Everyone experiences and interprets the world differently. Two people can experience the same event and have two diametrically opposite experiences of that event. The reality of their different experiences needs to be appreciated as being equally valid.
In truth, they are equally valid. The difficulty arises when one person judges the other’s experience as being “wrong.” When this happens, any effort at communicating with one another shuts down. Such judgments only promote defensiveness between two individuals.
Two different ways of approaching the world
There are two different types of interacting with the world in which we live. One is to look outside of ourselves. The other is to look within ourselves. According to Carl Jung, the noted Swiss psychiatrist, individuals are either extroverts or introverts in their approach to living their lives.
What does it mean to be an extrovert?
These people are drawn outside of themselves for involvement. The energy of what is taking place outside of them engages and stimulates their interests and the nature of their involvement with people and life experiences.
Extroverted people like relating to other people. They enjoy parties and activities that engage them with others. When they are around a partner who is ill, their inclination would be to make chicken soup and engage with their partner in making certain that everything is all right.
They will make certain that their loved one has taken their medication, that they are comfortable and that all of their needs have been met. Incidentally, this is the way that they would like someone to relate to them when they are not feeling well.
What does it mean to be an introvert?
Introverted individuals are the polar opposite of the extrovert. They find themselves looking within themselves rather than outside of themselves to experience a sense of connection with what matters to them. Instead of responding to outside activities, they find themselves grounded by their own inner energy.
They recharge by having “down” time and being left alone. Rather than attending parties, they would prefer to read a book or take a solitary walk on the beach. If they were to go to a party, they would either sit by themselves, or if they found someone that they resonated with, spend the time being with that person and not randomly mingling with a group of people.
When an introverted person becomes ill, they want to be left alone. They want to be able to sleep, recover or die without being disturbed. The extrovert will offer chicken soup and back rubs while the introvert will recoil from their attention and feel overwhelmed and irritated by the behaviour of their partner.
The consequences of these two different approaches, if left as unconscious reaction patterns, are that the extrovert will feel hurt as they interpret the introvert’s request to be left alone as a form of rejection. The introvert will feel their partner is insensitive and disregarding of their need to be left alone and will become annoyed.
Do you find this type of difference in your relationship with your partner?
Differences in our way of relating to daily reality
Carl Jung suggests that there are basically four different ways that people function and relate to their worlds of people, activities and needs. According to Jung, there is—the Thinking Type, the Feeling Type, the Sensation Type and the Intuitive Type.
To refer to us as a “type” is a way of saying that we all have our best ways of dealing with daily life issues. Some of us are more thinking oriented, others are more feeling oriented. That doesn’t mean that a thinking-oriented person doesn’t have feelings.
Some of us are more able to deal with the givens of what we see or what is being said. Then, there are those who look at the possibilities and potentials of a situation.
We are all able to think, feel and relate to things through our senses and are able to relate to the possibilities and potentials of something. For most of us, one of these ways of dealing with day-to-day reality is dominant, while one is recessive, buried deeply within us, and the other two are sort of available, if we try to access them when relating to some issue that needs to be addressed.
Ideally, when we need to relate to something through thoughts or feelings, or through senses or relating to the possibilities and potentials of a situation, we will have these abilities available to us.
The thinking-oriented person
This person relates to the world through ideas and concepts. Thinking-oriented people relate to their world through words and can take both sides of an argument with equal ease. They relate to life in terms of what is “logical” and are not necessarily emotionally involved in the position they have taken.
The feeling-oriented person
This person relates to people and situations based on how they feel about people and situations. Something is good or bad, right or wrong. Feeling types may not be able to put what they feel into words at a given time, but they “just have a gut feeling” about something or someone, which is the basis for their response.
Thinking and feeling people are polar opposites, and they are often attracted to one another. When these two get together, they may be hearing the same words but speaking two different languages. The world of ideas and concepts collides with the world of right and wrong, good and bad.
For the thinking person, the feeling partner makes little sense since there are often no facts to back up their decisions, and for the feeling person, the thinker is all in their head and is experienced as insensitive.
