We’ve all compartmentalized our feelings to a certain extent, at one point or another. It’s a defence mechanism that rears its head in a fight and flight situation, and more often than not, we end up burying the hurt instead of facing it head on. While it’s not such a great idea to completely let your emotions loose in a public setting and risking a wave of humiliation once you realise how completely transparent you’re being, it’s definitely not healthy to try and keep them in for long periods of time, unattended to and waiting for an inopportune moment to burst through the walls you’ve put up around yourself.
And I’m completely guilty of this.
Most of the time, it’s just easier to box up everything, and place them in some dark corner of your mind. I don’t have time to deal with emotional hang ups when I’ve got deadlines to meet and projects to carry out. I don’t have the capacity to let loose when I’m barely able to hold myself together. I can’t break down about that graduate school I didn’t get into or the bills stacked up on my doorstep when I have to face different sets of people for twelve hours straight.
I won’t lie; this act of compartmentalizing my emotions has helped me in many ways, ironically. It’s allowed me to be able to handle having two part time jobs in addition to doing full-time work. It’s helped me to keep calm in the midst of stressful events, and it’s forced me to learn to handle things on the fly, which is a pretty good skill to have as well. However, I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become second nature to instantly grab a hold of whatever hurt or confusion or anger that comes up in a less than convenient situation, and quickly place it somewhere I won’t have to look at, until I deign to take a closer look at it.
(Usually I just leave it be.)
But the aftereffects manifest themselves in other ways. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve fallen sick due to exhaustion, because of how I’d use work as a crutch to detach myself from any sort of negative emotions I’d rather not face. Compartmentalizing one’s feelings is exhaustive and causes you to use much of your mental strength to focus on other areas of your life, at the expense of your own personal emotional being.
You’d rather deal with someone else’s emotions
It’s always easier to help someone through their own turbulent emotions than face your own, because that is a Pandora box you’d rather forget than sort through and be confronted by your deepest fears and hidden insecurities. It tricks you into believing that you have a great handle on your emotions, when in reality you’re just actively not handling them at all. And, it stops being a kind gesture on your part when you start using other people’s issues as a way to hide from your own.
A numb state of mind is all too familiar
Emotional compartmentalization, when employed too much in one’s work and personal life, eventually bleeds into a form of detachment from everything else. Numbness becomes the default state of your mind, and this will definitely affect your interpersonal relationships. It’s come to the point where I find myself struggling to empathize with other people at times, mostly because I’ve become used to dismissing grief or sadness as irrelevant reactions when there are things that need to be done. I’d then end up having to dig deep to access those emotions, like I’m a robot of some sort.
You’re a pro at cutting and running
This one probably hits too close to home, but it’s also important to address this. When you emotionally compartmentalize, you’re also effectively saying that some things are less important to have in your life, and sometimes, those things end up being your friends and loved ones. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself making the decision to cut ties instead of confronting the issue at hand. Sometimes, it’s just easier to run away than work things out. Sometimes, the pain and the angst and the frustration just isn’t worth it anymore. And I get it. I get how useless it might seem to have to constantly work things out when there are murky emotions at play, and all you want to do is just get this dealt with because emotions should not be this difficult.
The easy way out isn’t always the best way out. Emotional compartmentalization stops being useful the moment you start using it as a way to hide from your issues, and poses risks of damaging your relationships with the ones around you. It turns you into this highly functional but incredibly detached being that runs on a constant state of busyness and caffeinated drinks, as you try really, really hard to care about other people, all because you can’t be bothered with figuring out your own problems. And eventually, that tough as nails exterior will deteriorate, leaving you grasping at the fragments of your sanity as the impending breakdown from the weight of that Pandora box of feelings crashes into you.