Unfortunately There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Processing; Here’s How Not To

I come to you today with a Controversial Opinion, a counterpoint to the deeply held belief of Our People that Processing Everything With Everyone All The Time Is Good. My take? There is such a thing as too much processing! Stop over-processing, my dear sweet emotional talkative queer angel babes! Truly, for the good of us all, but most specifically: for the good of yourself!

Lesbians love to lean into a good stereotype, and what is more stereotypical than a bunch of dykes over-processing their feelings before, after, and during a long night of hot queer sex followed by a morning after decision to U-Haul together with your combined 17 cats? This is a funny joke to laugh at, I guess, but we’re all getting older and marching slowly (or quickly, depending on your perspective / cynicism about climate change!) toward death and I think it would be a good idea, as we near the end of 2019, to think about the ways over-processing actually harms us and the relationships we are often trying to foster when we engage in this behavior.

I am by no means saying it is bad to want to discuss your feelings, be open and honest, and communicate directly. Y’all know I love nothing more than a solid round of direct communication! But somewhere along the way, we as A People seem to have interpreted “direct communication” to mean “share every single thought I’ve ever had with every single human I feel remotely intimate with, sometimes including and especially thoughts ABOUT that human” and that, my loves, is Not The Way! Back in February we tackled another lesbian stereotype and talked about how casual dating amongst queer women is actually possible, and that acting like it isn’t is a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t feel like doing the work of enacting boundaries and other healthy behaviors that facilitate casual dates. This is a similar scenario – despite what gay media and your codependent BFF may tell you, queer women are actually capable of not over-processing every tiny detail of our lives 24/7. It just takes a tiny bit of work, self-awareness, and a desire to break this bad habit.

So, to recap and get on the same page, let’s review what direct communication looks like. Direct communication means you’ve checked in with yourself, you have a clear idea of what you believe to be true and what and how you’d like to share it, you say what you mean kindly but honestly, you make space for the person or people to respond with their own (hopefully) direct communication, and then you discuss collectively what make sense to do next. The conclusion is not always what you want it to be – sometimes there is no way to compromise and sometimes you will still feel hurt or misunderstood – but there is no space for plausible deniability and you have said what you intended to say. Great! Comparatively, what does over-processing look like, you might ask. Great question! You know when you have a conversation with someone (a friend, a date, a stranger) and everyone communicates what they need to – you share your feelings, she shares her feelings, y’all wrap it up and go home or go to sleep or whatever – and then, a wave of regret washes over you. Fuck! There was more you had to say! You have additional questions! You have a couple of clarifying statements! You are really sad about how the conversation ended! You’d like to revisit it! You know that feeling? I would invite you to consider… maybe taking a pause when you experience that! And then… maybe doing nothing, instead of anything. Because that, my pals, is what over-processing looks like.

It’s so hard, I know. I totally get it. I really, really do. Sometimes I think when I give advice I must seem like such a cold-hearted bitch and y’all must just roll your eyes and think well, Vanessa’s a Capricorn with no feelings and a bizarrely logical code of ethics, she can’t possibly understand what I’m feeling because she’s not emotional and always doing just fine so what the heck does she know about my RICH INNER LIFE, and I would like to promise you, at this juncture, that nothing could be farther from the truth! I have a lot of big logical aspirations and I write about them in these advice articles on Autostraddle dot com, but the unfortunate truth (for me! For my patient pals! For my therapist!) is that I am just as human as the rest of y’all and my advice is often either stuff I’ve learned from fucking up very badly or stuff that I hope to internalize myself. Which is all to say – I actually do understand that usually over-processing comes from a place of feeling deeply sad, deeply misunderstood, or deeply anxious. Unfortunately… that doesn’t change anything for us here. I still think we need to stop doing it.

