I am an introvert. Both of my daughters, now grown, are extroverts. When the second was in her mid-teens, I was working very long hours. I would frequently come home, brain fried, and find her waiting to tell me all the things that had happened during her day. I would try to listen, but more often than not I did not have the energy to do so.
One evening, after a few minutes I apologized and told her I was really tired and needed to just sit and read. She was more hurt and confused than angry. She said, “Daddy, I do not understand. You listen to others all day long, but when you come home you do not want to listen to me.”
I felt bad, really bad. However, feeling bad did nothing to generate the energy needed to engage. I apologized again and she left the room. I did not understand what was the matter with me. Her statement was so reasonable.
It was during this time, quite by accident, that I became aware of the existence of natural and normal differences in how individuals perceive, process, assign meanings, and respond.
These differences are determined by the degree to which each is:
- More extroverted or introverted
- More literal or possible-meanings oriented when processing information
- More thinking- or feeling-response oriented when making and communicating decisions as well as in experiencing emotions
- More structured or open-ended in their approach to life events
The stronger an individual’s response orientation is toward one pole or the other on these dichotomies, the more likely the characteristics and traits known to be common for individuals with that orientation will be present. These differences are natural and normal, present at birth, identifiable at an early age, and do not change much across time.
An individual’s response process may be the same as or quite different from a parent, sibling, significant other, or child. A naturally extroverted parent, for instance, cannot get a naturally introverted child to become more extroverted any more than a naturally introverted parent can get a naturally extroverted child to be more introverted.
My efforts to get my extroverted children to be less talkative were about as successful as my extroverted children’s efforts to get me to be more talkative: close to nil. As best I can tell, the only change that has occurred across time has come from our accepting each other’s natures as a given and accommodating this difference whenever possible.
A number of misperceptions exist regarding the meaning of these differences in response orientations.
Extroverts, for example, tend to view introverts as quiet, shy, withdrawn, maybe depressed, or antisocial, withholding, self-centered, or uninvolved. Introverts tend to view extroverts as talkative, sociable, and friendly, or noisy, needy, intrusive, and either unable or unwilling to listen.
These assumptions regarding the meaning of these response behaviors are usually inaccurate.
Extroverts, in fact:
- Are energized by interactions with others
- Have immediate access to words required to express what they are thinking and feeling
- Feel connected to self and others when talking about their thoughts and feelings
- Require external affirmations to feel internally grounded
- Think out loud. Hearing themselves express their thoughts helps ground them with those thoughts. If no one is available to talk to, they may talk out loud alone to accomplish this end.
- May experience a loss of connection to self and others if required to listen beyond a certain point without speaking. When this happens, they may interrupt in order to get that connection back.
Introverts, on the other hand:
- Think about what they are thinking and feeling and may require time to access words with which to express themselves
- Are energized by introspective processes
- Rely on conclusions drawn from introspective processes for feeling grounded in self separate from others
- Experience their conclusions as self-evident, as reality, and therefore may assume it unnecessary to share them
- May experience a loss of connection to self separate from others if required to interact with others without break beyond a certain point. When this happens, they may try to disengage in order to get that connection back.
This information helped me understand my own process as well as that of my daughter in a way that took fault finding out of the equation. A natural disparity existed at the end of the day in what she needed to feel connected to me and what I needed before I could meet her need.
Conversations with her since regarding the nature of this difference have been very helpful. I had always thought I was too self-centered and insensitive, and she had thought there was something wrong with her, that she was too needy. Once we understood that natural differences were the real culprit, we were able to reconnect through an understanding of ourselves and each other.
Seventy percent of the nearly 400 couples I have seen since 2000 have combined an introvert with an extrovert. The information provided above has helped many move from never-ending debates over right and wrong to identifying ways to accommodate and compromise when differences lead to disagreements.
Misperceptions are also common regarding response orientations on the other three dichotomies.
- Individuals who automatically process information from a literal frame of reference, from noting what is happening in the moment within the context of past experience, are not usually rigid or lacking in imagination. They are simply wired to provide practical responses to what is happening in the moment. And individuals who automatically process information from a possible-meanings context are not usually unrealistic or unable to face facts. They are simply wired to explore alternative possibilities for meaning and application to future situations.
- Individuals who naturally come to conclusions based on objective assessments of cause and effect are not usually insensitive or uncaring. They are simply designed to draw conclusions logically, a process that requires feelings to be experienced in a more neutral manner. And individuals who automatically factor in how others will, or may, feel when making decisions are not usually emotionally weak or unstable. They are simply wired to make decisions in a way that minimizes disruption of harmony in human relationships.
- Individuals who naturally plan and structure life events are not usually inflexible or controlling. They are simply wired to plan events in a manner that minimizes the possibility of the unexpected happening. And individuals who naturally respond more in the moment as events play out are not usually immature, irresponsible, or unreliable. They are simply wired to respond more spontaneously as events play out and provide optimum creative adaptations when the unexpected does occur.
There appears to be a yin-yang aspect to these dichotomy-specific differences; responses that can appear contradictory but are actually interdependent and complementary, with each covering one part of that dichotomy’s whole that the other cannot. In my experience, understanding the meaning of these differences leads to increased self-acceptance as well as acceptance of those who naturally differ.
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