Deep Processing: When Everything Must Have a Meaning

Highly sensitive people are also defined by deeper and more reflective processing of reality. That's because they need to find meaning in every experience and situation. Does this sound like you?
Deep Processing: When Everything Must Have a Meaning
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 11 March, 2023

Are you one of those people who frequently feel disappointed in a world that often seems too superficial?  Do you find that, in a society in which appearances are everything, it’s extremely difficult to find meaning in your surroundings? Moreover, in a present that’s dominated by fragile relationships and the power of immediacy, do you find it extremely difficult to find meaning?

If you perceive yourself this way, you’re probably one of those people who need to process things more deeply. It happens to many of us. Some days, everything seems to go so fast that you lack courage and strength and have no strategies to adapt to change. Not to mention the huge amount of information you receive every day. So, how can you handle all the stimuli that surround you?

Being characterized by the kind of mental approach that needs to meticulously analyze every aspect and subtlety of the environment makes the world seems chaotic to you. How can you process what happens to you, make good decisions, and navigate your journey through life when everything is so noisy and complicated? Let’s find out.

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

-Dawson Trotman-

Deep processing brain
Those who exhibit deep processing are also usually emotionally sensitive.

Deep processing

Deep processing is the ability to organize each received stimulus and information in a meticulous, analytical, and reflective manner. The main characteristic of this way of handling what comes to us is the objective that promotes it: obtaining meaning. It involves obtaining value from content, learning from experience, and possessing a logical sense of any situation.

Brains defined by this characteristic exhibit a greater tendency toward observation and connection with the environment. In effect, they’re like sensory sponges. They resemble antennae capable of capturing greater stimuli, but with the need to find meaning in everything that reaches them. This is their biggest problem.

Indeed, this trait consumes many mental and emotional resources. It seeks to relate each of your experiences with prior knowledge and with your own values, baggage, and intuition so you can find a concrete meaning. This can be exhausting and also frustrating. That’s because not everything that surrounds you always makes sense.

“Still waters run deep.”


How do you know if you’re a deep processor?

Although all of us apply deep processing at certain times, some apply it consistently. This is explained by certain personality traits. Therefore, some of us, due to the way we are, need to dedicate more time to the analysis and meditation of every situation, conversation, and event.

These are the signs that you’re subject to deep processing:

  • You spend hours and even days thinking about something that just happened to you. In fact, you might spend a whole night thinking about a conversation you had with someone.
  • Thinking at this level of meticulousness exhausts you and leaves you feeling low.
  • You’re extremely observant. You feel the need to look at trivial aspects that not everyone tends to pay attention to.
  • You’re often subject to sensory sensitivity. This means that loud or brightly lit scenarios overwhelm you.

High sensitivity and the search for meaning

Highly sensitive people (HSP) tend to exhibit this pattern of processing. Depth in observing, understanding, and obtaining information from the surrounding context is a defining quality of this personality trait.

An investigation conducted by Bianca Acevedo, a researcher in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Santa Barbara (USA), claims that highly sensitive men and women exhibit a greater awareness and responsiveness to all environmental stimuli. Not only are they more affected by the environment, but they also demonstrate greater care when processing each situation. In fact, magnetic resonance imaging shows that their brains have certain peculiarities that explain this feature.

In their brains, greater activation is shown in the nervous networks linked to attention, as well as the hippocampus and the insula (related to cognitive processing). There’s a neurological basis that underlies this particularity.

The purpose of the underlying neurological basis

The mind of a highly sensitive person rarely rests. They tend to fall into infinite labyrinths of analysis and get lost for hours in their reflections. For them, any gesture contains a thousand hidden meanings. They might mentally analyze recent conversations for days.

In fact, they’ll put the most mundane of situations under the microscope of mental analysis in search of inconspicuous aspects. But, why does the highly sensitive brain need such deep processing? Dr. Elaine N. Aron explains that this personality trait may have been an evolutionary advantage in the past. That’s because its capacity for analysis and sensitivity could anticipate risks and make better decisions for the social group.

However, these situations generate cognitive fatigue. Indeed, the persistent search for meaning is often unsuccessful, even disappointing. Add to this the huge amount of contextual information along with the uncertainty and ambiguity that exists in many relationships, and this explains the discomfort that its protagonists often feel.

Highly sensitive people are like the lens of a huge camera. They can capture more data, but they must process it meticulously in order to have a complete panorama of the reality that surrounds them.

Sad woman sitting down practicing deep processing
Deep processing intensifies mental exhaustion and even anxiety.

What can you do if you’re a deep processor?

The humanistic psychotherapist, Rollo May, claimed that human freedom equates to the existence of a pause between a stimulus and its response. In other words, not everything that surrounds us has to be susceptible to analysis or a persistent search for meaning. Sometimes, it’s worth knowing how to decide what deserves our attention and what doesn’t.

Deep processing requires a great deal of mental effort. For this reason, it’s not something that’s worth doing all the time. What’s more, not everything that surrounds you and happens to you has to mean something. For instance, a certain negative reaction from your partner doesn’t necessarily imply that they’ve stopped loving you, they may just be tired.

Sometimes, not everything that happens to you means you have to make a decision. There are times when it’s enough to accept what’s happened and let yourself go. Not acting is also a decision. Remember that, in this fast-paced and chaotic world, you need to know where to place your attention. Learning this will reduce your anxiety and improve your well-being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Acevedo BP, Aron EN, Aron A, Sangster MD, Collins N, Brown LL. The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others’ emotions. Brain Behav. 2014 Jul;4(4):580-94. doi: 10.1002/brb3.242. Epub 2014 Jun 23. PMID: 25161824; PMCID: PMC4086365.
  • Acevedo BP, Santander T, Marhenke R, Aron A, Aron E. Sensory Processing Sensitivity Predicts Individual Differences in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Associated with Depth of Processing. Neuropsychobiology. 2021;80(2):185-200. doi: 10.1159/000513527. Epub 2021 Feb 9. PMID: 33561863.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.