Narcissists & the Compartmentalized Life (Part 1/2)

compartmentsWelcome to my  two-part article series on compartmentalization as it relates to narcissism in relationships. This article, Part 1, will describe the psychological mechanism of compartmentalization and how narcissists use it to juggle multiple relationships and situations without having his/her worlds collide. I believe that an understanding of this narcissistic tactic is vital to our recovery because, as you’ll see, it explains everything – and I mean everything – that we experience. Once we “get it” about compartmentalization, then – and only then – can we truly begin to connect all of the suspicious dots within our relationship in a meaningful way.

Invariably, online definitions describe compartmentalization as a defense mechanism that a person uses to keep certain beliefs and relationships separated from one another so that they don’t conflict. For those who are particularly good at it, like narcissists and sociopaths, it means being able to get away with just about anything including keeping one lover from ever finding out about another or from lies ever becoming truly tangled. Compartmentalization is what narcissists do before, during, and after a Discard. Compartmentalizing is how the narcissist keeps partners (or only certain partners) from ever meeting his friends and family members. Compartmentalization is the perfect explanation for how the narcissist can just leave you without giving a fuck…why your history with a narcissist means absolutely nothing…why he appears to simply vanish during a silent treatment and why he’s so adept using the Cell Phone Game to keep you at arms length even when you think you are “together”.

narcissist-free-zari-ballardImagine the narcissist’s twisted head as being like a building that contains a whole bunch of empty rooms – or compartments – to which he is the only key holder. Over time, the narcissist fills these compartments, each with a single scenario from his life and each scenario having little or no knowledge about the existence of the other compartments. By carefully keeping tabs on the contents of each compartment and by controlling all levels of communications and interaction, the narcissist keeps the potential for conflict and confrontation to a bare minimum as he moves from one to the other. The biggest benefit, of course, to compartmentalization is that the narcissist can behave one way while visiting one compartment and behave completely differently when visiting another. And since the narcissist is a pretender extraordinaire and master chameleon, the fact that he’s has to basically lie through his teeth during each visit isn’t even an issue. In fact, that’s the easiest part of the strategy!

In another article series on this site called A Sociopath Exposes the Narcissist, I use actual pieces of blog posts written by a very popular online sociopath to prove my point about how a narcissist thinks. To prove my point about compartmentalizing, I’ll use yet another blurb from that same blog:

           For me, my Game Theory is not only one fashion of handling life, it’s also the concept of compartmentalization. As many people have commented, trying to keep everything in order (in regards to the lies, half-truths, manipulations, “games,” etc.) would be exceedingly difficult (for a sociopath/narcissist). And it would be, if the sociopath’s mind operated as a normal person’s. Everything in my mind is organized sort of like folders (compartments) and folder groups that you might find in, say, Windows Explorer; everything has its place. When a situation presents itself or I am with a certain friend or friend(s), I simply “open” up that folder and behave accordingly. When one’s mind is organized in such a way that no thought co-mingles with others, you don’t have the problem of “remembering all of the lies,” because you have everything you need neatly stored away, waiting to be accessed at the right time. This same concept of compartmentalization applies in all walks of (my) life, whether it be love, friendships, work, etc. Another benefit to compartmentalizing is that it enables oneself to keep track of “friend circles”, thus ensuring that none of these circles cross in any way; this can allow for you to more easily adapt to any number of given situations per friend circle. For example, for each different personality, I just find another lover (in addition to or instead of one you may already have). I find myself involved in many different circles, but almost as a ghost; I can walk in and out of these circles almost unnoticed and never be missed.

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To imagine life as a narcissist, we must imagine ourselves moving in and out of these compartments whenever it served a beneficial purpose. A narcissist might have separate compartments for you, his other girlfriend(s), his work relationships, his family life, his guy friends, his time at the gym or in the band or at the bar or home alone at his apartment. Then, when it’s convenient, he just moves in and out of the little rooms like a snake, carefully closing the door behind him when he arrives and also locking it tight when he leaves. He might be giving you the silent treatment while hanging out in the compartment next door and you won’t even know it. Or he can be having a regular sex life with three different women who all think that they’re his only girlfriend. When a person is a pathological liar and has no empathy, sympathy, guilt, or remorse, compartmentalization is the way to go!

