13 | Deep Processing In a Shallow World

Deep processing is a core aspect of high sensitivity. But processing is an important thing for all of us to do. And it’s not easy to find the time and space for it in a fast-changing world that never takes a breath.

This is what we’re exploring in this episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast. How can we create better conditions for deep processing in everyday life?

Responding to a Fast-Changing World | 2:23

Everything moves so rapidly in our modern world. There is pressure to process and adapt to changes much faster than we have had to in the past. We are exposed to huge amounts of information and expected to somehow make sense of it and apply it to our own lives.

So how do we process and respond to such a fast-paced world?

Shallow Rivers and Deep Lakes | 8:29

There is an old proverb that says “shallow rivers are noisy. Deep lakes are silent.”

What does this mean for our sense of self-belonging and our ability to absorb change?

When things are thrown into our life from outside, like a big rock, a great splash and disturbance occur as it comes flying through the surface. But after a while, the rock is absorbed into the landscape in the depths of this body of water. There is an unshakeable power to the deep lake. That can be both safe and terrifying.

In the story of the Steadfast Tin Soldier, we meet a character who appears to be a deep lake. But his silence, stillness, and stoicism speaks of unbelonging. He seems unable to express his true needs and feelings; hamstrung by the story he’s been taught to believe about himself.

Absorbing the blow is one part. But for true integration to happen we must also respond to it in some way. The change that happens around us fundamentally changes something in us too. Whereas the Tin Soldier appears unmoved and unchanged because he can’t allow himself to feel his needs or need his feelings.

Gentleness gives us the firm back and soft front to be flexible and adapt to the situation at hand. It is the openness, awareness, and intuition to choose based on what we see in front of us rather than what we think we ought to do. When we allow space for deep processing we nurture a deeper pool of options to draw from in different situations.

Cold Bucket Experiences | 14:03

In her book, You Don’t Owe Anyone, Caroline Garnet McGraw tells the story of what she describes as a “cold bucket experience”. I share the story in the episode. You can also hear Caroline talk about it when we spoke.

In childhood we might hear messages like: “Why are you doing it like that? That’s stupid!” Or “that’s just your imagination – grow up!” And “only an idiot would enjoy that kind of thing”. Or “why are you crying? You need thicker skin if you’re going to survive the real world”.

These messages prompt us to filter ourselves as we make sense of what we need to do to avoid rejection. So we might recoil, hide, and replace those parts of ourselves that we feel ashamed of. And amplify behaviours that we believe will help us gain approval and acceptance, safety and belonging.

Cold Bucket Experiences are similar to what might be described as “small-t” or “paper-cut” traumas. They feed the script that we write for our route into belonging and safety from a very young age. And without a bit of examination and space for processing, they become well-worn paths that we walk throughout our lives.

When You Feel Unseen and Unknown | 18:14

In his book, The Myth of Normal, Gabor Maté describes trauma, not as something that happens TO you but as what happens INSIDE you. It’s a psychic injury, lodged in our nervous system, mind, and body.

I was reminded of Caroline’s story when reading Maté’s book because she describes the deep impact of something that seems so ordinary on the surface. Maté says this kind of small-t everyday trauma is almost universal. We all carry them, often from seemingly ordinary events.

Cold bucket experiences might also come from what Winnicott referred to as “nothing happening when something might have profitably happened”. So moments when we needed reassurance, acceptance, or acknowledgement. Maybe we were ignored or forgotten about at a moment we needed to be recognised in some way. Bessel van der Kolk, says this kind of trauma is “when we are not seen and known”.

Over-Empathy and Deep Patterns | 21:25

In a Haven workshop, Marika Vepsäläinen explained how over-empathy has become a survival strategy for many sensitive people. Where they learn to soothe, solve, regulate, and balance the emotional energy in social environments and relationships.

Early in life we all pick up more and less acceptable emotions to show to the world around us. Especially in those nurturing formative environments. We learn what is required in order to feel a sense of belonging, safety, and acceptance. And we quickly figure out what we shouldn’t do, say, believe, think, and feel, if we want to fit in.

Deep Processing and Loss | 25:20

When it comes to absorbing change, deep processing requires patience.

David Kessler, the co-author of “On Grief and Grieving“, writes that “meaning” is the 6th stage of grief. This kind of integration of loss into our state of being can’t be rushed or forced.

