By Dr. Perry, PhD
“Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness.” ~ Joel Osteen
I am a mental health professional but I am also human and I like you experience a wide range of emotions. I am not a superhero with an impenetrable shield that causes all negative feelings to bounce off my chest. These emotions do penetrate my inner core but I have learned to set aside my personal hardships in order to properly guide my patients. There is a sanctity in the therapy room and the responsibility of helping others gain insight through what is often, difficult inner exploration must be respected above everything else.
In the therapy room, I cannot allow any personal hardships that I may be experiencing to contaminate the process. In the room, I am a conduit for my patients to help them access parts of themselves that lay hidden. I must be able to set aside any emotional pain I may be experiencing when I sit with my patients. I have learned to consciously compartmentalize my personal emotional life in order to continue to function in my work life. In a sense, I am separating my home from my work.
This form of healthy compartmentalization is not to be confused with the defense mechanism of compartmentalization. As a defense mechanism, it is a way our minds learn to deal with conflicting points of view that we may simultaneously believe. Holding irreconcilable beliefs may lead to cognitive dissonance that may manifest itself in a number of ways including depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses.
Compartmentalization is healthy as long as you are fully aware that you are deciding to separate different aspects of your life and to process them independent of each other. For example, choosing not to emotionally invest in something that is not within your control is a healthy choice as long as it is done with awareness and you find an outlet to work through the feelings you may be experiencing.
Here are the steps that I have found useful for healthy compartmentalization of negative emotions.
Identify what conflicting emotions you need to separate from your daily life. It is important to have awareness of how these emotions may impact your life if left unchecked. For instance, if you are getting a divorce you may feel angry and scared. You need to acknowledge the impact these emotions would have on other areas of your life if left unrestrained. You will want to keep these feelings separated from your interaction with your children and your workplace. Be aware of the consequences if compartmentalization of these emotions is not done.
Although difficult, if you are experiencing hardship or emotional turmoil that is out of your control, it is important to accept how you feel about the situation. For example, if a loved one is ill you may need to accept that you are feeling anger and sadness that is beyond your control. Accept how you are feeling without shame or guilt.
3. Be present
When it is appropriate, allow yourself to be completely present with the uncomfortable emotions. Focus on how you are feeling and embrace the discomfort. Express what you are feeling. If you feel like crying then cry. If you feel like yelling then yell. It is important that you allow yourself to feel everything. Set aside the time and space to process these emotions in a safe manner. If you have a loved one to talk to, allow them to help you by listening and validating your feelings.
4. Reframe your pain
Make a conscious decision to reframe the emotional pain you are experiencing. This is difficult but try to find something positive in what you are feeling. For example, instead of becoming paralyzed over the realization that a loved one has a terminal illness, focus on the realization that life is a gift that does not last forever. By acknowledging that death exists you can experience an even greater love for life. In this case, it is important to spend as much time with your loved one, strengthening your connection through mutual love and compassion.
We do not always have the luxury of allowing ourselves to get lost in our emotions. Life’s obligations such as work and taking care of our families do not allow us to freeze and get swallowed up by an emotional tidal wave. In some ways, this is a positive. Life is to be lived and its force compels us to keep moving. By learning to consciously compartmentalize some of these emotions you can manage your life more efficiently.
Thank you for taking a moment to visit my blog. I hope you enjoyed this post. I would like to hear how you use compartmentalization in your life.
The opinions expressed on my blog are solely my own. My posts are meant to educate as well as motivate, inspire and uplift. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation to work with me on your mental health please click here.
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