The fact that a narcissist is capable of having a long-term relationship with one person while carrying on a similar affair with one (or more) other persons is a constant source of angst for all of us. And I believe it’s not the cheating itself that is the biggest issue but rather the narcissist’s lack of conscience/emotion that appears to go with it. How does he do it without feeling a single thing? When confronted with an affair, my ex was able to fake remorse for only a day or two before he threw up his hands in exasperation and screamed “Get over it! I just didn’t think it was any big deal!” Excuse me? No big deal? This way of thinking, of course, isn’t normal because even an asshole knows that cheating is hurtful. But the narcissist, in his non-emphatic way of thinking, doesn’t see it that way. So, as hurtful as my ex’s response was to me, he was actually telling the truth but at the time, I sure didn’t see it that way either and it caused me great distress.

In Part 2 of this article series  I’ll go into depth about the lack of emotion and empathy in the narcissistic personality and how it works in perfect synch with the art of compartmentalizing.

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  • Allegra

    October 24, 2017 at 7:44 am Reply

    I typed in ‘compartamentalise’ on google and your article came up – what a good (if uncomfortable) read. Yes, I’m seeing a man who completely compartmentalizes me. I suspect him of being a narcissist and am hoping it’s not as bad as it probably is.
    After a succession of needy, emotionally immature men, I was actually intrigued by this man who doesn’t appear to care how I am or what I’m doing when I’m not with him. Then he happened to see me speaking with an ex and gave me the ‘silent treatment’. It was…well, you know.

    I admit the relationship is, has, been a refuge of sorts, because I’m going through a lot. My life as I know it is crumbling (independently of him). He takes me away, on his frequent trips, I can escape from my reality but in truth it’s another form of boxing things: his friends, his parents, his job and colleagues. And me about once a week, or when he goes away. He’s in the armed forces and basically spies on people for a living.
    In my heart of hearts I know I deserve better.
    The sad truth is, I’m still grateful for it. I think it’ll be a long ride (for me to get out of this).
    You’re a great writer, and I’ll be reading more when I can…

    • Zari Ballard

      November 13, 2017 at 12:16 am Reply

      Hi Allegra,

      I suspect him of being a narcissist and am hoping it’s not as bad as it probably is. Girl, it is. Your post says it all. And yes, you absolutely deserve better. Sure, he may be a distraction from everything else going on but pretty soon, if you are not careful, suddenly you will realize that he is the ENTIRE problem. It would be great if we could stay detached and if the relationship “rules” set forth by this person weren’t a ridiculous double standard, but this isn’t the case. And dare I say your description of his occupation…well, reason enough to leave, sister. It will only cause you pain. I was an army wife for seven years and his job was exactly as you say of yours and it was hell on earth. It’s a life of deception that they enjoy and what normal person would WANT to be at the tail end of that on the home front. I say take the fun that you’ve had and leave now before things start spinning. If you ever want to talk about it, book some talk time with me. I’d be happy to share my experiences all around, girl. Thank you for reading and I am here to support you….

      Zari xo

  • Female

    March 11, 2017 at 1:30 pm Reply


    I just came across two of your article “How the Married Narcissist Plays His victims” and the above. I have research a whole lot on narcissism but these two articles where extremely clarifying. I wanted to mention also something very interesting, my soon to be ex-husband even used the worlds compartmentalize in regards to his life, he used to say that he had to compartmentalize, thats the only way he’s life could work.

    I was with him over nine years and all this while he kept me a secret from his ex-wife and child, claiming she was so crazy that it was the only way until the child was eighteen and I bought in. I am presuming his ex-wife was probably so hurt and resentful it may have caused here to be as vindictive as she was, she would refuse for him to introduce the child or have the child over night. I am presuming she had such a horrible time with his previous affairs and how he left her when the baby was only weeks old it left deep scars.

    I presume he kept her “warm” too in order to get narcissistic supply from her as well and so she never let go of the hope of them being together. He would go on exotic holiday with them and claim he had to. He would then tell me how was suffering being around her but in retrospect I am sure it was all nice and they “played” family.

    He discharged of me the moment I sent his ex-wife a very polite email explaining the reality that he had re-married and suggested that she move on with her life too. I was at the breaking point and before yet another holiday with the ex-wife and child where Iw as excluded.

    Presuming, at that point, I destroyed his compartmentalized life and thus was no longer useful as narcissistic supply.

    He also never wanted me to work and I did belive we would be together forever.

    He made me move ut so that he could have his child there which didn’t know about me, something I agreed too. He claimed he would not date, even if we where not together before the child was eighteen.

    Once I was out and the child in, he started to warm up to me again giving me hope, wound come over to my new apartment for drinks, started calling daily to talk about him (of course) similar to what he probably did with his ex-wife. I left for a trip to see family and later found out he had an affair with a transgender. A day before leaving on my trip he asked if i could stay with him, a few days later he had the transgender over (I saw the photos from our bedroom) and then proceeded to take this person on a very expensive luxury trip on our account. Similar to what he did to me when we first met and what he also did to the girlfriend before me. Presuming these trips are this way of capturing new narcissistic- supply.