If you’re going through a breakup and you and your ex have already had the baseline necessary conversation or conversations about why things have ended and they’re trying to take some space… respect their boundaries. Do not keep talking in circles. The fact is it’s over and there’s nothing left to say — at least not to your ex. If you’re casually dating someone and they’re a great communicator and everything is going smoothly but you’re experiencing some intense feelings based on unresolved issues in a past relationship… it’s very possible that you do not have to share this with your casual date! Obviously if you’re experiencing PTSD or need to take specific physical or emotional care around certain things you should share that (if you feel comfortable), but if casually dating a respectful and kind babe is bringing up some personal work you need to do, that’s possible to accomplish in therapy or with friends and does not need to be something you discuss with the cutie who takes you out to dinner twice a month. If you have a crush on someone and they gently tell you it’s not mutual, no follow up is necessary (again, at least not with them personally, although you will probably want to talk about your feelings with your own pals with no relation to the crush and obviously that’s fine!). If you wanted to be friends with an acquaintance in your new town and she never seems to have time for you, accept that for whatever reason she is not available for friendship. If your mother-in-law is a nightmare but you only see her once a year and your spouse agrees she is stressful and upsetting, maybe just mutually agree to hold your breath for the annual reunion and don’t bother picking a fight with your partner about the exact tone of her bullshit year after year – alternatively, explain that you will no longer be going to the reunion and then stick to that plan. The point here is to communicate directly, accept whatever outcome, and then… do not keep overthinking and over-processing hoping for a different outcome. I know. Extremely hard. And yet!

To reiterate: The difference between communicating directly and over-processing, in my opinion, often lies in the question: what is your end game? When you communicate directly, you are trying to make sure everyone has the information they need to make informed decisions about themselves and the dynamics. There isn’t really an “ulterior motive,” you know – it’s not a trick or a long game. It’s really just honest and direct and kind. When you over-process, in my opinion, you are often trying to shift the dynamic or force a change in it. If your answer to the question “what is my end game?” that question is ever anywhere in the realm of “changing how a person who is not me thinks, feels, or acts towards me,” I’d argue that is an over-processing situation that does not need to occur. You can’t change how a person who is not you thinks, feels, or acts. You also aren’t able to change someone’s perceptions of you! If your desire to continue processing is based on the idea “oh, I suspect they think X about me but I want them to think Y!”, that is also a no. It’s a waste of your time, it will 99% not work, and it’s disrespectful to their agency and autonomy.

Going back to the idea that reeling in the desire to over-process can actually be the most self-caring choice one can make, I want to point out that picking at something or insisting on having multiple conversations about the same topic can actually sabotage a connection that would’ve been fine if you’d let things be. Over-processing about an issue can lead to one or all people in the conversation feeling very burnt out (and potentially even willfully misunderstood), it can make it seem as though you are relying on one human to take care of all your emotional needs (whether that’s true or not, it’s not a great feeling to hold), and it can feel confusing or hurtful (especially if you’re projecting things other folks have done to you onto a person who has not actually done anything wrong!). It also honestly does not always lead to more clarity – I can sometimes pinpoint the moment when communication turned to over-processing because it then led to miscommunications and I always wish I’d stopped the conversation before we got to that nightmare turn.

Processing everything all the time is not only not good, it is actually bad! I know it can be really hard, but I also believe in you and in me and in us when I say I think we can stop doing this!

Here are some things you can do instead.

1. Journal

Having feelings is normal. Experiencing a range of emotions? Depending on your perspective, either a positive or negative side effect of being a human with a brain and a heart! Working through the messy stuff that lives inside your brain and heart in a safe space curated by and for you, that will not actively harm others, that you can keep extremely secret until the day you die or even burn ceremoniously if you’re feeling really wild? Such a good way to cope with stuff we might otherwise be tempted to over-process! Journals rule and were literally created for over-processing. Bonus: no one will ever text you to ask if you’re subtweeting them, you can use colorful pens and stickers if you feel like being creative, you can literally say whatever you want, the act of writing privately can actually help you sort out confusing emotions so that you’re better able to communicate clearly and directly when it’s the right time to do so, and okay, watching a journal catch fire in a blaze of glory is pretty satisfying.

2. Talk to your therapist

Okay, so the key point of this particular advice is that it’s not necessary or appropriate to process every single thing with every single human. That doesn’t mean you can’t process every single thing – I too have an anxious brain that overthinks every aspect of the universe, and I love paying someone to work with me gently to unlearn my unhealthy behaviors, encourage me to put certain things down or away at least for now, and to kindly call me out when I am doing myself more harm than help. I know that going to therapy is not an option for everyone, unfortunately – it can be difficult to find a good therapist, it can be cost-prohibitive, etc – but if therapy is an option I truly cannot think of a better way to curb the urge to share inappropriate things with folks in your life who do not need to hear it. Nothing makes me feel more powerful and grounded than when I say, “I’ve been working on some stuff in therapy, but I don’t think we need to process it together because it’s really my stuff to deal with, not yours.”

