Compartmentalization 

Baker asks how I handle pain and disappointment.  As I said in my post about coping skills, I think I never really figured out how to cope with embarrassment, feeling inadequate, or disappointment.  Now I’m learning to count my blessings and focus on the positive.  Before D-day, I turned to self-pity instead.

He asks how I can begin to address my denial.  In what areas of life, he questions, am I beginning to face reality and break the effects of denial?  These questions took a lot of thought.  I wracked my brain about denial.  Yes, before D-day, I wished that certain realities about my life  were not true.  I obsessed on those wishes, at the expense of living in reality, in the moment.  I allowed that obsession to launch me into hurtful behaviors aimed at changing reality in ways that were simply not possible.  Is that denial?  I don’t think that’s exactly how the word is used in this context.  I read a definition by Dr. John Grohol on Psych Central:

“Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. It is considered one of the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because it is characteristic of early childhood development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit. For instance, a person who is a functioning alcoholic will often simply deny they have a drinking problem, pointing to how well they function in their job and relationships.”

That definition doesn’t seem relevant for me, though I will be giving it more thought. However, scanning the rest of Grohol’s article, something jumped out at me.  He defined several other common defense mechanisms.  One caught my eye as being frighteningly familiar:

“Compartmentalization is a lesser form of dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps their two value systems distinct and un-integrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive dissonance.”

That’s much more like what I did.  You might recognize “compartmentalization” by the name “hypocrisy.”  For me, it often was closely linked with jealousy.  For example, I spent unhealthy amounts of time and energy criticizing other people for pre-marital sex.  In fact I was jealous of them.  Hypocritically, I set about trying to assuage my envy by having extramarital sex.  To reconcile the hypocrisy, I compartmentalized.  I led two parallel lives, almost like two men sharing one body.

My two parallel lives were not integrated.  That brings new meaning to the phrase “lack of integrity.”  That little wordplay has actually become quite important to me as I work on being a better husband and a happier person.  Now, I try to think about integrity each time I face a decision as well as in my daily behavior.  Of course, that means saying what I mean, meaning what I say, and doing as I say.  It means honesty.  But, for me, it also means leading one life, not two, and behaving consistently, regardless of whether I am alone, with TL, in a professional setting, or in any other setting.

At the risk of geekiness, remember an original Star Trek episode called “The Enemy Within.” Captain Kirk was separated into two people, one good and one bad.  Seeing the two men behave and not knowing they were not the same person, you could say he lacked integrity.  In the end, they fixed the problem and put Kirk’s two halves back into one body.  His integrity was restored, literally.  Everything about him, good and bad, was in the same place at the same time.  He, like each of us each day, had to balance his good and bad impulses constantly in order to have healthy relationships, be successful, and be happy.  He had to behave consistently.  That’s exactly what I now try to do, all the time, every day.  I actually take pride in the pursuit of integrity now.

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One thought on “Compartmentalization 

  1. I was never a Trekkie, but having married Mindless he shared his love of Star Trek with me. Though I much prefer Next Generation to the Original, I do remember seeing that episode. When I think about it, what struck me about that episode is that when Kirk was separated into “good” and “bad,” his “good self” was unable to make a decision, lacked confidence, courage and the ability to lead. The “bad self” completely lacked impulse control, acted with anger, jealousy, lust and was devoid of empathy for others. Kirk needed the two parts of him integrated into one person to have the courage and confidence to make decisions and to balance those decisions with empathy. I do see a difference in Mindless, having integrated the two parts into one.

    There is a story I posted a long time ago here about feeding the good wolf and the bad wolf. And, I do love that story, the wolf you feed is the wolf that wins. Obviously, I can see how that holds so true for MC’s self-pity, the more he fed it, the more he focused upon it, the more he believed in it and let it be his guide. But, this Star Trek example does remind me of something a little more nuanced. It is not just a matter of feeding the good wolf and not the bad wolf. It is not just a matter of ignoring one over the other. It is not trying to pretend one does not exist and only the other wolf does, perhaps even leading to the existence of the bad wolf in its own separate and secret world. Instead it is learning to balance those characteristics within to live as one integrated and balanced person, with honesty, compassion, courage and confidence.

    Liked by 1 person

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