The word healing means to restore to wholeness. And while the word “restore” implies a sense of return or going back, healing is more than that. Because healing never goes back to the same state as before.

There is always something changed – something added, something let go, something different. The wholeness of healing is an integration of the experience. Where we absorb the site of the pain, loss, and rupture. The hole isn’t filled. It’s accepted.

Healing after grief is about allowing what is not there to be not there. And for that to be part of the landscape going forward.

Healing is about accepting the hole within the whole and allowing that to be part of who we are.

Levels of Processing | 35:33

In my conversation with Bill Allen, author of Confessions of a Highly Sensitive Man, he talked about highly sensitive people having a wider aperture for sensory input. And like on a camera, more information flows through the lens.

If we don’t make space and time to process the information it just stacks up as noise. This is why highly sensitive people get overstimulated more quickly.

At its most effective, deep processing happens at different levels.

Deep Overground Processing and Response Flexibility | 37:14

“Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.” – Dawson Trotman

We can write or speak with people (or ourselves) as a way to process things deeply. This is a conscious approach to processing, giving us chance to converse with and become aware of our thoughts and feelings.

Overground processing helps us identify clear options to choose between. It’s a way to increase Response Flexibility, which is what Rollo May defined when said:

“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. The capacity to create ourselves, based upon this freedom, is inseparable from consciousness or self-awareness”

Overground processing helps us know where we want to throw our weight. And this helps us more quickly filter options and make choices that fit our deeper visions and values. Without deep processing, we are at the whims of our survival strategies and the reactions we create as a way to keep life safe rather than meaningful.

Deep Underground Processing | 42:23

Many of us have experienced an “aha!” moment in the shower or while we’re walking. When our mind is wandering and suddenly we know what we need to do with a particular situation, problem, or creative challenge. Deep underground processing helps create the conditions for these moments.

It happens without conscious thought. Like the beating of our hearts and the rhythm of our breath.

Depth of Processing and Downtime | 44:30

Studies show that people with sensory processing sensitivity use more of those parts of the brain associated with the “deeper” processing of information, especially on tasks that involve noticing subtleties.

Highly sensitive people might take longer when making decisions and taking action. Especially when processing a lot of new information. But deep processing doesn’t automatically mean slow processing. When we have good processing rhythms in place, highly sensitive people can actually process and respond to things with quick wit, intuitive awareness, and fast reflexes.

Elaine Aron says highly sensitive people need downtime with as little sensory input from the outside world as possible. But we probably don’t need as much as we might think. We just need to make it effective. Which can be a challenge when there is so much pressure to be busy, productive, and useful all the time.

What Happens Without Deep Processing? | 49:23

We don’t process anything deeply at a societal level. We can see the impact of this with the increase in urgency, dread stacking, catastrophising, feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and resentment. As well as increasing disconnection, fragmentation, and disintegration.

Processing is the pathway to healing. It needs to be a priority for us as individuals AND as a world. Otherwise we will keep on being defined by the symptoms of our wounds.

Slow Coaching and The Deep Processing Approach | 52:51

Deep processing has become a central aspect of my coaching approach. We follow a cycle of deep processing in The Haven, through our nine core themes. Rather than trying to understand everything we can about a theme all in one go, we open space for conversation (with ourselves and one another).

It’s a beautiful way to invite deep and meaningful growth as we uncover new desires, discover new ways of approaching old things, and build friendships along the way. Deep processing can’t be rushed or forced. It can only be allowed. Released. Given permission.

Conclusion – Prepare to Be Unprepared | 57:04

When we process, absorb, and integrate unexpected change into our lives, we become prepared to be unprepared for what we can’t see coming.

This happens through:

  • Patience – processing can take time and isn’t always obvious
  • Surrender – processing can’t be forced or controlled
  • Gentleness – processing requires flexibility and openness to new ways of doing things

The Haven | 59:30

For many of us our relationship with change is made more difficult because we feel like we are on our own. It can seem overwhelming when no one around us sees things like we do. The burden of change is heavy to carry alone.

That’s one of the reasons I built The Haven the way I have. It’s a place of sanctuary and support, where you will find like-minded travellers exploring our themes together.

So if you would like to approach this season of change with the gentle support of a safe and caring community of loving misfits you are so very welcome to join us.

Learn more here

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