Are You An Internal or External Processor?


“He’s such an external processor. His presence on social media is basically every tiny detail of his life. It’s extremely annoying.”

I overheard this statement recently, and it stuck with me. It got me wondering whether I am an external processor or an internal processor?

We all process information differently. Some people need to talk it out or in today’s world of social media, post about it instantly to get those they share a cyber space with to comment with their take on the incident. This type of person craves this interaction in order to process their situation, whether it’s something negative that happened at work, a recent medical diagnosis, their child’s tempter tantrum in the toy aisle or the graphic cut on their finger from chopping onions. Their status is a means of reaching out and asking others to help them process what has them feeling out of sorts. External processing at its finest.

My first inclination is that I am a writer, therefore, I must be an external processor. I pour my emotions into words, then share them with the world. Everything I write, I write with my heart. Even when writing fiction, there is quite a bit of “me” in it, whether it shows through in a character or a situation. At times, writing has been therapeutic. I have written through highs and lows, losses and successes, death and celebration. However, did I quietly process the situation or information prior to putting it into words, making me an internal processor? Or, did I process it as I wrote, simultaneously putting it out there in hopes of some level of feedback? If so, does that mean I’m an external processor?

Cognitive psychology compares the human mind to a computer, suggesting that we too are information processors.

“Behaviourists rejected the idea of studying the mind because internal mental processes cannot be observed and objectively measured. However, cognitive psychologists regard it as essential to look at the mental processes of an organism and how these influence behaviour. Instead of the simple stimulus-response links proposed by behaviourism, the mediational processes of the organism are important to understand. Without this understanding, psychologists cannot have a complete understanding of behaviour.” – Simply Psychology 

Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT confirms that how we process information affects us on many levels including relationships. According to her article on Symmetry Counseling, she has found a common communication dynamic she sees as a couples therapist is two individuals who process information and communicate differently. This leads to a cycle of unhealthy communication between an external processor and internal processor.

My family recently relocated to another state, and I have found myself shying away from social media and writing in general. I haven’t shared much about our move or our new home. For the first time ever, I haven’t posted photos of my children on their first day of school. I think I have been processing the highs and lows of the emotional rollercoaster I have been on for months now. Ironically, I haven’t been inclined to work through it in my writing as I have during other trying times. You might ask yourself, isn’t that what I’m doing as I type these very words? I’ve spent days, weeks, and even months withdrawing as I process this tremendous change in our life. I needed that time in order to get to this point, where I can share what I’ve processed.

We all have the Facebook friend who over-shares, the relative who posts photos of their every meal, or the co-worker who bombards your news feed with every interaction that takes place throughout their day. We also have the social media friend who doesn’t post a single thing, but follows your every move. Designations such as over-sharers, voyeurs, external processors, and internal processors aren’t necessarily one size fits all. Yet, there are definitely those of us who lean toward one more than the other.

If I had to choose a designation for myself based on the external vs internal processing theory, I would say I’ve come to the conclusion I am an internal processor. I base this on the fact that I tend to retreat rather than reach out when I’m in a pickle. I don’t pick up the phone to seek feedback. I don’t post my situation on social media. Basically, I don’t put my feelings into words until they are fully marinated. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure if this is a positive thing or if the external processors are onto something.

What do you think? Do you see yourself as an internal processor or an external processor? Do you tend to retreat or reach out in order to process?

9 thoughts on “Are You An Internal or External Processor?

  1. …It’s an interesting idea combining human brain and mind in general with those of an artificial machine like computer, or better say supercomputer. As far as I’m concerned, I observe myself as a combination of both, internal (’cause I like my privacy, days of solitude..) and external (’cause I want for the world to see that I’m still alive, I too can make great things, I too can write great stories etc.)…

    1. I view myself as both too. I think most people probably aren’t one or the other, and tend to prefer to internalize or share with others depending on the situation. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. From the chick who used to vomit in your ear on the regular (external processor I suppose)…I miss you. As an observer for a fair amount of time, I see you as someone who is incredibly thoughtful in the processing department. I tend to withdraw a bit when things get heavy – I think the push/pull is dare I say “normal”?

    1. Yes, some level of push/pull must be “normal” though I’m a bit jealous of those who don’t feel that, and just get that weight off their shoulders by putting it all out there as it’s being processed. Thank God for writing and friends who listen whether we’re vomiting or processing at a snail’s pace. LOL Miss you more than you could ever know.

  3. Very interesting. I’d ever heard of external vs. internal processors before. At first I thought this would be another way of looking at extroverts vs. introverts, but this seems to be something different, more about taking in and releasing information rather than where we get our energy from.

    I’m not sure which of these I am. I think it depends on what kind of pickle I’m dealing with. Something small or annoying I’ll share on social media. Bigger things may work their way into blog posts or private conversations with friends. The really big stuff I either hide in a journal or don’t let out at all (which may not be very healthy, but there it is.) Sometimes I’m just too overwhelmed to try to format those feelings into words. So I don’t know… but it’s definitely food for thought!

    1. I totally understand being too overwhelmed to format my feelings. What a great way to describe it. I’m so grateful to have writing as my outlet once I’m done processing. I think I’m a little like you in that what I share or how much I share depends on what I’m going through.

  4. I’m definitely an internal processor and am very similar to you in how I handle stress. I sometimes don’t 100% realize how much the stress is affecting me until I start realizing that I’m avoiding people and talking less when I am around people. What usually happens is that I either write and release that stress or occasionally, I get in a fight with my husband and then word-vomit all the things I’ve been stressing about in one volcano of terrible but necessary stress release. The latter is not as healthy so I try to write once I feel like I’ve gotten the problem processed enough to make some sense of it.

    1. I don’t always realize I’m processing everything internally while simultaneously retreating. When I finally realize it or it all explodes as you’ve described, I wonder how I didn’t see it all along.

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