Bones Theory

I Ask, You Answer-Brennan and Compartmentalization


{Edit from Sarah/Seels: So, good news/ bad news/more good news/some bad news/more good news.

I got a nice promotion at my job.

It’s going to make me very busy.

Bones is on a hiatus, which means I can chill a little.

Bones is on a hiatus until November, which means we’ll be plenty chilled.

There is a LOT to talk about–Bones wise.

Pal Sophia had an idea to throw out some ‘essay’ questions every once in awhile to encourage discussion. These would differ from the MAQs in that the poster (in this case (believe it or not, considering how many words this intro is), not me) will not toss out ideas for replies but just a single question or prompt. A lot of times you might see something like YAIA or “You Asked, I Answered” for a celebrity interview. But this time, you’re the celebrities and Sophia is asking YOU to answer. Ready?}

  • Brennan is often said to ‘compartmentalise’. What do you think this means? Is it true?

24 thoughts on “I Ask, You Answer-Brennan and Compartmentalization

  1. Brennan is often said to ‘compartmentalize’. What do you think this means? Is it true?

    Brennan says she can compartmentalize; but, sometimes I think that is simply not true. She does make an effort to separate her feelings from hurtful things; but, she is not always successful.

    In The Boneless Bride In The River, when she was telling Sully that she wouldn’t go with him, she was clearly upset and once he left the room, she cried. Brennan clearly does feel pain and the hurt of abandonment, even if she is the one causing the abandonment.

    We also saw in The Pain In The Heart, that she was very upset with Booth for not letting her know that he wasn’t dead. She had felt the pain and anger of abandonment when it looked like Booth was dead. Her anger at Booth was the result of not being able to compartmentalize her anger and pain after all. When Sweets told her that he had not told her that Booth was dead, he told her it was because he knew she could handle it. Clearly she could not.

    Brennan feels the hurt and pain that we all do. Most of the time, she deludes herself by telling herself that the pain and hurt she feels isn’t important. That she is rational and that she can “handle it”. The truth is, she does feel everything; but, she hides it from everyone else. She can appear cold and unfeeling. Booth knows her and knows that she does feel hurt, she does feel pain. He wants the world to see what he sees. He wants the world to see that Brennan is a very caring person. She has come to realize that she is not any less the Brennan she wants to be if she does let people know how she feels about them. She doesn’t want to be a cold fish. She wants to be Iceland.

  2. I think Brennan can compartmentalizeat times, but not when Booth is concerned. I think he touches her at a deeper level that prevents her from being able to hide her feelings. I think she was better at it before meeting him, but since he opened her up to her feelings, she struggles to get to the same level of compartmentalization.

    I think it is easier for her to compartmentalize when the situation is work related, because I think she has much practice in that type of situation. In BiaB, she tells Zack that he needs to distance himself from the remains, so he can continue to work. This is a situation that she has faced so frequently, that she can close herself off to those feelings. I wonder if she goes home on days like that and cries, when she is all alone.

    I think Booth knows this about her and that was the reason he told her she was going home with him in HitH. He knows how strongly she feels pain, and he didn’t want her alone.

    There are so many scenes that we are not shown, and I wonder if she has told him about her feelings, or he has maybe experienced her breakdown on occasion.

  3. I think Pain in the Heart is a good example of Brennan’s “compartmentalization.” One the outside, Brennan can appear like she isn’t hurting. She isn’t openly grieving for Booth. She can still identify remains. She doesn’t cry at his funeral. There is a part of her brain that allows her to continue to work in an almost robotic-like manner. She can get things done. But, she DOES grieve and feel his loss. I think that Brennan’s feelings throughout the funeral and her anger afterwards clearly demonstrate that she did feel his loss.

    There are so many other examples including: The Man in the Fallout Shelter, The Sign in the Silence, The Boy with the Answer, etc. Her bursts of anger show us that she isn’t as cold as some people may think she is.

  4. I think where the original question materialised from is that we’ve heard people describe Brennan as ‘able to compartmentalise’ loads of times (who said it first I wonder?) and to start with, this IAYA question came directly from my wondering what that actually means?

    Does it mean she puts her feelings ‘in a box’ to deal with later? Does she actually deal with them later or does she put her ‘head in the sand’ and ignore them, hoping they’ll go away? Is it a skill, or is it something that keeps her at arms length from everyone around her?

    When people say she’s able to compartmentalise, is it a compliment?

