Another third is developing strategies to help you work around your nature. For example, you can come up with phrases that you practice ahead of time to use as a shield in these charged situations: "I really don't feel comfortable deciding anything at this moment; I'd like some time to think," followed as needed by "I'm sorry, I can't have this conversation right now, but give me a moment and I'll come back to it." That doesn't work when you're, say, getting hassled by a store clerk or dealing with some other fast-moving, stranger encounter - but for those, you can also try a rehearsed line: "I'm going to step away for a second and let others go ahead while I consider this."
The final third is to choose your emotional partners carefully. If you feel that someone close to you tends to take advantage of your slow processing time, then this might not be the healthiest friend or mate to have. Plenty of people will respect your need to reflect and won't press you to commit to things on the spot.
Relatives are a different story since you can't choose them - but you can control (to some degree) the timing, duration, and nature of visits, which can have a similar, tempering effect.
Please know, too, that there's no "right" way to handle emotionally charged situations. You might not have quick access to answers, but the answers you get when you've had time to think might be excellent. Think of any changes to your approach not as fixing something that's wrong with you, but as adapting to your strengths.
Question: You often advise letter-writers to seek therapy or other professional help. After a lot of hemming and hawing and bouts of denial, I have decided to take the leap. What should I expect? I waver so often between thinking I'm completely normal and totally whacked that I'm not sure I could articulately answer a simple "What brings you here?" Now that I have convinced myself I need the help, I'm nervous about actually doing it.
Answer: Consider what therapists see day after day: not just your shade of "totally whacked," but the whole rainbow. Just go in there and say what you said here. It's not your job to form your thoughts into perfect phrases; it's a therapist's job to put you at ease with telling the truth.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.