3. Talk to a trusted pal who is not involved in the situation

Again, I’m not advocating that you bottle up your feelings and never share them. I think talking about our stuff is really helpful and necessary when it comes to learning about ourselves, learning how to be considerate and kind humans, and working through confusing scenarios. The key here is that you do not necessarily have to process with your date or your lover or your partner, especially if your concerns are about that person! My very first girlfriend, whenever we had a fight, would want to process things with me afterwards. She was often very mad at me for things that to be completely honest were not my fault but were rather things that happened to involve me that were activating a lot of her past trauma. That in itself was okay – like not my favorite thing in the whole world, but understandable. But you know what was not okay? Asking me to process that stuff with her! It did not solve a damn thing, it made me feel terrible about myself for things in her history that truly had nothing to do with me, and I really believe it harmed our bond because I ended up feeling both guilty and resentful. I used to ask my ex to talk to her friends about these issues, but she never wanted to because she said she couldn’t trust them as much as she could trust me. So she continued to process with me, about me, and listen, we’re not together anymore! All of which is to say: it’s really good to have a few trusted friends in your life so that y’all can reciprocally process things about other people together! Find someone trustworthy, patient, kind, and honest. It’s never a bad idea if a friend can gently but firmly point out when you’re working yourself up into a spiral over something that really should not be taking up so much space in your head, or when you’re misreading a situation. Some folks seem to think true friendship means always saying yes to your pal, but I’d disagree – invest in the friendships where y’all can kindly point out when someone is wrong. That’s the sign of a true friend.

4. Wait it out

Listen: everything is temporary. Literally every single thing. That includes feelings. When I told a pal I was writing this article because I was tired of everyone over-processing things, she nodded vehemently and said some very sage words: “Sometimes what feelings are, are just fucking feelings.” If you’re really feeling the urge to say something that you’re not sure you should say, or bring up a topic you’re not sure you should bring up, just wait a minute. Then wait another minute. Repeat as long as necessary and see if you really need to say anything at all, or if your feelings or the situation shift before you need to address that thing that seemed so dire 72 hours ago. As my mother always says: “You can always go back and say the thing you didn’t say, but you can never unsay a damn thing.” My mom is right. Keep waiting. No, I mean it, keep waiting.

5. Truly Accept That Another Human Being Cannot Give You The Closure Or Satisfaction You Seek And Welcome Joy And Serenity Into Your Heart, Amen

This is life. Sometimes things just feel bad! It sucks, but it’s reality. The idea that if we just process something enough another human being will give us the closure or satisfaction we seek is a lie. Usually you still feel just as bad after an over-processing session, just slightly more unhinged and also often dehydrated. And for what? Did you get closure? No. Did you get satisfaction? Probably not, if you’re being honest! The thing is, some things things just feel bad, and you have to sit with it and let it be until it stops feeling bad. That might take a really long time. I’m sorry. But no one else is gonna fix your life, not even if you have a really solid over-processing date. Most of the time giving another human space, keeping healthy boundaries, or respecting their wishes not to discuss a certain subject after a reasonable amount of communication has already occurred will do more to yield the results you want than talking about it just one more time. But even if it doesn’t, there’s nothing you can do about it. Best to grab your journal, take a deep breath, and start processing with the best human on this planet for you to process with: yourself.


Okay! I am ready for your thoughts! I have to be honest though, I told my therapist, a queer woman, I was working on an article about the epidemic of queer women over-processing and she nodded sagely and said, you’re absolutely right, so I feel very validated in this Hot Take – but feel free to disagree with me (and my therapist) in the comments.

Vanessa is a queer feminist writer and photographer currently based in New York. She really misses Portland. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 299 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. This is one of those articles that you hate, not because it’s bad, but because it seems to be talking directly to you about something that you did last week.

    I need to start seeing my therapist again.

    Also, I actually love this article.

  2. I saved the link to this one so I could post it on my tumblr under my “oof” tag, which is like my “me” and “same” tags, but more depressing because it’s FULL OF CALL OUTS.

    anyway I love this – both because I will think of it next time I overprocess (much like I think of “How To Take a Thirst Trap” every time I take a selfie) and because? I’m now realizing that I have been overprocessed to, and that it DID have a negative impact on that friendship, one we’re just now getting over. I didn’t get that there was a real Thing – I’d assumed it was just me being a baby and a bad friend. Thanks for the correction!!

