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How Quickly Do You Process Your Emotions?

There’s a dead dog lying in the middle of the road, and we both see it.

As if jolted by a cattle prod, my highly sensitive companion rears in her seat and wails. Ooooooohhhh Nooooooooo!!!! She trembles and her eyes well up.

Meanwhile, I just keep on driving. I’d been deep in our conversation, and the meaning of that inert, furry heap in the center of the roadway hasn’t  yet registered in me.

So by now we’ve driven right past the dog and quite a distance beyond, and I still haven’t said a word or even slowed down, and my friend is choking on tears.

We’re easily a quarter of a mile away when I mutter We need to go back.

I turn the car around and return to where the dog still lies, and I pull over and step out and look both ways before walking out and dragging the dog’s body to the curb.

It’s what I do in these situations; I get the body out of traffic so that it stays intact until the sad owners claim it. Some family is about to have a very bad evening, and there’s nothing I can do, except make it possible for them to hold their pet one more time if that’s what they want.

Did the above seem calculated?…“it’s what I do in these situations?” Well, that’s because it is. I often like to have policies for how I will react, because I have trouble “thinking on my feet,” especially in emotionally heavy situations. In the heat of the moment I likely won’t be able to decide what to do.

I’ve always been a slow reactor, and on a good day this gives me an air of stability and cool-headedness, a keep-calm-and-carry-on demeanor that people find comforting.

And on a bad day, I get accused of being insensitive, unfeeling, and “afraid of showing vulnerability.”

Which isn’t at all true. It’s just that it often takes minutes…hours…even days or longer!…for my feelings to emerge in recognizable form. And by then a more mercurial companion is wondering why I’m “still thinking about” something that happened this morning, or last week or last month, before accusing me of “thinking too much” (which is ironic since I actually think rather quickly!…assuming that “thinking” means “reasoning.”)

I have plenty of students who process information slowly, and the pace of the classroom is just too quick for them. Other than that, there’s nothing “wrong” with these kids. One of the first things I tune into with a new student is timing; how much processing-time do they need? How long should I wait before offering assistance?

I’ve learned to refrain from jumping in there and “helping them out” by supplying “the correct answer.” So often, what they need is for me to simply sit back in a relaxed way that communicates acceptance and approval. Take the time you need, I tell them, It is perfectly OK to be the kind of person who processes slowly and deeply.

And of course at these times, I’m also speaking to myself.


How Quickly Do You Process Your Emotions?

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2012). How Quickly Do You Process Your Emotions?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Mar 2012
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