    Conversely, people often say that her ability to compartmentalise means that people don’t get to see how much she cares. Does she care more than other people or the normal amount? Do we think of her as actually more sensitive than most people simply because we rarely see a very emotional response? For instance, Angela wears her pain on her sleeve. Does this mean she feels it more, less, or the same amount as Brennan?

    It is a sexism thing? No one says much about Booth compartmentalising, and yet he does it almost as well as Brennan. Do we expect men to be able to deal with things like gruesome murder and bodies better or do we accuse Brennan of ‘compartmentalising’ because she doesn’t react in a typically ‘female’ way?

    These are the questions that fly around my head and led me to reach out to Sarah to hope for some help resolving them from the super-smart BT crew 🙂

    • I think Sweets started it. 🙂 He, Booth, and Brennan have the following conversation in The Verdict in the Story during which I think he essentially describes what compartmentalization looks like (without actually naming it):

      Brennan: I’m fine.
      Sweets: If you were fine, you’d be balled up in a corner, weeping or semi-catatonic.
      Brennan: [turning to Booth] Does that sound fine to you?
      Booth: I’m sorry, Bones, but I’m going to have to agree with Sweets on this one.
      Sweets: I think it’s important for you to know that *we* know that the colder and more objective you appear on the outside, the more pain you feel on the inside.
      Brennan: I’m fine!
      Sweets: No, you’re not!

      I believe he first uses the term compartmentalization in The Pain in the Heart when he’s explaining why Brennan is seemingly unaffected by Booth’s death/funeral.

      So compartmentalization isn’t about NOT feeling, it’s about denying what you DO feel…if that makes any sense at all.

      I suppose the concept may have been mentioned by someone other than Sweets before Verdict/Pain, but if it was, I don’t remember who or when.

      • Actually, Brennan was the first one to say she can compartmentalize in Headless Witch in the Woods. She said she can do that when she was having coffee with the victim’s brother, comparing the situation with Booth dating Cam at that time. I guess she meant she can seperate business and pleasure.

  5. In a broad sense, I see compartmentalization as the ability to separate feelings from actions. And right up until the end of season five, I think Brennan was particularly good at doing just that. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel at all – because she very clearly did, and at times very strongly – it was that once she began to feel threatened by the intensity of those feelings, she was very good at tucking them away into a box and essentially pretending they didn’t exist, thus making a conscious decision to not let those feelings dictate her actions. Denial baby! It ain’t just a river in Egypt. I think we saw her do it to some degree with her father, with Sully, and with some of her more difficult cases. But she did it the most with Booth.

    Two examples (pertaining to Booth) that come to mind are:

    1. The end of the season 4 finale. I’ve mentioned before that I believe the moment when Brennan looked at Booth just before she deleted her book is the moment when she realized that she loved him. Deleting the book was the moment when she consciously chose to not do anything about it.

    2. The episodes following the 100th. I think the decision Brennan made at the end of the 100th episode (to reject Booth’s offer of a romantic relationship) clearly caused her a lot of pain. Her seemingly cruel actions towards Booth between the 100th and the finale were merely a result of her ability to tuck those feelings away and pretend they didn’t matter.

    But then her “composure” starts to crumble in the finale and she runs away. She comes back in Mastodon, presumably having rethought her decision in the 100th, only to find out that Booth has “moved on.” She tries to re-compartmentalize (a la The Couple in the Cave), but this time it doesn’t work, and she’s left struggling with the intensity of her feelings until that moment in the SUV at the end of The Doctor in the Photo when she finally decides to own them.

  6. ps: CONGRATULATIONS Sarah on your promotion, really pleased for you 🙂 Keep us posted on how it’s going!

  7. I think I agree with Lenora. There’s a difference in compartmentalizing and just hiding your feelings. Brennan feels, very deeply. She just doesn’t let other people know – or at least, very many people know, about those feelings.

  8. Great question!

    I think the Brennan version of ‘compartmentalize’ is to put up obstacles/walls up to keep her from being too attached to others/feeling too much/being uncomfortable/opening herself up to pain, sadness, or even love as this can bring pain/sadness.

    Her parents’ (and in her mind, Russ’) abandonment, and her foster experience, hurt her at a key point in her development such that it changed her whole life and way of being. She shut herself up, put her heart in a box, so she’d never have to feel that awful way again. Unfortunately (for her compartmentalizing) she met folks like Zach, Angela, all the team, and of course Booth, who kept pushing at those walls, and even though she pushed back (100 ep, anyone), eventually, those walls started coming down.