  3. As my anxiety has gotten worse and worse I’ve found myself over-processing more and more. I didn’t know this was what it was called though, but about three months ago I realized what I was doing and how it was doing more harm than good, and a friend called me out on it again a month an a half again when I slipped up again. And I’ve been working really hard to actively not over-process. And as an anxious wreck it feels counter intuitive sometimes but it’s actually been helping so so much, just trusting that people will ask if they need clarification and that I don’t need to follow up with multiple things clarifying what I meant or making sure it wasn’t taken the wrong way. But god it’s like trying to quit biting your nails and you have to be aware of it all the time when you’re starting out. I think I should start journaling again lol

  4. Would like to posit that asking “Are you sure you want to get divorced? Are you feeling happy by yourself?” when you’re both writing an actual divorce application and you’ve been separated for 18 months counts as over-processing

    Obviously a totally random example

  5. Vanessa, you are a Capricorn with no feelings and a bizarrely logical code of ethics, you can’t possibly understand what I’m feeling because you’re not emotional and always doing just fine so what the heck do you know about my RICH INNER LIFE???

    clearly the level of attacked that i feel by this article means i need to do some processing with my therapist. *sighing indefinitely*

  6. Journaling is KEY to this! When I’m going through something I have a few friends that I over-process with. Will definitely be keeping this article in the back of my mind the next time we get into one of those talking spirals. Hopefully it’ll get us to pause and say hmmmm maybe we DON’T need to talk about our friend drama for the 8th time this month!

    Loved this article!

  7. I love and appreciate and very much needed this article. As a chronically anxious person I am also a chronic over processor, especially with my extremely patient partner. I just sent her the link saying “I want you to know that I am reading and learning from this” lol.

  8. Thanks for this. I have a lot to mull over, especially point 5. I’m still not out to my family and I’m struggling to figure out how/if I’m justified in expressing any anger with the homophobic religious environment they raised me in. Since, y’know, it’s not like getting mad will undo any of the damage so… yeah. Lots to think about.

    • This sounds hard for sure. As a random internet stranger, I would say you’re absolutely justified to your anger. That’s a step toward healing, to let yourself really feel that. But I think the trick is to find some place to put that anger that won’t destroy anything in its expression/cause more harm to yourself, and let you work it out so that you can eventually approach your family with constructive, if difficult, honesty. Maybe that’s therapy of some kind?

      The “what is your end game” question may be key here…the focus will probably have to be on making yourself feel right with your world (speak your truth, be yourself), and not so much on having your family accept all of it/you. Because that’s the (scary) part we can’t control, right? How other people react, and what they do with that information. Hopefully they come around and see how much better off you are when you get to be your full self…but also accept that you can’t force that.

      Anyway, I really do hope you get what you need and wish you luck and healing.

    • It sounds to me like you grew up not expecting to be seen and loved and helped with at least some of your most painful and difficult feelings. That is such a deep hurt, and such a common one. This article is a good one, but I think it is about the subtleties of what we do inside relationships where we can and do share our basic truths and feelings with each other. Everyone needs those relationships. Your parents profoundly failed at one of their most basic jobs. Holding that truth alone must have been an immense burden. It should never have been your job, but, stranger that I am, I am proud of you for protecting yourself when you were so vulnerable.

      Now that you are less vulnerable, it is up to you to figure out what to do with that burden. I hope so much that you already have people who can hold these truths with you. If you don’t, I hope you you can build those relationships soon. You deserve to have your feelings seen and acknowledged. Feelings, as my therapist told me, “like that.” It is possible that you might be in danger of over-processing in some of those relationships—you were, after all, denied the opportunity to learn good skills around this from your parents. This article might help you recognize when that’s happening and when it might be important to find other resources. I don’t think it has much to say about your relationship with your parents themselves though.

      You are absolutely justified in letting them know the basic truths about your relationship. The question I’m interested in is whether or not it would help you. Telling them is a risk. It offers them the chance to be better and perhaps to build a more honest relationship where you, and they, can have more access to whatever good things you have to offer to each other. It also offers them the chance to tell you that they don’t want to do better, or that they can’t, or for “better” to begin to feel like pressure to get over your anger or be vulnerable in ways that don’t feel safe to you. All of that could be excruciating. It could also be worth it even if they don’t rise to the occasion, just to putting down that burden of concealment. That should never have been yours to carry. You have every right to put it down, if you want to, totally independent of anything they might do. You have every right to be angry. You have every right to let them see it. You have every right to hide it, if that still feels safest. It is completely up to you.