    He even had me buy his sister a air ticket to come care for the child while he was going on this trip. Obviously he did not tell me he was going with someone.

    This is longer then I planned. Hope it can help other reader in the same situation.

    It is hard to realize that love was only something you gave and to a person incapable of returning those feeling to anyone but it is also helpful in realizing it and that no one should use their life with someone not capable of loving.

    In the end its very, very sad for a narcissist and the winner is always going to be the one that has the emotional register of loving and caring for others, that is what gives meaning to life.

    • Zari Ballard

      March 18, 2017 at 5:28 pm Reply

      Hi Female,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are so spot-in in how you now view the relationship between him and ex. YES, he absolutely did all those things, made her feel a certain way, manipulated and controlled the situation to his benefit…just as he has done with you and will do with everyone else he encounters until the day he dies. And while it may be “sad” that this is who he is, if he doesn’t worry about it, why should we??!! LOL Better to live our lives and make the most of it. The thing about these people is that the game just never gets old and therefore they have no problem just wasting our lives away. It can not be allowed because time flies too fast. before you know it, another year will have passed. So much better to be free!

      Btw, narcs seem have a “thing” about trannies, I swear to God. It’s so weird but it’s true! To a narc, it’s a no-boundaries, no-preference world!!!

      Stay strong and thank you so much for sharing your story…

      Zari xo

  • Steph

    October 2, 2016 at 6:18 am Reply

    I am in a very confusing situation and I don’t know where to turn.
    My husband of 7 years together 14. He is 50 in February and I just turned 40. He has a son 18 from first marriage. They divorced has she had a affair and to this day she still is with him.
    We have a daughter age 9.
    Now back in january he left me. Saying he need his space to think about our marriage and this other woman he said he had some kind of feelings for but didn’t know what kind. So he rented a flat with his son. Because of that I never thought that he lied about that . 5 weeks ago I find out this other woman was living with them. So they been living as a couple that long.
    Obviously he lied to her as well. Saying I knew and we don’t talk divorce as I didn’t want to and didn’t want to let him go. All those are lies.
    As to me he was saying he doesn’t want to talk divorce because we still got a chance and still got strong feelings for me.
    Now that her and I find out about each other he choose her.
    Even so he lied to her she believes he doesn’t anymore because she is using me. She will say to him that she will contact me to find out the truth.
    She said to me that she will trust him because she WANT TO and because she HAS to. To me that mean she still doesn’t.
    I also know she think she is safe because they go to work together, work together,has lunch together and lives together. Basically they do everything together.
    Because of his lies he can’t even have a alone time with our daughter which is hurtful as I know my daughter need that time.
    Saying that I know he lied to her still and hasn’t told her the while truth.
    He still texts me and emails me and calls me then deletes the logs so she won’t see that.
    Now the confuse part for me. He still say to me I am his best friend and soulmate and we are connected. And that he still cares and has feelings for me. Now what feelings I don’t know. But not much sparks.
    I also asked him why he was saying we can make it throught and be better and stronger than that when he was already living with her. He said because he meant it and believed it. So asked him why not giving us that chance and remove her from the picture so we could work at it. He said he doesn’t know. He also saying that being with her if a mistake then it’s his mistake to make???whatever that mean.

    He let her call him michael even so in all thise years tigether i never heard anyone calljng him that as he always hated it. So why let her????
    Same with clothes she been buying him a brand new wardrobe. And he let her. New name new clothes???

    Now if in love with her why keep lying/hidding things??
    He said that once he is on better ground with her as things are a bit shaky right now because of his lies he will introduce the fact I am his friend to her and believe she will accept it. Really???talk about living in dream land. I know she won’t.
    Now I know my emotions are all over the place so to be honest right now yes I would have him back. Might different in 6 months time.

    I also got this dreadful feeling that he is making the biggest mistake he has ever made.
    I believe we can still have that stronger and better. But like I said might be different later.

    I need to understand what all this mean. The texts me and hidding it to her???

    I know he lied to his dad about when they meet so neither of them are seen as a bad guys. Which to me come as they are still living a lie as neither of them are facing the truth.

    What does he mean about his feelings and best friends?I know it might be just that. But still a bit confused.

    What about hidding the texting??
    Why doesn’t he want to talk divorce??he said to much to sort out with her before we can talk about it??

    And can they last? Can they have a true relationship?
    She keep texting me to move on. Is that because she feel treaten by me in some way and if I move on then she is safe with him???

