Introverts and Extroverts: Contradictory or Complimentary?

There seems to be simmering beneath the surface of civility a war of sorts between the two versions – introversion and extroversion.  It’s as if a backlash is occurring against the recent years in which introverts began raising their voice and asking for inclusion and accommodation for their unique manner of being. 

I wonder if this extroverted hostility is in response to extroverts feeling attacked by introverts who took the movement to a level it didn’t need to go to and was never intended by well-meaning introverts to go.  I wonder if some wounded introverts used this new movement to launch their own attacks or implement their own vengeance for previous harm they have suffered.  As the saying goes, “Hurting people hurt people.”  Every single one of us, introvert and extrovert, have been hurt and endured pain in our lives.  No one is unscathed and no one version is to blame for the pain.  We all have wounds, and we all have been the ones who wounded others.

I’ve been wondering about this backlash for at least a year after I first heard a pastor make an offhand comment about introverts needing to get over their fear of people when he directed his congregation to all hold hands for a prayer.  His comment struck me as odd and out of place for a prayer invitation, for a moment meant for inclusion and community.  It was a passive aggressive attack on introverts from a leader who is responsible for providing a safe and accepting environment for those who agree to come under his authority.  And it was a shaming and controlling comment that demanded boundaries be violated or suffer more humiliation and degradation.  It’s not OK for anyone, pastor or otherwise, to treat another human being this way.  Yet, it happened.

Since then, I’ve seen other leaders launch occasional assaults, usually of the passive aggressive kind, on introverts and their specific characteristics.  It’s an unhealthy response to whatever is bothering these leaders.  Instead of perpetuating the problem by lashing out from their position of authority, a healthy response is for them to confess their own limitations and struggles, to teach about forgiveness and create a dialogue about what it is that triggered them.  I can appreciate that what I am asking is not an easy thing for them to do, but they did voluntarily take on this mantle and that comes with certain responsibilities, including not abusing authority or attacking those they shepherd, lead and serve.  And when they do make a mistake, owning it and repenting so the wounds can begin healing – both the leader’s wounds, their victims’ wounds and the leader’s assailants’ wounds.  There is enough grace to go around, and we all desperately need it.

Exclusion or Inclusion? 

A more recent event that highlighted the version conflict was during an online Bible study video I saw where the woman teaching shared about how her mother, who is an introvert, would just disappear from time to time to go recharge herself with alone time.  The Bible teacher choked up as she shared this memory and was barely able to hold back the tears and pain from bursting out during her speech.  I think it may have been healing for her to let it flow out instead of holding back. 

What saddened me about her story was her pain from feeling abandoned by her mother and that she attributed her mother’s behavior, momentarily abandoning her daughter, to her mother being an introvert.  The truth is that her mother could have just as easily disappeared to go recharge with friends had her mother been an extrovert.  And the Bible teacher sharing her story would still have felt the pain of abandonment. 

Her mother’s introversion isn’t why her mother behaved that way.  Her mother’s character is why she behaved that way.  It would have been good for her mother to let her daughter know that she needed some time away, that she would be back soon and still loved her daughter very much, and that her daughter was not the reason why she was taking a break.  That may have helped her daughter to not feel abandoned when her mother needed some time away.  And again, her mother would need to say that whether she is an introvert or extrovert.

The other thing this brave Bible teacher shared was that her mother labeled her daughter as strong-willed and aggressive.  Her mother bought a book about how to parent a strong-willed child and kept it on the coffee table.  Here again, the Bible teacher teared up and needed a moment to catch her breath before sharing more.  I felt grieved about hearing her story and seeing her heartbreak over it.  What saddened me about this story is that her mother rejected, rather than rejoiced, in her daughter’s differentness.  By placing such a personal and vulnerable book in a public location (the coffee table of a well-visited home), her mother also exposed her daughter to gossip, judgment and condemnation because she was “difficult”.  Her mother’s struggle to understand and parent her daughter is a very personal thing and needed special covering to make sure her daughter knew that she was valuable and protected.

In this circumstance, too, being an introvert or opposite versions is not the reason why her mother called her child strong-willed and aggressive or why her mother put a parenting book on the coffee table.  That’s a character issue.  I can say this quite confidently because my parents rejected me for being like them.  There were a lot of things about me that triggered my parents, and they punished me for reminding them of things about themselves that they did not like.  These were not bad things, just things they didn’t like, such as being quiet, introspective, thoughtful, intentional in my activities and speaking. 

Even parents who are like their children can reject their child and expose them to public ridicule.  It’s not an issue of being different or the same.  It’s not an introvert versus extrovert issue.  It’s a character issue.  Is a parent accepting, caring, protective, honoring and delighting in her child?  Both introverts and extroverts have the capacity to behave in a loving way.  Parents who are similar to and dissimilar from their children can accept their children as they are and celebrate who their children are.

The issue resides in the parent’s character, willingness to accept her parental responsibility and ability to communicate openly, directly, honestly and appropriately with her child. I do want to allow for the imperfection of humanity and that none of us is able to be perfect in these things all the time.  But these are good things to strive for and to live up to.  And with the grace of God, we have great hope in becoming more like Him both as parents and as children of the faith. 

Complimentary or Contradictory?

I believe the versions are best when they are seen side by side because they compliment each other.  When introverts and extroverts work together, accepting and valuing each other’s traits, they bring out the best in each other.  They are more effective, impactful and beautiful when paired together than when separate or at odds with one another. 

In the art the world this is a well understood and applied concept, the one that comes easiest to my mind is with colors.  Colors that are opposites on the color wheel are called complimentary colors (not contradictory colors).  When paired together, complimentary colors make each other look better than when they are separate.  For example, blue paired with orange makes blue look more intensely blue and orange look more vibrantly orange.

When it comes to food, tastes that are seemingly opposite actually compliment one anther quite tastefully, such as the pairing of sweet and spicy. 

When decorating, visually pleasing decor is one that incorporates a variety of shapes and sizes and textures.  And, of course, colors.  It’s the things that seem contradictory or at odds that can actually bring out the best in each other, rather than the worst or overshadowing the other.

These are just a few examples of opposites being complimentary.  As you can see, it’s true in a lot of areas, and it’s true with introverts and extroverts, as well.  We bring out the best in each other when we stand side by side and work together.  Working against one another has the opposite affect of making us look worse than we actually are and draws attention to our flaws and faults rather than our beauty and strengths. 

Let’s face it, we’re not doing anyone any favors by being at war with one another.  And we are robbing the world of the amazing things we can do when we partner together.  Let’s spend some time working through our issues, processing our pain and working together to grow in our knowledge and understanding of one another.  Because we can do far more good in and for the world together, than we can apart or alone or at war against one another.