Different ways we process thoughts and emotions and communicate
Updated: Apr 19
Have you ever had a big 'aha' moment? A few years ago I went on a two-hour workshop about a subject I knew little about and it was the beginning of a transforming journey of self-awareness, understanding and acceptance of myself and others. My journey started as I gained new insight into the different ways people process, communicate and gain energy.
When we understand how we tick - what works for us and doesn't - whether we like that about ourselves or not, it means we can put into place what we need. As we realise some of the main ways people differ in how they process thoughts, feelings, information and experiences, it means we can put misunderstandings and defenses aside, as well as our our judgements and assumptions.
I don't know how you feel about the labels of introversion and extroversion, and I know they are on a spectrum, and so affect people to a lesser or greater degree. But labels aside, you'll probably recognise yourself in some of these traits.
Introversion and extroversion
An introvert's process involves reflection, looking at their inner world. Being alone and listening may come easier than talking. They may prefer deep one-to-one conversations rather than big groups and surface chitchat. Whilst they can really enjoy the company of others it may drain their energy and they will need time alone to process and recharge their batteries.
Extroverts, however, process through connection, talking things through and bouncing ideas off of others. Spontaneous speech is far more comfortable and being sociable and talkative can energise them.
For the extrovert thoughts may take shape whilst being expressed, whereas an introvert may prefer to form their thoughts privately before they are able to express them.
Neither is better or worse than the other and both have different strengths and advantages. But what challenges they have and what they feel comfortable with may be quite opposite to each other. This is why it is important to look out for how it is for us and how it is for others, so we can put in place what's needed (allowing time for ourselves or others to be quite and alone, or time for connection).
Knowing what you need and getting what you need may feel poles apart.
Maybe you’re an introvert with a busy job and small children to come home to; maybe you need quiet to think straight but you work in an open-plan office. Maybe connection is your fuel but lockdown leaves you feeling limited and isolated; or you long for connection but just don’t know where to get it; or your spouse can’t cope with doing as much or being around as many people as you.
Maybe asking for what you need would have consequences that feel too big.
Is there a little something, anything, that you could put into place that would help? Maybe creating an ideal lifestyle is not in reach but a little step in the right direction could really help. And lots of little steps over time can take you a long way.
These different ways of processing is an area of diversity that isn't acknowledged enough. There can be a lot of misunderstanding in how we experience each other.
If people process and communicate differently to you it could be taken as them being too quiet or loud; shy or overly confident; not having an opinion or having too much of an opinion; thinking they're not engaging or they're dominating; thinking they’re boring or that you can’t keep up with them. Thinking they don't like me; they don't get me; they're different to me; we don't get on.
These things aren’t necessarily so. We just have different needs to attend to and different traits that come more naturally. When we understand that we can stop being defensive, drop our judgements and assumptions and learn to work together, in order to compliment each other and accept and enjoy our differences, as well as making an effort to meet the other person half way at times.
It can be far more comfortable to be with people who are similar to us, but I can’t help but think we’re missing out on something great if we don’t try to understand how it is for others who are different to us.
It’s not always straight forward
Maybe someone around you appreciates silence, but silence has negative associations for you. Perhaps it was used as a punishment, or you were taught that it was rude or anti-social. Maybe you appear introverted but actually you’re not, you’re just too shy and lacking in confidence to put yourself out there. Maybe you appear to be extroverted but actually it's a show, to cover up the discomfort and pain inside.
These are worth reflecting on and talking through in a safe space.
As I sat in that workshop a few years ago I realised I had misunderstood myself and judged myself in a really negative way, when actually the only problem was having the wrong balance in my life. A wave of relief flooded over me and I went home so excited about what I’d learnt. I don’t know why I knew so little of it before. I was sad for what I’d put myself through by not knowing myself better.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time learning about this area of diversity and also exploring how it is for me: I’ve explored how I process: with a counsellor; friends and through personal pondering. I’ve wrestled with it, not liked it, explored it’s strengths and weaknesses and what I need. How it works out practically and how I feel about it. At times I’ve been expected to be what I wasn’t and at other times I haven’t stretched myself enough.
I have enjoyed getting to know myself and have had to learn to accept myself, which then meant action could follow, as I put into place what I need to flourish. I like to be aware of how it is for others and what their needs are too.
How about you? Do you recharge your batteries by being with others or being alone? Do you process better by talking through ideas or by thinking them through quietly first? Do you like how you are, or would you rather work differently? Would it be acceptable to yourself, or to others around you, to do what you need to do to process well and re-charge? This could mean doing less, having more head space, or connecting with others more.
If you’d like to explore this more feel free to contact me on 07561 047 349 or at email@example.com
Counselling can be a great place to explore these issues.
The counselling process may work slightly differently for you too, depending on how you like to process and communicate. If you sway more on the introverted side you may like to ponder between sessions before verbalising thoughts, and may enjoy going at a slower pace, with time to reflect during the session. Extroverts may enjoy an hour of being able to bounce thoughts and feelings around in a non-judgmental environment. Whatever works best for you is fine, and there can be great benefit for both introverts and extroverts.
All the best as you get to know yourself more, as you work out what you need and put that in place and communicate it to others. All the best as you consider how it may be for others and bear in mind what their needs are. Together we can learn to love and accept ourselves and each other.
Ruth Gorrie (14 January 2021)