Or at least that’s the assumption many of us grew up with and if you wanted to, you could easily find “evidence” for that on youtube.
You may know exactly how bad fighting like cat and dog can get if you have somebody in your life who keeps doing what you WOULDN’T.
Few things are more unsettling than that.
When you need space, they have much “yapping” to do.
Or perhaps when you’re ready to go, they need more time.
However, whichever end of the temperament spectrum you tend to inhabit, we all face the same predicament: escalating tension.
If you ever saw a cat and dog fight, you’ll know that an aggravated cat will hiss and try to retreat while a riled dog will bark and want to charge.
Similarly, an unsettled introvert will tend to want to withdraw as much as an upset extrovert will try to pursue.
Do you recognise this escalating dynamic?
Tension escalates with defensive momentum.
Self-protective action first discharges some pent-up energy (through advancing or collapsing movement) but then it super-charges tension again because defence assumes (and so creates!) a state of threat.
You must have seen this spiral in action.
First tension drops as somebody lashes out (or implodes) and then it increases as the state of threat arises.
The urge to defend comes up automatically and is as uncomfortable as it is understandable.
For sensitive, deeply caring people especially, it’s hard to be in an acute state of tension with another person.
This is why, I believe, it is highly sensitive people in particular who keep seeking (and finding!) better alternatives. We want (need!) to deal with defensive moments in kinder ways than fighting.
Human creativity made it genuinely possible even for cats and dogs 🙂 See video clips below.
Debunking the myth
Despite the phrase “fighting like cat and dog” still living on in the language and therefore human imagination, dogs and cats don’t have to fight and frequently manage to coexist peacefully.
In my research for this article, for example, I came across a well established vet who assessed that most cats and dogs living in the same house do get on.
I’d hazard a hypothesis that people assume that cats and dogs are incompatible because of the intensity that arises between them when they’re using their contrasting styles of self-defence.
Many a couple or a friendship have experienced anxiety about their compatibility in the face of escalating, mutually inflaming intensity between them when feeling threatened.
Feeling insecure can happen in an instance, to anyone and over the smallest of things.
In themselves, painful levels of tension are NOT the measure of compatibility or long-term wellbeing. They are simply an indicator of an assumption of threat in the moment.
I don’t know if you noticed that even though the concept of “fighting like cat and dog” is alive and well, there’s also a growing number of stories and videos showing unexpected animal cooperation.
For example, have you seen the amateur clip of a cat mum who didn’t mind offering life-saving body warmth to orphaned ducklings?
You can see the line of them, cute fluffy things as they are, following the cat mum wherever she goes, the way baby birds do with their first care giver.
Or have you ever watched the work of Cesar Millan, the Mexican dog whisperer who “rehabilitates dogs and educates humans”?
Both are examples of transforming insecurity into mutually supportive coexistence.
Curiously, all these examples of unlikely collaborations are emerging at the time when human imagination is creating more and more ways to benefit from diversity and productive conflicts.
Better options are now officially available to human imagination and interactions, however much difference there is between us as individuals.
Books emerge on introvert-extrovert collaboration and we know more and more about the wonderful combination of authenticity and togetherness.
What makes safe coexistence possible
One of the ways I like to make sense of life is to look for consistent threads and principles discovered by diverse disciplines and whether they check out in personal experiments.
That’s why, my insight into better introvert-extrovert interactions is not a worthy list of tips but a thread I’ve experienced through several fields. I’ve seen it in the disciplines of Nonviolent Communication, The Three Principles philosophy, Aikido martial art and even in dog training videos.
In a nutshell it’s this.
Shifting from a habit of fighting and into the relationship of collaboration is about learning to REDIRECT intense interaction.
You do this by reconnecting with the quality of safety that does not depend on the other party’s behaviour.
Then and only then, you’re able to interact with the other party collaboratively and constructively.
In other words, an assumption of danger will automatically alert survival instincts and those simply CANNOT spare energy on creating solutions or seeking synergy.
A fun way to study the alchemy of de-escalating tension is to watch good cat/dog training videos.
The common aspects of those are preventing the cat and dog from avoiding each other but also ensuring that they pause interaction as soon as there’s an increase of tension.
You then support each animal to calm down in a way to that works for them and lead them to meet again in a calmer atmosphere.
Another way to summarise this is that you INTERRUPT each escalating spiral and create EXPOSURE to calm encounters so that the possibility of peaceful co-existence registers as a doable option.
ANY excuse or circumstance in which you can experience this combination will give you collaborative benefit.
I’d love for you to experience it and to hear all about it from you when you do!
Ways to experiment with this insight
Depending on your temperament, you may prefer to experiment with this or to reflect on it or both.
The best cat and dog videos I’ve found on the dynamic of de-escalating tension to increase collaboration are here:
Useful questions to reflect on, take for a walk, to your journal etc:
1. What is the most effective/versatile way I have to independently reset from a state of inner alarm to calm:
a) if I only have a moment?
b) if I can take a longer time-out?
2. What words (or a handy pretext) can I use in order to inject a pause into tense interaction?
(Look for something simple and non-provocative as tension impedes people’s ability to process new information)
Go gently and please let me know if you get any improvements.