Crying in a Treehouse (Over-processing)

One of the habits of highly sensitive people it seems is to take a long time to process something. I often describe it to my therapist as understanding what just happened when I’m already two miles away. I see the activating event in the rear view but at this point there’s nothing I can do about it.

It reminds me of George Constanza’s famous line in Seinfield: that’s what I should’ve said. Only in my case it’s something I should have done as well. I get flustered a lot in the moment, and can often form a more coherent response later on when it’s too late.

Someone asked about this on Reddit, and I decided to respond, not because I believe I have a lot of wisdom on the topic, but because I often learn the best when I’m writing about something. And this was something I wanted to understand more clearly.

What I realized as I wrote my response is that most of the time when I am processing a certain event or comment for a while it just means I’m over analyzing. I’m ascribing some level of importance to this particular event or comment even though no comment or event deserves so much processing. I have this silly idea that if I think about an already-happened event for long enough it will create some kind of magic moment where all the pieces will fit together and life will make sense again.

Of course, this never actually happens and I’m often left pondering certain events for years, having rehearsals of arguments with non-existent people in the shower and such. The solution, as far as I can tell, is to spend only an initial amount of time on processing, and then direct my attention elsewhere.

Of course, this strategy requires me to know how to redirect my attention which I believe can be achieved through zazen (meditation in which you sit and practice not attaching to thoughts). That’s work too, and nothing that I’ve come close to getting good at, but at least I can be sure that my time is better spent on learning how to see my thoughts from the outside rather than spend time analyzing them from the inside.

Put another way: I’d like to fly over the forest instead of crying in the treehouse.