We all hide things, suppress our emotions, and cover up how we truly feel. This is a defense mechanism that protests us, but has serious consequences. We may categorize certain emotions and memories in parts of our mind to help us organize our thoughts, but also protect one aspect of our personality from another. This is what’s known as compartmentalization. It’s a way to separate certain memories and emotions from our day-to-day life. We may compartmentalize our negative emotions and extreme stress at the work environment in a specific portion of our mind, and go about our day outside of work repressing how bad we actually feel.

Psychology Therapy

Think of it like organizing documents alphabetically into folders. Each folder has documents beginning with the letter they are under, nice and organized. However, our mind doesn’t really work like this. It may seem organized and easy to find things, but that is where a major vulnerability is. If you open the wrong folder at the wrong time, all the repressed feelings you have been saving up will pour out. Furthermore, each folder can only fit so much, so overstuffing it will also result in extreme stress as the pressure builds, like shaking a carbonated drink.

Compartmentalization is a defense mechanism. People use it to separate stress and anxiety from enjoyable tasks so they can live a better life. However, what usually happens is repression of emotions. These repressed emotions go deep into the mind in a spot that holds everything negative. It builds and builds. An example is of someone who hates their job. During the job they have learned to repress and compartmentalize the negative emotions away so they can go about their tasks. Each day they get more and more on edge as the tension builds until it bursts out with uncontrollable crying and/or anger, as the person needs to let go of what’s been building within them.

Symbols of personal interests and feelings locked in separate cages

It is also used by those with conflicting ideas, also known as cognitive dissonance. Imagine having two conflicting beliefs, like smoking is bad for you, but you still do it and like it, knowing it’s bad for you. Compartmentalization separates these ideas so they don’t conflict with one another and cause cognitive dissonance.

Compartmentalization can work in your favor if used correctly, and the negative emotions are properly let go of instead of retained. Essentially what you would do is access the compartmentalized part during a non-stressful time and learn to breathe into this space and let go of the negativity. With enough time, you will learn how to let go of this stress in the moment and learn to replace it with something positive. Breathing exercises help tremendously at learning to let go.

young woman hiker relaxing in the woods

It is natural to compartmentalize certain parts of our life, even stress and anxiety, but it’s also important to realize when it’s too much and doing more harm than helping. None of us want to be in a stressful situation, and learning to cope with it can be difficult. But by dedicating time to figuring out what works best for you to learn to let go, and applying those to your life, then you will succeed with this task and be able to handle the stress of the day easier and more efficiently.

Let me know how this works for you. Have a great day!

Additional Info

Keeping stress and anxiety hidden and separating it from your day-to-day self can lead to repressed emotions that can cause problems in the future. I use to keep everything in, keeping things a secret from everyone. However, I learned that I need to be open. When I kept it all in, it caused even more stress and anxiety if I was unable to communicate how I was truly feeling. Now, I’ve learned to use breathing techniques to let go of things that no longer serve me and cause stress. By having this positive outlook, I’ve been able to reshape my life for the better.


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