Compartmentalizing is the act of dividing something into sections or categories. While I worked as a classroom teacher over a twenty year period, while also running a real estate business on a part-time basis from home, I was forced to start using compartmentalization as an art form for each of these work scenarios on a daily basis.
I also had a personal life, and it was always a challenge to keep from thinking about or discussing real estate or teaching while I was engaged with friends and family members.
But that was over a decade ago, and these days I’m a writer and entrepreneur working exclusively online.
I was preparing for the first live session of Season Three for my “Really Simple Short Reports” course and had everything I needed set up on the two computers I use to teach. Fifteen minutes before we were to begin, I heard the unmistakable sound of a car accident in the distance.
I’m a half mile or so from this highway, so hearing anything means it’s a major incident. I grabbed my phone and went out on my balcony to look through my telescope. The 911 operator answered before I could focus the lens to see more clearly.
She asked me to remain on the phone with her until she could pinpoint the location and have help on the way. As more cars drove by the accident and I could see them in the distance, I assumed someone else would stop to help or call for help. No one did.
The next ten minutes went by quickly, as I described exactly where the three cars had gone off the road, and the police, fire trucks, and two ambulances made their way to the site. The operator kept thanking me for calling this in, and when I finally asked why no one else had, her answer broke my heart: “Most people don’t want to get involved.”
I now had three minutes before my webinar would begin, so I pulled myself together and shifted my focus. I “compartmentalized” what had happened by telling myself that help had arrived, I had shared everything I’d seen and heard, and that it was time for me to move on.
For the duration of the training, I shared everything I had intended, laughed and interacted with the students, and only gave the accident a brief thought when I heard the ambulances in the distance. What do you think? Was my behavior appropriate? Should I have cancelled the webinar? Do you ever compartmentalize in order to stay focused and present?
I quickly began hearing from people who shared their thoughts with me about what had occurred…
Your email message about the accident was hard to read. People not wanting to “get involved” is indeed a sad state of affairs. Thank you for calling it in. Your quick action possibly saved a life/lives.
Compartmentalizing can be healthy and helpful. Imagine if you were living paycheck to paycheck? You really wouldn’t really have a choice if it meant you needed to pay rent or food. Even though you aren’t necessarily living paycheck to paycheck, you are working with people who are, and you showed up to serve them.
What is important is finding a pocket of time to process your thoughts and feelings about what you observed and the aftermath of learning others didn’t want to get involved in helping. Releasing whatever comes up for you helps to process the events and regulate your emotions. I think the email you wrote us probably helped with that piece, and I hope you did something fun afterwards. Play is really important.
This one was from Karen Lynn Robinson, someone I’ve known and respected online for years, and with whom I finally met and spent time with in person recently at my live marketing and entrepreneurship event.
In psychology, compartmentalization is defined as a defense mechanism where someone suppresses their thoughts and emotions. It is not always done consciously but this can often justify or defend a person’s level of engagement in certain behaviors.
Why Do People Compartmentalize?
People often compartmentalize events and situations in their lives as a coping mechanism or strategy to manage complex or conflicting emotions, thoughts, or responsibilities. There are several reasons why individuals engage in compartmentalization:
Emotional regulation: Compartmentalization allows people to separate their emotions associated with different aspects of their lives. By creating mental compartments, they can focus on one area without being overwhelmed by emotions from other areas. For example, someone might set aside personal issues when they go to work to maintain professional focus.
Cognitive load management: Our brains have limited cognitive resources, and compartmentalization helps manage the cognitive load by separating different tasks or responsibilities. By allocating specific mental compartments, individuals can give attention to one area while temporarily setting aside others. This can enhance productivity and concentration.
Conflict resolution: Compartmentalization can be a way to manage conflicts or contradictory situations. People may hold conflicting beliefs or face situations that are difficult to reconcile. By compartmentalizing, they can mentally separate these conflicting aspects, avoiding the need to confront or resolve them directly.
Self-protection: Sometimes, individuals compartmentalize to protect themselves emotionally. It can help create a mental barrier between traumatic or distressing events and their everyday lives. By compartmentalizing, they can shield themselves from emotional pain and maintain a sense of normalcy in other areas.
