Compartmentalization, according to Cambridge dictionary means the act of separating something into parts and not allowing those parts to mix together.

According to Wikipedia, Compartmentalization is a form of psychological defense mechanism in which thoughts and feelings that seem to conflict are kept separated or isolated from each other in the mind.

Psychology Today1 defines compartmentalization as a defense mechanism in which people mentally separate conflicting thoughts, emotions, or experiences to avoid the discomfort of contradiction.

Now, compartmentalization goes way beyond these. Compartmentalization is also seen in biology – compartmentalization in cells2 which increases the efficiency of many subcellular processes by concentrating the required components to a confined space within the cell. Where a specific condition is required to facilitate a given subcellular process, this may be locally contained so as not to disrupt the function of other subcellular compartments.

Compartmentalization is also used as a psychological technique in therapy and to help cure PTSD.

Be it as it may, I will be restricting this work to compartmentalization as a self-efficiency/progress-effective tool, and a defense mechanism (in men).

Many of us have practiced compartmentalization in ignorance. Many of us love listening to music while reading, washing and even while cooking or driving or even while in the gym. We write and have conversations at the same time; we eat and listen to music at the same time, and the list goes on and on.

However, it is noteworthy that the level or the extent at which one can compartmentalize depends on the complexity of the actions being done, the level of development of the particular channel(s) in use and the speed of brain processing (the rate at which the brain assimilates, processes and analyses the data received through the senses).

We all know that the brain3 4 is a super computer and even way greater than the greatest super computer ever built. Brain Science says that the brain has more storage computer than any built computer – about 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). It is estimated that the human brain is 30 times faster than best supercomputers. Even though the comparison between the human brain and a computer is still debatable, projecting forward shows no glimpse of hope that a computer the size of the human brain can outperform the human brain.5 Let’s not digress into neuroscience.

Have you ever wondered how the brain could perform certain tasks simultaneously without disruption and without scrambling of data? You will get to know how this is possible. The brain takes information from (but not limited to just) the senses – sight, hearing, tasting, smell and feeling. The brain also takes information from neurons. The brain is able to do so through compartmentalization. This is possible through channeling. Taking the senses, every sense has a different channel through which data is being transmitted. This prevents scrambling and loss of data through transmission of multiple and unsimilar information on one channel. The brain separates the different data being inputted into channel “compartments” and processes from there. In that way, there is no scrambling of data (on the inside) and no confusion (on the outside).

This ability of the brain can be better enhanced through conscious brain training to increase brain processing speed and better improve human efficiency and effectiveness in performance of tasks. I will give an example. Some years ago, I noticed that I could not comfortably combine eating and listening together. Though they used different channels, it was somewhat uncomfortable for me to do. I could not compartmentalize to carry out both actions efficiently and effectively. But instead of giving up one action for the other, I decided to continue doing the two simultaneously. What this did was that it further developed the channels involved and probably through myelin production (through conscious building of habit) made it become easier and comfortable with time. More complex combination of actions like driving and holding a conversation is possible through compartmentalization.

How does the brain compartmentalize?

The brain compartmentalizes through converting of one (usually the less complex) task into a mechanical action (more like autopilot) and apportions to it the required memory capacity and processing speed for the action to go on without disruption. This then gives the brain more room to process and analyze the other activity (the more complex one) as a conscious act. That way, giving room for efficiency and effectiveness. Take for instance you’re an engineer who has a 5 year old daughter; you have some repairs to do which requires concentration, and your daughter needs to talk to you which requires active listening. You could achieve both successfully through compartmentalization. It might seem difficult at first, but with practice it becomes easier. This also shows that hearing and listening are different. One might hear but not listening. Listening is a conscious act, while hearing is a mechanical action. This is so because the pinna takes in sound waves at every instant, but a person choses what to listen to. So, in as much as one might hear sounds, one might decide not to listen thereby locking out that channel. This is possible because of compartmentalization.

Compartmentalization as a Psychological Response (Defense Mechanism):

Psychology defines compartmentalization6 as a defense mechanism, or a coping strategy, which does not impart a very good connotation. Put simply, it is how our minds deal with conflicting internal standpoints simultaneously. Some examples would be: a doctor who is religious, but has to separate her belief system from her practice at a women’s health clinic; a man who leaves his office at 6pm, and refuses to think about work for the rest of the evening, so he can enjoy his time with his family or, at its extreme, soldiers who need to file away the trauma of horrific events in their minds, so they can continue operating in battle. Compartmentalization7 as a defense mechanism can be used to avoid the anxiety that arises from the clash of contradictory values or emotions. For example, a manager can think of himself as nurturing and sensitive at home, but a hard-nosed tough guy at work. These two self-images can coincide because the manager compartmentalizes his life, creating what is called “mental bureaucracy.”

Men and Compartmentalization:

You must have heard of this clause – “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. It simply talks about the distinctness in the sexes. It is a book by Dr. John Gray and a good read I recommend for both men and women. Men compartmentalize as a way of organizing our lives and thought processes. Been inundated with so much data that it is often easier to mentally file information as “work,” “home,” or “family,” rather than try to see how it might apply to more than one of those categories. Similarly, men compartmentalize their behavior and unconsciously act in certain ways when they are in different settings. This thought pattern also allows one perform effectively in one aspect of one’s life even when other aspects might be discordant.

One of the biggest complaints women tend to have about men is that they sometimes seem emotionally unavailable or distant. This distance stems from compartmentalization. There is this natural instinct in man to flee from whatever poses a potential to affect his inner peace or balance. Men compartmentalize almost everything – work, family, friends and all. You would notice that the way a man acts or reacts at situations and in contexts differ. Whereas a woman might act similarly in all situations.8

Looking into a woman’s brain might seem like looking at millions of threads interwoven in a very complex manner that all threads are interconnected. Naturally, a woman’s thoughts and feelings are all interconnected. A woman can think of her home, work and friends, and at the same time, her children. But in men, this is not so, because men are natural compartmentalizers.

Now if you were to take a look inside of a man’s brain, you are apt to find a tool cabinet with almost infinite drawers. Men do not integrate their thoughts and feelings. They tend to file everything away, each thought and emotion getting its own compartment where it sits until the man is ready to deal with it. That way, none interferes with the other.

Probably, in subsequent works I will talk about decompartmentalization as relates to mutual relationships, and approaches to cope aside compartmentalization in times of negative emotions (for men) and how to relate better with men when they compartmentalize (for women). Above all, with regards mutual relationships, I highly recommend the book – “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” by Dr. John Gray.

For now, this is it.

Anthony Ebo.

© Alpha Writings 2022

21st July, 2022.