Compartmentalization

Photo by Ryan Magsino on UnsplashA couple posts ago, I compared your Self to a house and talked about how you invite people in to various rooms of that house, but not others. Now I’d like to talk about the second way that your Self is a house with many rooms: the ways in which your Self is divided.

It’s no accident that we build houses with rooms. In a house, we want to keep the sleeping quarters separate from the living spaces so some people can go on sleeping while others are up and about. We don’t put the refrigerator on one end of the house and the stove at the other because that would be inconvenient; we put them together in a room called the kitchen and put it and all its mess and smells away from everything else. Even houses with open floor plans group things this way without using doors and walls to divide them.

We divide the Self up for the same reason. When you are meeting with important, powerful people, you try to be on your best behavior. You entertain guests in the parlor, so to speak, and leave the dirty, disgusting parts of your Self in the bathroom.

I know someone who has a very big home with many, many rooms. In addition to the standard living room, dining room, kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms, she has a laundry room, a sewing room, a library, a room for plants, a formal parlor, an informal family room, a TV watching room, a pantry, and other rooms I have never seen. Some people have their Selves divided in many small bits. I’m one of them. There is the self I am with my wife, the one I am with my kids, the one I am with my clients and my readers, my goofy self, my serious self, and many other selves I won’t mention now. If I picture them as rooms, the space where I see my wife is adjoined to the space I meet with my kids; the space where I see clients has a door that leads directly to the space where I meet readers; but the goofy room and serious room are at opposite ends of the hall.

That is to say that some parts of the Self are connected, and other parts are excluded from one another. Connection goes by the term integration. Exclusion is called compartmentalization.

Integration is often valued over compartmentalization. We want our friends to be consistent and if we catch anyone acting one way to one friend and a different way to another; we start to suspect them as two-faced. If I were one way with my wife and a completely different way with my kids, it would be very confusing for the whole family whenever we all get together.

We pathologize people who are extremely compartmentalized, the folks with dissociative identity disorder are the most extreme case. The rooms in their houses are so sealed up that it seems to them like the rooms are separate houses. When anyone with dissociative identity disorder walks into a therapist’s office, the therapist often immediately gets to work on trying to integrate the identities whether the identities want to or not. Integration is considered synonymous with wholeness, with healing, with having your shit together.

However, I believe compartmentalization gets a bad rap. Yes, it’s the reason people can be such hypocrites, espousing morals one minute and violating them the next. If having one room for religion and another for business, sometimes in separate wings seems convenient, it’s because it is. Compartmentalization is what allows the businessman to forget his morality when he cuts a deal; but it also allows him to take the day off and attend to his spiritual needs when he’s worried about the competition.

Compartmentalization can be very useful when you get that call from the doctor who says you may have a serious condition but they’re going to need more tests. You might worry about it unless you have a room for such things where you can put concerns you can do nothing about and take them out when you need them.

Feelings are often compartmentalized. When you’re having a toothache, for instance, and nothing else seems to exist but the pain, you can think of yourself as stuck in your house’s torture chamber, chained to the wall. When you are so much pain, it’s like nothing but agony is in the room you’re in and, when you are in that room, anguish is all you know. It might be helpful to think of this as just a room of your house and not the whole structure.

I sometime recommend that folks make a peace room in the house that is their Self, so when they need peace, they can find it. If you want to make a peace room, do this. Close your eyes and imagine the pictures you would have on the walls and the things you would have in your peace room. Some might have comforting images hung about: spiritual icons, ocean scenes, big windows open to nature, cushy chairs, a yoga mat, and classical music; whatever makes helps them feel at peace. Think of the people you might meet there; people who bring you peace. For some, the peace room is a place for themselves, alone; if they share peace, they create it in their room and carry it out.  Having a room just for peace allows you to shut out other concerns to create the peace you need. It’s like a sound studio, insulated from the outside world, where you can cut a new track.

When you have a good picture of your peace room in your mind, imagine where the door is and from what other rooms it leads. Even a peace room needs a door, so you can carry your peace out to others and so you can find this room when you need to.

You can create other rooms in your Self as a house if you need them as well. I have a writing room in mine, just off the figurative kitchen. When the inside of my mind is a mess, a jumble of thoughts, I go into my writing room to sort them out. When I’m in my imaginary writing room, there are things there that focus me on my writing even though I may actually be sitting in the middle of a noisy cafe. There’s a laptop there, a chair, a desk, a cup of coffee and not much else.

In summary, it’s extremely useful to be able to compartmentalize. It’s what allows you to focus and collect the gains that come from compartmentalization; but it’s also important to have these rooms connected. There should be doors and hallways as well as walls. You will want to be able to find these rooms when you need to; and, when you need to, you’ll want to be able to escape.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s