Putting Your Feelings Where They Belong

Compartmentalization is not denial

Posted Sep 08, 2015

There are people who have the ability to put their emotional issues into compartments within their heads and hearts and just deal with those feelings or issues when they need to. When people talk about living in the moment, this is one of the ways it can be accomplished. But if the emotions have gotten to the point where you are thinking about them constantly, finding a place to retreat within yourself may not be easy, but it can be done.

When you have more than one serious thing going on at a time, it can be very difficult to maintain your focus or serenity. And I am not suggesting you put all your emotions on hold. What we all need to learn is the ability, even if just for a moment, to put away the things that hurt us, so we can gain some perspective on how to deal with them. This will also help us cope better.

There may be certain times of day when you have greater ability to do this. I like to write in the morning to get my feelings out, and afterward I can focus on important things. Others have different times and methods. One couple regularly comes to see me at 5:00 p.m.,  so they can deal with whatever going on, put it away, and go to dinner. The process has worked well for them, but they had to agree on the ground rules and only bring to the table topics that they are both ready to discuss. (You can always ask your partner for more time if you’re not ready to talk. Simply say, “This really isn’t a good time. Can we talk later please?” Just be sure to set a time to have the conversation you need to have.)

Compartmentalization is not about being in denial; it’s about putting things where they belong and not letting them get in the way of the rest of your life. You can’t just ignore your issues and expect them to go away, but obsessing on them won’t help either.

If you know you are going to talk once a week with your therapist, it makes it much easier to put your issues aside for the time being. If you aren’t seeing a therapist, or you just need a break from your thoughts, you can sing a song in your head until the feelings fade a bit. Watch a movie you’ve seen before while multitasking on the computer. Those actions together can make it difficult to think about the negativity in your life. Even doing the dishes is a way to give your thoughts a rest until they can return to the positive.

When something gets stuck in your brain and you find yourself obsessing, you need to clear a path for your mind and body to function properly. If you continue to ruminate, you may damage your physical and mental health. Regardless of your condition or situation, this is something you can do. Really.