A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Forrester: No thinking - that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is... to write, not to think!
From Finding Forrester
One of the four main attributes of Highly Sensitive People is the tendency to and the ability for deep processing. HSPs routinely process emotional and environmental content more deeply than others and dwell on a topic for a longer period of time. We HSPs are prone to deep thinking to what others may term as extreme lengths at times which requires alone and quiet time.
Sometimes this seems to be a curse – leaving those around us to question why we “overthink” things. The appearance of overthinking is true, yet, it is our nature and certainly a benefit for the most part, but can it be overdone? Can deep thinking be our worst enemy? Does deep thinking inhibit action – in effect holding us back?
HSPs do more deep thinking using parts of the brain that are associated with deep processing, and higher use of the part of the brain called the Insula – an integration tool that connects more of the brain in synchronicity. The myth that we are slower thinkers is not supported . Research shows that HSPs have stronger, faster reaction times exhibiting our faster brain processing. Our natural startle reflex would support that idea. The fact that we often process more data than Non-HSPs may give the outward appearance we process at slower rates, but in fact, we are processing more data at higher rates with more outcome options analyzed.
What is deep thinking? Is it something only intelligent, philosophical types do? Is it complex thinking? Or, is it simple thinking that is overly processed? Most deep thinkers display characteristics that seem good fits to what we consider HSP traits. They often are, introverted, observant, humorous (albeit quirky), voracious readers, forgetful, curious, planners, problem solvers, socially awkward, and independent.
A lot of the psychological studies involving deep thinking suggest that it is a part of the definition pertaining to levels of thinking. A lot of this relates to how memory works, the deeper the encoding, the deeper the processing. That makes sense, much like a hard drive on a computer stores data for later retrieval, deeper encoding makes the data available for later processing. Shallow encoding would lead to more short-term processing, which would effectively come and go quickly.
Another factor for enabling deep processing would be -- the more emotional the content, the stronger the encoding. Most HSPs are emotionally charged creatures. Much of our input would likely be highly charged and stored effectively in long-term memory, where it could be drawn and processed for longer periods. Because deep processing often involves the use of semantics; language helps to encourage the analytics of deep thinking.
Many of the brain areas associated with memory and depth of processing: the hippocampus, amygdala, and neocortex are areas often associated with HSP brain processing. Whether HSPs as a whole have more powerful hippocampal areas (memory) or more active amygdala (emotion) might give additional credence to the idea that we are naturally wired for this type of processing. Since the Sensory Processing Sensitivity characteristics seem to occur across species, not just humans, you have to wonder if this quality is not evolutionarily ordained and functionally important for survival.
But when does deep processing become overthinking? Overthinking is not considered to be a positive attribute. In fact, there are distinct health consequences for persistent overthinking. Two main outcomes of overthinking are rumination and worrying – both having stress consequences.
Rumination is a process where the past is relentlessly rehashed with no productive outcome. Sometimes rumination involves circular recursive logic that leaves the individual feeling helpless and hopeless. Worrying, the polar opposite of rumination involves deriving negative predictions about the future – utilizing previous unsuccessful outcomes as input.
Neither strategy leads to positive outcomes and can drive negative thought patterns deeper down. An infusion of emotions almost always energizes this exercise and can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. If you find yourself in this loop and recognize it, then challenge your thoughts; focus on active problem-solving. Give yourself time for neutral reflection and mindfulness. Or, give yourself a consuming distraction to break the cycle and if that fails to work, seek help.
Needless to say, the consequences of overthinking are much different than deep processing. I’m not sure that deep processing can spawn overthinking, regardless of what non-HSPs may think, but it would behoove us HSPs to be mindful of where our deep processing is leading us. Overthinking can lead to real mental health issues – anxiety and depression. It certainly can inhibit the benefits of your deep processing ability causing analysis paralysis and with that added stress can contribute to sleep disturbances.
Our HSP ability to rely on deep processing of inputs is certainly one of our shining characteristics. It doesn’t’ lend us to making hasty decisions or staccato-like shotgun decision making. But our ability to deeply process and forecast outcomes is what makes us good advisors, counselors, and teachers. At some point, you have to accept your conclusions and go with them by taking action or risk treading into the realm of overthinking. Trust your gut, as an HSP your instincts are generally right, in large part due to your deep thinking capabilities.
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.