to answer a question' behavior you mentioned. I always think out what I want to say and how I want to say it. In class, sometimes they'd move on to a new question before I was ready.

Mary Hershey said...

Thanks, everyone for all that you've shared here. :-) We love hearing from you.

Sabrina, I love to eat alone, too. People at work just don't get it. They love to pack into the break room, sitting shoulder to shoulder, tasting each other's food, and recap the day. Dear god! I skulk in and try to get ice cubes and hope they won't see me.


Scotti Cohn said...

Great interview! I recently read Introvert Power. I recommend the book highly! The description of the "accessible introvert" really rang true for me.

Scotti Cohn