Role differentiation: People often play multiple roles in their lives, such as being a parent, spouse, employee, or friend. Compartmentalization helps individuals switch between these roles and allocate appropriate attention and energy to each one. It allows them to fulfill different responsibilities without getting overwhelmed by the demands of each role.
Privacy and boundaries: Compartmentalizing can also serve as a way to establish boundaries and privacy. People may choose to keep certain aspects of their lives separate to maintain control over who has access to specific information or to maintain different social circles.
It’s important to note that while compartmentalization can be a useful coping mechanism in the short term, it may not always be healthy or sustainable in the long run. It can hinder emotional processing and prevent individuals from addressing underlying issues. Finding a balance between compartmentalization and integration is crucial for overall well-being.
The Benefits of Using Compartmentalization As an Art Form
Compartmentalizing can offer several benefits in certain situations. Here are some potential advantages of compartmentalization:
Enhanced focus and productivity: By separating different aspects of life into compartments, individuals can concentrate on one area without being distracted by other unrelated thoughts or responsibilities. This focused attention can lead to increased productivity and efficiency.
Emotional regulation: Embracing compartmentalization as an art form allows people to temporarily set aside intense emotions associated with one area of their life and focus on other areas. It can provide emotional relief and prevent overwhelming feelings from interfering with daily functioning.
Stress reduction: By mentally separating different aspects of life, individuals can reduce stress and prevent it from spreading across various domains. They can address one area at a time, managing stressors more effectively and preventing them from becoming overwhelming.
Work-life balance: Compartmentalizing can help individuals establish a clearer boundary between work and personal life. It allows them to dedicate specific time and energy to work-related tasks while ensuring that they have time for personal relationships, hobbies, and self-care.
Conflict resolution: Compartmentalization can help manage conflicts or contradictory situations by mentally separating them. This strategy allows individuals to navigate conflicting responsibilities or beliefs without feeling overwhelmed. It may provide temporary relief and enable them to address conflicts at a later time, when they are better equipped to do so.
Privacy and boundaries: Compartmentalizing can help individuals establish and maintain boundaries in their relationships and personal lives. It allows them to control the flow of information and decide who has access to specific aspects of their lives. This can contribute to a sense of privacy and autonomy.
While there are benefits to compartmentalizing, it’s important to note that it is not always the best approach. Over-reliance on compartmentalization can hinder emotional processing and lead to unresolved issues. Striking a balance between compartmentalization and integration is important for overall well-being.
Dangers and Drawbacks to Using Compartmentalization s an Art Form
While compartmentalization can offer benefits, there are potential dangers and drawbacks associated with this coping mechanism. The biggest danger of compartmentalization is the potential for emotional and psychological harm. Here are some key risks:
Emotional suppression: Compartmentalization can lead to the suppression or avoidance of emotions related to specific areas of life. By mentally segregating emotions, individuals may fail to process and address underlying feelings. Over time, this can lead to emotional buildup and difficulties in emotional expression, potentially leading to emotional distress or even mental health issues.
Lack of integration: Compartmentalization can inhibit the integration of different aspects of life, hindering personal growth and self-awareness. When individuals isolate different areas, they may miss opportunities for learning, self-reflection, and personal development. Integration allows for a holistic understanding of oneself and promotes healthier relationships and decision-making.
Unresolved conflicts: Compartmentalization can prevent the resolution of conflicts or contradictory situations. By keeping conflicting aspects separate, individuals may avoid addressing and reconciling these conflicts, which can lead to ongoing tension, frustration, and unresolved issues. This can negatively impact relationships and overall well-being.
Increased stress and burnout: While compartmentalization can help manage stress in the short term, it may contribute to long-term stress and burnout. By isolating different areas, individuals may accumulate unaddressed stressors that eventually become overwhelming. This can lead to chronic stress, exhaustion, and diminished well-being.
Relationship challenges: Compartmentalization can create challenges in relationships, as it may impede open and honest communication. When individuals keep certain aspects of their lives separate, it can lead to a lack of transparency and hinder intimacy and trust-building. Over time, this can strain relationships and hinder their growth and depth.
