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The How-To Lounge: Compartmentalizing Emotions

Compartmentalizing has been a buzz term in psychology for some time now, and refers to the habit of consciously separating specific aspects of one's life from others in order to not dwell on bad feelings. For example, if you’ve had a terrible day at work, to properly compartmentalize those negative emotions, you’d leave them at work and go home happy. But while this word is often slung around, actually achieving its purpose is much more difficult. If you're looking to learn more about how to do this, then check out my tips. To see them


  • Being able to compartmentalize a negative emotion does involve some letting go, and as we know, letting go is really hard! So instead of thinking of it as simply getting over something, consider it a temporary pause while you deal with other things. Knowing that you can come back to it later will make it easier to leave it behind now.
  • Just because you're putting specific worries away doesn’t mean that you can’t address them. Go ahead and open up to friends, but avoid dwelling. The whole point of compartmentalizing is that it allows you to do other things without managing the stress of your bigger problem at the same time.
  • Decide when you can go back and deal with your issue. In fact, if you need to literally pick a time, then do so. If you’ve had a fight with your boyfriend, but you both have to go to a party, you’re going to have to fake nice. But recognize that you'll be communicating again once the party is over.
  • On that note, don’t over compartmentalize. If you keep stuffing emotions and stress away, it’s going to catch up with you. So use compartmentalizing as a tool, rather than a solution.


Join The Conversation
cheekyredhead cheekyredhead 8 years
Compartmentalizing is often an automatic response to something you can't handle...sort of a self-protection mechanism. I think that seeing it as a valuable tool and using it properly can help you view things in a better perspective and make your life better. When I am very angry or upset, too angry to approach the subject of my anger, I actually tell someone I am too angry to talk about this subject, action or whatever and tell them when I will talk to them about it. After some cool down time I have a tendency to see things from less a emotional point of view and then tackling the problem is easier. I taught my kids to do this. As a child I had not been allowed to be angry... but anger is normal...learning how to deal with it is tricky. Teaching my kids that it was okay to be angry or upset, and then later when emotions are not so high deal with whatever it better than acting in anger, saying things you cannot take back, or hurting someone you love unintentionally. As a medical professional dealing with death, families of those dying, and emotional or physical pain, you have to learn to leave those feelings somewhere outside your life. I admit that it is harder sometimes and my best friend is great at listening to me let off some stress and then remind me how important my job is to everyone around me. I would not be efficient or as good at what I do if I didn't allow myself to be compassionate. Completely cutting myself off emotionally from my patients would make me less effective but finding that fine line we draw is a bit hard to see sometimes. Those that draw a big fat line and do not cross it are the physicians with no bedside manner or compassion. I have returned to medical school to further my degree and was pleasantly surprised to see actual classes which teach medical professionals how to do this. I think this is something valuable to any profession...more important than English 101. Can you imagine how life would be if this one skill was taught to everyone?
Indigo4320 Indigo4320 8 years
Compartmentalizing isn't in my vocabulary apparently. I'm not super great at pushing my emotions to the back burner and putting on a happy face.
Sun_Sun Sun_Sun 8 years
i am THE compartmentalizer :P but i dont let it all in then burst i used to when i first got married and it did us no good so no more of that sh*t
sparklestar sparklestar 8 years
I'm a trainee social worker so if I didn't do this I WOULD go insane. :)
HeidiMD HeidiMD 8 years
I have done this my entire life, so it wasn't a drastic adjustment when I became a physician, but it is absolutely necessary for me. Like the article stated, however, it can become overwhelming. You wouldn't think that you would "forget" to think about someone who has just died, or someone who is suffering and in pain, but it happens. There are so many things I have to do and think about before my own emotional needs.
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i think that i'm on e of those people that will tuck the emotion away and then it'll come out when i least expect it because of some catalyst - and that's not a good thing. i'm usually good at just letting things go, at least in theory, but when i find that they are bubbling up at random places, then it's just not a helpful thing. i have to remember that it's ok to deal with emotions, and that maybe i should take pause so that i don't do anything rash...but that i really do need to deal with it all at some point
looseseal looseseal 8 years
The concept of compartmentalizing reminds me of this line from Veronica Mars: LOGAN: I think my father has a similar philosophy. Of course, he's a murderer, so...yeah.
OhMyDragonflys OhMyDragonflys 8 years
I let go and scream, go back inside and smile. :]]
Mesayme Mesayme 8 years
I stifle a cry until I have time to fix my face...let it crack and fall apart...put it back together and face the world, GORGEOUS baby!!...nobody's business but mine. Men do it all the time!
liliblu liliblu 8 years
I have always been able to this, even as a child.
Mesayme Mesayme 8 years
:o they could have just used my picture for this one...
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