What Happens When You Compartmentalize Thoughts?
What Happens When You Compartmentalize Thoughts?
Thoughts and emotions have incredible power over us, even when we try our best to control them. Whether they take the shape of doubts about our future, regret about our past actions, pain surrounding experiences we have endured, or frustrating ruts we have found ourselves in, these thoughts and feelings are all-natural. As uncomfortable, disruptive, or confusing as they can become, we should not try to cover up these thoughts.
Even so, many of us do that every day. We often distract ourselves from alarming or frightening thoughts, hoping that they do not arise later on. In the process of compartmentalization, we block off parts of ourselves that we cannot accept or confront. Just because we have put up walls around those thoughts does not mean we are free from them. In fact, the more we neglect the need to address them, the more they will grow.
Compartmentalization and Substance Use Disorder
For those living with substance use disorder (SUD), thoughts can cause a great level of torment. If you love someone struggling through addiction, you have most likely witnessed them grapple with intense mental and emotional pain. They are stuck in destructive patterns, able to recognize their situation and its consequences, yet unempowered to free themselves.
Fortunately, there is hope. Licensed clinicians trained in therapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help your loved one confront the thoughts, keeping them entrenched in difficult situations by looking at the root. When we understand thoughts and behaviors, we can change them. There are many consequences that can arise from never putting in the work to address and overcome compartmentalization.
#1. It Prevents Us from Being Our Authentic Selves
While our thoughts do not define us, they are an integral part of us. They guide us in experiencing the world around us, and they point to fears and hopes that we have. For these reasons, keeping them separate from the rest of our identity becomes detrimental, and it is far from sustainable. When we modify our behavior to avoid uncomfortable thoughts, we start acting in a way that is untrue to ourselves.
#2. It Creates Distance from Those We Love
Just as compartmentalization can keep us from being authentic to ourselves, it can also keep us from being our whole selves in our relationships. We all seek deep connections with the important people in our lives, and we can only do that when we can be open and honest. Additionally, keeping thoughts and emotions pent up is always a temporary solution, and they will come out in unexpected ways. When they do, people we care about may get caught in the crossfire.
#3. It Gives Them Room to Grow
We have all avoided things we were afraid of. Whether it was something significant, like trusting someone with a closely-guarded secret we were sure would destroy their perception of us, or something more benign, like hesitating to look at a grade we received in school because we were sure we would fail, our fears and shame are difficult to face.
It is usually the case, however, that the outcome is never as bad as we imagine, and we are relieved. Even if our fears are realized just as we expected, we are able to move past the situation we were so afraid of. The longer we wait to do something about our thoughts, the larger and more threatening they become, making it even harder to change.
#4. It Keeps Us From Making the Changes We Need to Make
Humans are adaptable creatures, and we can get used to almost anything. While that flexibility can be a gift in many situations, it can also drive us into some rather intense ruts. The longer we live with things that are harming us, such as substance abuse, the easier it becomes to tolerate the detrimental effects. When they become a part of our everyday reality, we make accommodations for them, allowing them to take an increasingly permanent space in our lives. Compartmentalizing thoughts and white-knuckling through the ramifications can make it increasingly difficult to make positive changes.
Men Need a Unique Approach
Society expects men to be stoic and stable providers, and most men also expect that of themselves. This need to help others before helping themselves can leave little room to address discomfort, especially when it is happening in the heart and mind. Compartmentalization can be a helpful short-term solution that allows men to function as a pillar of support for others, but it is like putting a bandage on a wound that needs stitches. Despite the bleeding, many men have trouble recognizing when and how to ask for help.
Men’s pain deserves to be addressed. Compartmentalizing thoughts is not the only option, and seeking professional help can help someone go from surviving to thriving. Asking for help does not conflict with masculinity; rather, it can help a man be stronger not only for himself but also for the important people in his life.
Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.