Compartmentalization: typical or abnormal?

I was talking to my daughters tonight on the way home from taking our cousin home (she was over babysitting for us today). We started talking about Christmas’ past and I asked my youngest if she happened to remember any of our Christmas’ together, as an entire family, aka, with their dad and me together… She didn’t, and I know because she started talking about the Barbie Dream House her dad got for her last year, after the divorce, and asked if I remembered that.  She was talking about how she loved that gift and her sister made a comment to the effect of “that toy stays upstairs at dad’s house”. This prompted me to ask her if they had all of their toys upstairs or if there were some downstairs as well.  She said no, they were all in their room.  Mind you, I don’t know if that is actually the truth, but I would have to guess that it is.

This brought on some interesting thoughts.  I found it odd that there would be no toys downstairs, because at my parent’s house  (where we currently reside), even though we live downstairs, the girl’s lives pour over into other areas of the house. They have toys upstairs, their personal calendar, pictures and artwork hanging on the fridge and so forth. They are a part of every aspect of our house, even though it’s really my parent’s house. It is their home. Why wouldn’t they make their mark on it… with their things? Should the kid’s things be left downstairs in their “area”? Should they not be allowed in certain places in the house?  They do have limits and rules within the house, but they also have some rights. Right?

This made me think of the theory of compartmentalization. This topic has come up before in the past with several of my friends, maybe not straight out, but a variation of the concept in some way or another. I know many people are able to achieve the act of compartmentalization, but I find it a difficult notion to wrap my head around.  Maybe it’s because I have such a lack of boundaries, or because I have been on an emotional roller coaster worthy of Six Flags status, but I just can’t figure out how to do it, successfully anyway.

My ex-husband was excellent at compartmentalizing. Or so it seemed to me… enough so that he could carry on two different lives at once. I can’t wrap my head around separating so many parts of my life into neat little boxes wrapped with a bow.

I have a friend who is able to completely keep her personal life separate from her professional life, for the most part.  There are only a couple of people who know her children’s names, and possibly what they look like. It’s amazing to me, and I idolize her a little bit because of it.

Sometimes I wish I could do this also, but the idea of my children not being part of every aspect of my life is a foreign concept to me.  Take today for instance, I was substitute teaching in a 3rd grade class and one of the students asked me what I was planning on doing over Christmas break. Naturally I said I would be spending time with my kids.  She then asked how old they were, what their names were, and where they went to school.  I answered all of her questions reasonably.

Now however, I think, should I have been so forth-coming with that information? Should I not share information about my family with students, or co-workers, or acquaintances? Some people would say no, but I also think it might be different in a classroom.  There is something to be said for sharing about your personal life with students so they have some sort of connection with you.

The reason I find it so difficult to compartmentalize is because all of the people I have met and all places I have been in my life are so much a part of who I am today, good or bad, that it is hard not to think of so many of these people and places each and everyday, or close to everyday… For instance, there honestly isn’t a day that goes by, as of yet, that I don’t think of my ex in some capacity or other, whether it be with dread, or with wistful memory of life gone by. Likewise, I think of the school I taught at for four years and ended last year, nearly everyday.  Most of the time it is honestly with the longing that I could be there in my comfortable niche, doing what I still believe I do well, with people I know and many I love. I fully understand that because I couldn’t compartmentalize, I experienced the following:  I lost my job, losing my home was difficult, and watching someone else fall into the footsteps so unnervingly comparable to my old life was hellacious.

Maybe with practice I will be able to achieve the unachievable, who knows, maybe I already have.  Some of those experience I had didn’t hurt as much as I thought they could, but maybe because I was compartmentalizing my feelings. Just doing what I knew had to be done in order for my family and myself to be able to survive.

Anyway, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts or tips on compartmentalization. For me, life is just such an emotional roller coaster, with all of the highs and lows, that leaving emotion out of it seems unrealistic. However, I do see the unlimited value in being able to do it… now to find a way to achieve it 😉



2 thoughts on “Compartmentalization: typical or abnormal?”

  1. I have a lot to say on this topic, but in the end.. Neither way is right or wrong. Everyone has different ways of handling their inner mental workings. Both ways have their pros & cons.

    People who are skilled at compartmentalizing, need people around them who don’t have that skill.. Think of it as Ying and Yang.

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