Compartmentalized Life: Living Out of Boxes

When Worlds Collide

We have all been there, with a group of friends out on the town, when suddenly you run into someone from work, or church, or a family member. Suddenly, your friends notice your whole demeanor change on a dime. Once it is just you and your friends again, in their eyes you are your normal self again. It is like you are George Costanza, and Relationship George’s world just collided with Independent George’s world. We all live this compartmentalized life. It is rare to find anyone that doesn’t hide part of who they are depending upon who they are around.

Just Trying to Fit In

Trying to fit in with the crowd unnoticed

We frequently compartmentalize to fit in with the crowd. We don’t just hide parts of our true selves in these situations, but we also begin to act like the crowd. Whether you are with the guys at the bar after work or the people from your church, we try to exhibit behavior that is acceptable to the group. We spend a lot of time in these groups, and it is natural to want to act like the rest of the group to avoid rejection.

Maintaining an Image

Some of us have compartmentalized our lives to maintain a certain image. The details of someone’s personal life becoming public can cause quite a scandal. Business, political, and religious leaders have had their reputations ruined by these scandals.

Personal life going public can blow a good image

President Bill Clinton became the second president to be impeached when his personal life became public, revealing that he had lied under oath. Paula Deen’s television career ended when racist comments that she had made years earlier became public. Ted Haggard’s sex scandal destroyed any credibility in his ministry.

They all tried to compartmentalize their personal and professional lives. None of them were ever viewed the same way after their private lives became public.


Many of us compartmentalize as a method of self-preservation. We feel like we don’t just have one personal life, but separate personal lives for each relationship in our lives. For me personally, compartmentalization started when I was about three years old. When my parents divorced, I was too young to know how to cope with it. I was too young to even really know what it meant.

Some people compartmentalize as a form of protection

It didn’t happen immediately, but over time, I became someone else when I was with one parent than I was when I was with the other. As I grew up and started having other relationships in my life, my psyche just became more fragmented as it dealt with all of these different facets of me. I’m not really sure when I realized it, but there were many versions of me. There is work Wayne and home Wayne, the Wayne when I’m around my father and the one when I’m with Mom. There are even combinations of me, like when I am with my wife and my mom and step-dad, or when I’m at church on Sunday morning.

But honestly, I think the truest version of me is the one that is all alone. Because that Wayne knows that he isn’t hiding anything from anyone in that moment, and that no one is going to judge him for what he thinks or feels or how he acts. Because when I am alone, nothing is compartmentalized. All of the boxes are wide open. Until my co-workers arrive at work, or my wife arrives home from work, or that thirty minute drive from Chattanooga to Dalton to visit family is over. And then I box everything away again.

Stacking the Boxes Away

I hope that this got you to think about how and why you compartmentalize in your own life. Is your fragmented life detrimental to your relationships? How is it affecting your mental and spiritual well-being?

Teaser: Join me next week for a musical top ten. You may want to bring some tissues.

Wayne Cochran

Database Administrator, writer, social media evangelist, and occasional traveler, Wayne writes whatever comes into his head or touches his heart. His interests vary from IT to matters of the heart to the dream of a future beach life.

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2 Responses

  1. I think we compartmentalize as a way of social survival. We rely on others for many things, some tangible, some emotional. People are resources in addition to everything else they may be. We learn what others like and dislike, compartmentalize as needed, and present the version of ourselves we think they prefer to see. Losing a relationship means losing a valuable resource, it goes beyond emotion where some relationships are concerned.

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