The ability to compartmentalize is a double-edged sword...
On the one hand, it's a GOOD thing, a self-defense mechanism that our
highly advanced human brains have invented to deal with the reality of our
complicated lives without going stark raving mad. A great example of good
compartmentalizing is how people can react calmly in an emergency - they
can put aside the horror and overwhelming fright and pain for long enough
to do something about it. Cops, EMT's, and combat soldiers are great
examples of people who can compartmentalize a horrible situation that
would send the rest of us screaming for the hills.
Why do they compartmentalize? Because something is more important than the
fear and pain and shock - getting a job done. And if they didn't, they
would be unable to do that job effectively.
But that ability also has a dark side - we humans can use it to do great
evil and box up the consequences and guilt, hiding them away so we don't
acknowledge the horror of what we're doing.
Why would we do that?
For the same reason a cop or soldier does it - our brains have determined
that something else is more important than the consequences - we need
something that is so necessary and vital that our brain says "well, this
is a very bad thing, but it's something I need."
So it figures out how to box up the guilt and pain and horror and stick it
away so we can continue our behavior, thinking we're gaining some good
from what we're doing, and not realizing that we're actually selling out
our own character, our morality, our souls, and devastating all of those
close to us in the process.
In reality, there is little difference between a habitual cheater and a
serial killer when it comes to the ability to compartmentalize, it's just
a different level of what can stay in that box and what can't.
A serial killer is capable of stuffing MUCH MUCH MUCH more guilt and pain
and shock into his box than any cheater. He must, because his crime is
exponentially more severe than the crime of infidelity. '
But on the other side, most normal people aren't able to stuff the huge
burden of infidelity into their relatively small boxes.
They either get scared off at the first hint of infidelity, or they come
close to it and get a huge scare, or maybe they even go forth and do it
but can't deal with the guilt and pain and it comes spilling out almost
Others of us - those of us FWS's with a more frightening past - got so
good at compartmentalizing that it became a way of life.
I found that my ability to compartmentalize carried over from my cheating
on my wife to other things...bills, work ethic, the needs of others...
I got behind on bills and didn't worry much - I slacked off of things at
work and didn't care - I was sometimes boorish and insensitive and didn't
realize it or care.
The only difference between me and a clinically diagnosed "narcissist" is
that my behavior was learned and reversable, where with a true Narcissist
it's hard-wired permanently.
Why did I shove away the guilt and pain of what I was doing? How could I
go be with an OW and then come home to my W and snuggle with her in the
bed without screaming "MY GOD WHAT AM I DOING TO THIS BEAUTIFUL
The A's were more important.
The high that I got from the attention of OW...the "rockstar" life, the
cool attitude, the charm and character...
I "loved" those more than I loved my wife.
Something was empty inside of me...something dark and needy, something
that couldn't be satisfied, a part of me that hated myself and didn't
trust that I was good enough...and that black hole needed to be fed. The
light from the shining star of my BW wasn't enough, it needed more.
And frankly, 1000 OW wouldn't have done the trick. Becoming a
mega-celebrity rockstar wouldn't have done the trick.
NOTHING would do the trick, except one thing:
And I couldn't do that, didn't know HOW to do that, didn't want to face
the demons and acknowledge that I didn't love myself.
So instead of doing that, I tried to find validation in love in everything
and anything else - externalizing my self-worth in the words/eyes/arms of
And in order to get that "fix" and not deal with the horror of what I was
doing to my BW and my M, I had to compartmentalize. And I had to be DAMN
good at it, too.
And I didn't get it, for years...until I finally was faced with the
undeniable proof of what I had done and what it had caused and where it
all came from...
A story revealed by the facts of my A's coming to light after D-Day,
advice from forums such as SI, help from my IC, family, friends...and the
pain and devastation in my BW's eyes and voice...and finally, through
self-examination and introspection.
I finally faced my ability to compartmentalize, and faced the demons
holding the boxes open, waiting for the next sin to be whisked away. And
more importantly, I faced the demons of WHY CHEATING WAS SO IMPORTANT TO
And I had to fix things one at a time...
First, get rid of OW, change my lifestyle to shelter myself, start to tell
the story to people who cared (BW, IC, family) and who had been there
(fellow SI'ers, etc.)
Second, fix the ability to shove things away...every time something
happens, I stop myself and analyze "what? why? where? who?" to determine
where it came from and what it means. Even something as simple as telling
a funny story to co-workers is scrutinized - "why am I telling this? To
appear cool, to make people think I'm witty and charming??"
And last...and the part that will take the longest and the most work...the
part I'm diligently working on now...
Fix me. Fix my emptiness. Fix the thing in me that didn't love myself
enough to respect my own morals, nor the bonds of my marriage, nor the
love and respect of my beautiful, loving wife.
Once I've fixed that - then I'll be safe again. It's not enough to say
"I'll never cheat," because that's external and the compartmentalization
mechanism will kick in, and I'll be back at square one.
It's not enough to say "I just won't compartmentalize" because the beauty
AND horror of the ability is - you don't really realize it's happening
until it's over!
No...you have to fix the thing in you that subconsciously said "I need to
learn to compartmentalize because I'm about to do really bad things."
Whether it's unhappiness in your marriage...self-esteem issues...abuse
issues...sexual addiction...the ability to compartmentalize is not the
disease, it's the symptom of the disease.