I’m going to generalise a little! We men like to organise, fix, solve and put stuff neatly in their place. (There are many man caves beautifully systemised and ordered, similar to a well-stocked tool shed!).
When it comes to balancing our thoughts and feelings most of us have a kind of filing system of the mind. It takes care of the various domains of our life. Such as:
Home, Parenting, Relationships, Work, Family, Sport, Hobbies, Friendships etc..
This filing system is called compartmentalisation.
It helps to reduce chaos and overwhelm. It’s also an essential survival skill.
What does compartmentalisation mean?
Compartmentalisation is how our minds cope with conflicting internal perspectives simultaneously. It’s how we consciously suppress thoughts and feelings.
Here’s a psychological definition:
‘ an unconscious psychological defence mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, and beliefs within themselves” Wikipedia
Men and Women
A common claim is that men compartmentalise more than women.
Lots of men excel at compartmentalising and struggle to multi-task. There are of course plenty of women who are expert multi-taskers but struggle to compartmentalise.
In my experience both men and women have these organising characteristics of the mind.
Men, however, do tend to trip up when they rely too much on emotional compartmentalisation. More of that in Part 2 of this post. Read more.
How do we compartmentalise and why is it important?
Great question! These examples may explain it.
Major emergency or critical incidents
Picture a fire-fighter putting the destruction of his own property out of his mind while fighting bush fires in his local neighbourhood. Or a soldier who need to file away the trauma of horrific events in their mind so they can continue operating in battle.
They compartmentalise because something is more important than the fear, pain and shock – getting a job done. And if they didn’t they would be unable to do that job effectively.
An important task for some first responders is to de-compartmentalise and debrief critical incidents and trauma. If this isn’t done effectively, the pushing away of the overwhelming aspects of their experience can lead to post traumatic stress.
Work related stress and engaging with the family at home
Putting thoughts of work aside at the end of the day is a useful skill. Having a bad day at work and taking it out on the kids or partner creates a lot of anxiety and distress in families.
Efficient completion of tasks at home and at work
Meeting deadlines either at work or at home requires the ability to focus on one task that is achievable in the time you have.
Fending off distractions or the needs of others to stay on task is essential. Many entrepreneurs, business owners, managers and leaders espouse the virtues of compartmentalising to be successful.
The same principal applies for domestic projects including homework tasks for students young and old.
Coping under pressure
If you’re required to speak publicly or deliver a presentation it’s vital to put aside any longstanding fears, focus on slow breathing and calming your nerves.
Putting aside self- doubt is a useful skill when negotiating a business deal, selling a property, discussing your salary package etc..
There is great wisdom in being able to master the mind and put away distracted or unwanted thoughts and feelings.
When it comes to intimate relationships however, well, there’s another story! Read more