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  • Writer's pictureJenni Schierman


You have heard me talk in previous social posts and even a prior blog about the topic of compartmentalization. For those of you that may have missed those posts I’ll briefly explain what compartmentalization is, so we are on the same page regarding the definition.

Psychology defines compartmentalization as a defense or coping mechanism where conflicting thoughts are kept separate into their own compartments so as to be able to better function.

This is generally done for short periods of time and is a way for you to get through stressful or traumatic events.


Compartmentalization is often unconscious but can be a conscious effort as well. We have all had an argument with someone. Whether that is a significant other, friend, or parent. We all also have a way that we make our living. Sometimes these two situations do not exist in harmony. You might not be able to go about your workday efficiently if you are still thinking about the argument you had last night or this morning. This is where you intentionally push aside the thoughts and feelings of the argument until later. This is an example of compartmentalization.

Another example might be where you intentionally read a book, go to the gym, spend time with friends, play video games, or other activities to intentionally take time away from more stressful situations that are occurring in your life.

None of these are necessarily negative. It is normal and necessary to give yourself a break from everyday stress. Especially when you add in the extra stress that many of us have been experiencing with the pandemic.


So, when does compartmentalization become potentially negative or something to worry about? Let’s take a look at that now.

Anything done in excess can be considered a concern. All of the things mentioned above as healthy outlets could be considered unhealthy if they were used excessively as a form of escapism.

Other more obvious things would be drugs, alcohol, affairs or sexual addictions and other illegal activities that could be done in excess to potentially cause harm or jeopardize ones livelihood and personal relationships.

A red flag to look for is when you are spending more time in your “outlets”.

The compartmentalization part of this is often a switch of sorts that you mentally throw up. You may not act in the same way that you normally would. Because many of the behaviors may even go against those that you normally believe in, you need the ability to have this “other” separate mindset.

This can be most problematic when you have to “switch back” to your everyday beliefs and behaviors. The reason this is troubling is because there may be guilt, shame, and other negative feelings associated with your behavior.

Over time this no longer serves as an outlet but can cause extra added stress. It becomes almost like you are living a “double life”.

Sooner or later this catches up with you.


Compartmentalization is normal and natural but like any coping mechanism it can be taken too far. Recognizing when you are abusing escapism is really the first step. Are you spending more time trying to avoid situations in your life than you are trying to deal with them?

If this is the case, then perhaps seeing if you can manage to address some of the causes on your own and spending a bit more time in reality. If not, then it might be time to seek out the help of a professional. This is likely a good place to source a therapist or counselor, but depending on the root of the compartmentalization, a coach could also be an asset.

I am happy to be a resource. I offer a complimentary initial call to all potential clients. Click here to schedule yours today!

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