It’s important to note that everyone has the capacity to compartmentalize to a degree, and particularly when you’re dealing with extenuating circumstances, according to both Swart and Torrent.
“The reality is, everyone compartmentalizes to some degree, every day, all of the time,” Torrent explains. However, he adds, “Within addiction, narcissism, and trauma, these individuals tend to engage in behaviors that go against their values, beliefs, relationships and morals, which often leads to cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization.”
Addiction is especially pertinent here, because it is often accompanied by guilt and shame. Both of those feelings (even outside the context of addiction) must be “locked in a compartment of their minds,” in order to avoid them and any subsequent change, Torrent tells mbg.
In the case of trauma or PTSD, however, compartmentalization is an effective defense in managing the thoughts and feelings associated with traumatic experiences. “After a trauma, either systemic or acute, upsetting memories are often compartmentalized as the nervous system attempts to reach equilibrium,” Torrent explains, adding, “If however these experiences are not de-compartmetalized, brought out, and then processed therapeutically, they can be activated or ‘triggered’ causing the sufferer to cascade into a post traumatic stress response such as a panic attack or overwhelming anxiety.”
We’ll also note here that there is evidence that the male brain may be more inclined to compartmentalize. As clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. previously wrote for mbg, there’s an area in the frontal lobes of the brain called the ACG, which helps you shift attention and recognize errors. Higher activity in the ACG “increases the tendency to get stuck on negative thoughts or negative behaviors and to see what is wrong rather than what is right,” he explains—and that increased activity is more commonly observed in the female brain.