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Compartmentalization

12:00:00 AM

For the unfamiliar, allow me to lift the Wikipedia definition of the term compartmentalization: It is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, emotions, and beliefs within themselves. It allows conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgment and interaction between separate compartmentalized self states.

In layman's terms, compartmentalization is the process of making shelves in your mind, isolating your conflicting ideas so they don't cause you stress. It is the capacity to not make unnecessary associations that could potentially lead to equally unnecessary complications. It's closely linked to rationalization, a.k.a. making excuses, but I think it's a bit more sophisticated than that. It takes a certain discipline, and perhaps even a degree of hardness of the proverbial heart, to successfully compartmentalize.

Lines
(photo from the internet)
I can say this without ego: I am an expert at, nay, a goddess of compartmentalization. My friends will tell you that. This is partly a result of being naturally organized (or having an obsessive-compulsive personality, as my Introductory Psychology professor told me). I am able to keep my thoughts and emotions in separate shelves, the same way I sort my books, my clothes, my shoes, and my toiletries. I am able to maintain a life outside the office, and that's a great thing.

But this ability  is also a result of a rather painful childhood. I'm not going to go into detail, but suffice it to say that my struggles while growing up forced me to put up walls that helped me make sense of what I had to go through. A friend of mine, who's considerably older than I am, told me that my life experiences were extraordinary, and that he probably would not have survived if he were in my place. I told him I pulled through because I taught myself to compartmentalize.
Shelves
(photo from the internet)
I got so good at it that I reached a point where compartmentalization had become my norm. It was no longer something that I used just to protect myself from something that could potentially hurt me. It became my instinct to draw lines, to set boundaries, to define limits. And as a result, I said no to a number of good opportunities. Even worse, I shut a lot of people out. I put up a tough front, and people believed what I showed, but deep down, I was incredibly vulnerable and I knew it.

And I wasn't becoming a stronger person; I actually only kept nurturing my weakness. The only way to really be strong is to confront my demons. To embrace uncertainty by not trying to rationalize everything. To take a hard hit every once in a while, feeling pain while slowly recovering. To accept that everything is linked in some cosmic way, that  you are part of a greater scheme of things and as such, you mustn't keep yourself from making links.

To some degree, I still compartmentalize, mostly to maintain work-life balance. But in the past few years, I've torn down a lot of the walls I built around me as a scared little girl. I've stepped out of my fortress. I've let myself love the world, and I accepted the love it gave back. I take more chances. Sometimes I even foolishly go all in, dealing with consequences as they come, but regretting nothing because it was worth the gamble.

Because I put everything in shelves, I realized that I put myself in one, as well. I locked myself in a box, and in doing so, I limited my access to the very experiences I needed to grow. With each new connection, I grow my world. With each new mistake, I grow wiser. With each battle scar, I grow stronger. I put up defenses because I underestimated my own resilience. I know better now.

isawisay

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