    Can you please give me some insight into all this???
    I am trying to get on with my life with my daughter but everytime I start it feel like I am being pulled back in by them. Her texting move on and is he telling the truth.
    By him when he says I don’t want to talk divorce right now and you are my best friend and soulmate and care a lot about you???

    Just don’t know where or what to do. Or even if there is a chance still to save marriage.
    Just so confused.

    • Zari Ballard

      October 12, 2016 at 12:29 pm Reply

      Hi Steph,

      Listen, this guy is stringing you hoping, hoping to keep you “in the queue” indefinitely because this is what narcissist’s do! You’ll never be able to convince him that he’s making a mistake because he’s going to do what he feels like doing in the moment. He’s a liar and you have wasted enough time with him. This “bad” behavior of his is as GOOD as it’s ever going to get so there is no “better and stronger”. We all want that and this is why we hang in there, wasting our lives away. He has no problem wasting your life while he does exactly as he pleases. Of course he lies to her AND to you. It’s really sickening. He is pathological and it must stop.

      You should start the divorce without him. File and get the ball rolling. If you were his “best friend and soul mate”, he’d be with YOU, not her. Narcissist’s always pull that one and why we fall for it I’ll never know. I did the same thing. Begin your life with your daughter and find the happiness that you deserve.

      Stay strong, sister!

      Zari xo

  • Connect4

    May 4, 2016 at 3:39 pm Reply

    Why are there so many of these men out there?

  • TooOldForThis

    April 26, 2016 at 4:40 am Reply

    Yes! Thank you so much for this post! I experienced the conpartmentalization with the dipship N that came into my life recently.

    He triangulated me with a much younger woman under the guise of helping or “mentoring” and when I emailed her helpful information outside of the original request, he went insane on me. Literally had a glimpse of the compartments because he told me I invaded his private life by emailing his friend and going on about how he seperates his friends from each other and his family. Each relationship is his “private” relationship and I disobeyed him by invading that privacy. But he set me up by triangulating me! Apeshit crazy town!

    When I ran into him yesterday he acted like I was a monster and when he said “It will take time to be friends” even though he was the one who hurt me and dumped me, I realized that in his weirdo mind, he really believes I am the the one who was wrong and I hurt him. It is not logical.

    We can’t help or fix them. Even if people say we are demonizing them by having blogs or commenting, we still need to have a place where we can “get it.”

    I think I am finally over wanting closure or validation from someone who treated me so badly in such a short amount of time. It hurt and made me feel dumb and pathetic, but in the end, we are really talking about adult people who act like they are in primary school.

    The danger, of course, is falling for another monster’s love bombing or even the same monster. Knowing that they are incapable or real love and real intimacy and replace it with intensity and drama is helpful.

    We can use these losers as a learning process. I realize what was so appealing for me, and I have also been looking into my past traumas. I needed validation but subconsciously I needed validation that I am worthless.

    fuck that. I am awesome! We all need to remember that even though the love bombing is not sincere, It is mirroring and everything was a projection of the person they wanted to steal, consume or destroy.

  • Ajarn Spencer

    March 3, 2016 at 3:42 am Reply

    I believe that the reason society, and especially corporate and governmental administrative bureaucracy, is becoming a blind sheep in a maze, is also due to compartmentalization
    fort example, try talking to Apple about a problem, asking your embassy for assistance, or even find which number to press for your particular issue on a automated telephone operator service. You will find that person a, b, and c, are not responsible or authorized to deal with your problem and; Pass the Parcel.
    This is perhaps an external world reflection of what has become a sick and Narcissistic Society that uses Compartmentalization to Perpetuate Complacency

    • Zari Ballard

      March 3, 2016 at 10:24 am Reply

      Hi Ajarn,

      Oh, I agree whole-heartedly. Narcissism is everywhere…it’s become part of the fabric of our society. I would take it a step further and say that our governments are filled not with narcissists but with sociopaths and psychopaths. The narcissists exist down here with us common folk…the general population. When certain narcissists become so polished that they can not only fool individuals but entire populations (big or small), they are rewarded with nefarious positions to match their escalating talents.

      Since I lean toward the conspiratorial side on many things, I’d have to take it even further and say that the sociopaths/psychopaths at the top have even proven that compartmentalization, at that level of evil, is no longer needed…that, in fact, a life of border-free (so to speak) living – where one can watch all one’s victims squirm together and amongst themselves all at once (free of compartments) – is much preferred. The agenda becomes that much more sinister.

      Oh I could go on and on and if this was a political blog I would. I probably have more to say about that than I even have to say about this!

      Thanks for writing…


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