Repressing Versus Compartmentalizing

As a therapist, I spend a lot of time telling people that it’s okay to have feelings, and it’s healthy to express those feelings. You can think of “bottling up” feelings like making a purchase on a credit card: you still have to pay later, and the longer you wait, the more interest accumulates. When we see someone have a huge outburst in response to a minor frustration, this is all the feelings from before coming out all at once.

You will pay for it later! (Photo by Pixabay on

This does not mean that we need to let out every emotion all the time as soon as we feel it, though! To use a personal example, sometimes in a therapy session, a client might say something that gives me an emotional reaction. It would absolutely not be appropriate for me to burst into tears in the middle of someone’s therapy, so I compartmentalize that feeling to deal with when I am not working.

Compartmentalizing is like buying groceries with a credit card but then paying it off before it accrues interest. The difference between compartmentalizing and repressing is that you go back and deal with that emotion in a healthy way before it has a chance to fester or build up.

Be mindful of how you compartmentalize feelings, especially during times of high stress. It’s tempting to bottle things up – I will feel better now if I insist that everything is fine, but in the long run, I will pay for it with interest later.

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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