  9. This is a marvelous article and one we can all, continuously, learn from. Thank you.

    The “what is your end game?” question/direction was something a good friend taught me years ago and it has CHANGED MY LIFE. It can be very very hard to force yourself to think about that question (and your answer to it) in the midst of extreme emotions, but it is SO IMPORTANT and has helped me tremendously.

    I believe in us! We can do the thing!

  10. Processing – please leave me alone. Did this after a horrible break-up until my mother (very kindly) asked me: What could maybe maybe be better? Me (very reluctantly): Stop trying to talk with her/about it … for a while? Reader, it was life changing. For the better. And: therapy. Journaling. Portishead. Walking along foreign rivers.

  11. The waiting thing is so so important. I do a lot of overprocessing, but most of it is inside my own head, so that by the time I’m ready to come back to a heated conversation I have worked through a lot of my feelings about it and distilled it down to the most important points. To some people this can unfortunately seem at first like I’m avoiding or shutting them out, but it’s really necessary for me.

  12. I really liked this! I am too afraid of conflict to really over process things conflict/interpersonal issues, but I am a chronic over processor of my own regrets/doubts/life paths, both in my head and out loud. I started calling it “trail maintenance” — is this a trail worth spending energy maintaining, or would it be better to focus on the trail I’m on blazing right now? I made myself take on day where I didn’t seek any reassurance about my regrets and it REALLY helped.

  13. I love this so much — definitely saving it to come back to. I feel like it puts into words an idea that I’ve slowly been working towards/trying to give myself permission to explore. Thanks as always for a very thoughtful (and helpful) article!

  14. Well, this is timely! I have Feeeeeelings about this person I was dating over the winter, and then we broke up and now we are texting again and Ahhhh Feelings! We partly broke up because of mutual catastrophes in our seperate personal lives, but also cause I kept putting those feelings (FeelingsTm) on them in way that was definitely too much. The temptation to hold a grudge and make our upcoming “maybe we could try this again?” coffee date into a yet another overprocessing session is strong, but I will resist!

  15. Having zero experience with all this due to impossibility of gathering any (local queer ‘communities’ being a toxic wasteland of transmisogyny) I initially thought this would only provide me with insights into something that does not concern me personally. But then!

    ‘ What is your end game?’ is now on my personal check list. For, I realized that in almost all cases, settings and situations I do not have any. What I focus upon are the outcomes, big and small, I do not (!) wish to happen, and I put all my knowledge and capabilities into this. Even in a toxic wasteland, why can I not ( positively) want something? Of course I can.

    I write this because, in despite of my ignorance and inexperience, it appears to me that in some cases the overprocessing discussed here may be not the attempt to attain something but, instead, a plethora of activities with the perhaps unclear intention to prevent an undesired outcome – which might also be unclear. This is, as I said, just an idea and nothing more.

  16. A+ for publishing this the week of the emotional boundaries Twitter blowup of November 2019. Because there is the overprocessing of, maybe can you take a deep breath and just let things be where they are. And there is the overprocessing of- is this the appropriate person for this/do we have the established level of closeness and intimacy to warrant this level of disclosure and discussion? And there is the “overprocessing” of emotional dumping and processing on someone else, and yes, fuck yes, to the resentment and burnout that creates, especially when that’s not always consensual*.

    (*Yes, that’s the voice of experience. No, we are not together anymore. Yes, I learned a lot about my boundaries and taking responsibility for enforcing them, and honestly it got as bad as it did because I did not really have an internalized version of the corollary of this article, which is that even in pure and beautiful queer love, there are limits; not only do you get to have them, but you need to.)

  17. This is super useful advice. I think it also speaks to why it’s important to maintain close friendships outside of just your relationship; if you feel like “no one” else gets you or is as close to you, etc, and thus all the processing *has* to be with your partner, this over-processing dilemma can feel like a circle, which isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Thank you, Vanessa!

  18. I would love to send this to That One Ex of mine who really, really, REALLY needs to hear it, but we’re currently not speaking for the next 6 months (#boundaries)… You can probably guess why.

  19. Hoo boy it’s me. A lot of times it isn’t even about ulterior motives, I just want to explain exactly how I feel and know Exactly how other people feel. But i guess that’s a need for control.
    What about overprocessing with yourself? Like, it’s important to examine your biases and emotions, but anyone else do it to almost an obsessive extent?

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