“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?