When these two opposites types get into an argument, the thinking person is usually “the winner.” They can take what the feeler says and use it to undermine what the other person is attempting to say.
For the feeling person, they know what they feel, but often have a difficult time putting what they feel into words. Often, after a verbal encounter, the feeling person will finally connect with what it is that they wanted to say, sometimes around two in the morning, and will want to wake up and engage their partner in another round of verbal sparring.
The sensation-oriented person
The sensation-oriented person engages people and situations by using their five senses: hearing, taste, touch, smell and sight. For sensing types, if they can sense it, it is so. For these people, “rocks are hard and water’s wet.”
These people are able to make decisions based on the “isness” of what the senses tell them is true. If a partner tells a sensation-type person that they love them, the sensation-oriented person will believe that is how they feel. Why? Because their partner has said so.
The intuitive-oriented person
Intuitive people relate to the world in terms of possibilities and potentials and the “whys and wherefores” of what they find before them. From a few facts, these individuals can quickly see the big picture without obsessing about all the details required to get from Point A to Point B.
Intuitive people can either be spot-on or off the mark by miles. I am an intuitive and, while at a party given by a woman friend, I was scanning the room and getting an overview of where people were in their interactions with one another. I saw a man and a woman interacting and made the mental note that they had something “going on” between them.
The next time I saw my woman friend who had given the party, she looked like a truck had run over her. I asked her what was going on to make her look unhappy and distraught? She indicated that she and her husband had separated.
We talked for a while about what had led to their decision to separate. She indicated that he had left her for another woman. I asked was it the blonde woman who her husband had been interacting with at the party?
She looked at me and said yes, how did I know? Sadly, this time my intuition was spot-on. Such is the way of the intuitive.
Sensation and Intuitive people are also polar opposites and they, too, tend to attract each other. When a sensation-oriented person gets together with an intuitively oriented person, they find themselves using the same words but speaking two different languages.
The sensation person will look at the specifics of what their partner is saying and base their decisions on this, while the intuitive will not want to bother with specifics but instead, will focus on the big picture and the end result.
When it’s the intuitively oriented person who is in charge of balancing the chequebook, they will be content with “this is the more or less of our balance,” while the sensation-oriented person will want their account balanced to the penny.
How this impacts communication between partners
Often, when individuals with these opposite ways of approaching life are attracted to one another, they require assistance in having what they are saying to one another translated by someone else so that they are able to understand what it is the other is saying to them.
In one of our Kaiser classes, there was a couple who had been together for over 50 years. While they felt love for one another, much of their shared life had not been all that enjoyable. They had recently returned to living together, after a trial separation that lasted less than six weeks. They found that life apart was even more disturbing to them than the frustrations of their daily existence living together.
When we began our class on “How We Can Use the Same Words and Be Speaking Different Languages,” after the presentation on how people approach life from their different ways of seeing reality, they both shared their realization that this was their problem. They lamented that “if they had only known this years before…”
If we are able to climb into the world of the other person, we will be able to begin to understand where they are coming from and what their experience is about.
It is a premise of Buddhist psychology that ignorance is our primary cause for suffering. In all relational matters between individuals, if we are able to climb into the world of the other person, we will be able to begin to understand where they are coming from and what their experience is about. We will better be able to express empathy and compassion towards their frustrations, and be able to acknowledge their perspective of reality, along with their needs and frustrations.
The other thing about this process of being with your opposite is that, over time, each person can come to develop that part of themselves that is in need of developing. In essence, we can learn from one another.
The intuitive can become more comfortable with relating to life through their senses and the feeling person can become more comfortable with relating to life through their ideas and thoughts, and the thinking person can become connected with their feeling world.
This arrangement of forces is, in part, one of the bases of the old notion that opposites attract. This is not to say that it is impossible for two people who are similar in their ways of dealing with life to come together.
When two such similarly oriented individuals become partners, they will usually be spared the frustration of using the same words and speaking different languages. In their case, they are coming to life from the same perspective and will have fewer misunderstandings based on their viewing life from a foreign perspective.
Read another chapter from Compassionate Commitment here»