Inauthenticity: By compartmentalizing, individuals may feel pressured to present different versions of themselves in different areas of life. This can lead to a sense of inauthenticity, as they may feel compelled to hide certain aspects or aspects of their true selves. Living in separate compartments can prevent individuals from fully embracing and expressing their authentic selves.
It’s important to recognize that compartmentalization as an art form is not always unhealthy, but when taken to an extreme or used as the primary coping mechanism, it can have negative consequences. Striving for integration, emotional processing, and seeking support when needed can help mitigate the dangers associated with compartmentalization.
My Story of Reinventing My Life with Compartmentalization
Since I was a young child, I had always dreamed of becoming a teacher. I would line up my stuffed animals and teach them how to read when I was in the first grade, and had a genuine passion for educating young minds. I believed that I could make a positive impact on their lives. However, my journey into the teaching profession was far from what I’d imagined.
In my first teaching job, I faced a challenging and unsupportive work environment. While I loved my students and their families, I encountered difficult situations, overwhelming administrative demands, and a lack of resources. On top of that, I endured regular bullying and hostility from some of my colleagues. Every day became a battle, and my once bright enthusiasm started to dim.
As the months turned into years, my teaching experience became a series of painful moments that accumulated in her heart. The constant stress and emotional strain began to take a toll on her well-being. She could no longer deny the weight of the negativity that had seeped into her life.
Deep down, I knew I needed a change so I decided to compartmentalize my pain and channel my energy into a new venture. I had always been entrepreneurial and longed to be a writer, so I decided to start an online business. My writing – blog posts and eBooks – became my sanctuary – a place where I could escape the turmoil of my teaching job and focus on something positive for several hours each week.
I meticulously planned my exit strategy. Knowing I needed to improve my writing and continue learning about marketing online, I made this my primary focus away from my responsibilities in the classroom. As I immersed myself in this new venture, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and joy. The pain from the teaching job remained in its designated compartment, allowing me to envision a brighter future.
Finally, the day came when I made the decision to resign her teaching position and take a leap of faith. I officially launched my online business, sharing my writing with the world and also becoming an affiliate marketer. This started out slowly, and after a few months the response was overwhelming. People resonated with my ‘reason why’ and my business took off in a big way.
As my business thrived and grew exponentially, I realized that embracing compartmentalization as an art form had served a purpose beyond allowing me to focus on her new venture. It had given me the strength to persevere and start anew by reinventing my life. My painful experiences had taught me resilience and determination, and these qualities now continue to be the driving force behind my success.
As the years have passed, my business continues to grow beyond my wildest dreams. I expanded my inventory of information products and courses, written and published more than two dozen books around the topics of entrepreneurship, marketing, time management, and personal development, and even collaborated with other smart and talented entrepreneurs and marketers. I discovered a supportive community that lifts me up and inspires me to continue pursuing her passion of writing, speaking, and becoming a respected marketing strategist. Compartmentalization as an art form suits my life purpose!
Occasionally, I catch glimpses of my classroom teaching past. The pain momentarily resurfaces, but I have become adept at redirecting my focus and reminding myself of the fulfillment my online business has brought me. I have built a strong barrier around the mental compartment containing my teaching experiences, ensuring that it no longer had the power to hold me back.
My journey from a disillusioned teacher to a successful entrepreneur is a testament to the human spirit’s ability to overcome adversity. Compartmentalizing the pain had allowed me to find the strength and motivation to pursue my true passion. It has given me the opportunity to reinvent myself and create a life I truly love. I think of this personal transformation as one in which I use compartmentalization as an art form.
And I continue to flourish in my business, I realize that those painful teaching experiences were not in vain. They have shaped me into the resilient, determined, and compassionate woman I have become. Through compartmentalization as an art form, I have found my path to healing and personal growth, proving that even the darkest moments can lead to the brightest futures.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, helping others to embrace compartmentalization as an art form and build a business they love and deserve. Let’s connect and see what transpires in each of our lives.