    • Of course we know, she’s full of crap. haha Although she did have those walls up, she still felt/feels things, and perhaps her walls were made of Reynolds wrap, well at least to Booth. He could see right through her walls. 🙂

      So I do believe her compartmentalizing was real to her, that was her real defense mechanism…her walls were not as confining as she herself thought them to be. And that’s the endearing thing about our lil Brennan!

  9. Congratulations on your promotion Sarah!

  10. Sarah, congratulations on your promotion, and Sophia, very nice idea. They say variety is the spice of life!

    I’ve always thought that Brennan feels too much; just look at how quickly she became attached to Ripley the dog, or baby Andy, for that matter. She became so invested in them that letting go was incredibly difficult. As someone who cries at the drop of a hat and can’t read the news without feeling aghast by much of what’s in print, I totally relate to her defense mechanism. You force yourself to stay rational and emotionally distant when confronted by things that are too intense, at least whenever you can help it. It’s a conscious decision you make not to think about something on an emotional level unless you’re feeling particularly able to to come out of it quickly and without a bruised heart, or unless it’s “safe” to indulge in those kind of feelings. Sometimes “going there” can’t be helped, but this Jedi mind-trick has kept me from seeming like a lunatic on many occasions.

    For Brennan, Booth has become her “safe” zone because she trusts him when he tells her that she won’t be alone if she lets herself acknowledge pain; he’ll be there for her. In Doctor in the Photo, he wasn’t able to be there for her in the way that she was used to and this is where she realized how strong she really was emotionally. She essentially went to hell and back by herself, probably for the first time since her parents left. That she came out of it ok and was still able to function and remain a support for Booth must have been eye-opening for her: she was stronger that she ever thought possible. It also gave her the courage to make the first move (not counting the tommy guns!) in Blizzard.

    • Maria, remember this from Cam to Booth: Cam: Be sure about your feelings because if you crack that shell, and you change your mind she’ll, die of loneliness before she’ll trust anyone ever again.

      Some of us when we saw this scene, really believed to this to be true. Brennan hid her feelings from almost everyone in her life and most considered her able to compartmentalize her feelings from everything hurtful. The biggest fear from those around her was that if she ever stopped doing that, it would destroy her. Imagine our surprise when we saw Brennan have her breakdown in Doctor In The Photo and she actually grew stronger from the experience. Her reliance on Booth to help her emotionally seemed to be a crutch that she wouldn’t let go of and yet when Booth needed help, Brennan was the one that Booth ended up relying on. I think her realizing that “feeling things” is ok for her and everyone else she likes and loves.

      I do agree with Kimberly though. She could never do her job if she couldn’t step back emotionally from the tragedy she saw in her line of work most of the time. She probably fears investing herself in the victims she works with. Of course, we have seen her do it over and over again and she does feel for the victims

      • Your comment makes me think about her fear of snakes, Lenora. She only lets herself be afraid of them when Booth’s around! (Heck, I’d jump three feet up in the air over a ladybug if he was there to catch me…) As to the stepping back, she’s not the only one who does it. I hear time and again that many emergency personnel say the most inappropriate things to relieve tension during a crisis. For her, it’s getting all clinical.

  11. I think, in addition to compartmentalizing, which everyone has already described so well, Brennan isn’t a good communicator. She feels all of these emotions, but can’t express them as accurately, or as fully, as other people can. She tells one of the squinterns in The Signs in the Silence that if she could express her feelings, she would, as it seems to make other people feel better. Brennan has developed a lot over these six seasons, and her ability to recognize that expressing emotions isn’t just for herself, but for the people around her, is very important.

    • I think you bring up a good point. Brennan is very blunt and truthful. This can come across as cold when she may mean to do the exact opposite. She is also is puzzled by beliefs not her own and sometimes this makes her act or say something that may appear to be offensive. We can remember when she was at the funeral at the end of the episode “The Double Death of the Dearly Departed”. Heaven was mentioned and she looked up and around. Booth tried to give her a look to make her stop; but, this just puzzled her. She wasn’t being offensive, just curious.

  12. People have already made great comments, so far.

    There are two other instances where how she deals with life comes up:

    1. In Harbingers, Avalon tells her that her top layer is rational, but underneath Brennan is “as crazy as I am” [Avalon]. She continues “…and that’s a compliment!”, to which Brennan mutters back “Doesn’t sound like one.” Haha! That’s one of my favorite lines.

    2. Sweets tells her in tGitG (when he mediates between her and Angela) that she deals with the chaos/mess/difficulties of life by throwing a “web of rationality” over it all. Brennan doesn’t outright tell him he’s speaking nonsense, so maybe there’s something to that.
    [I don’t want to get into it about Sweets, because a lot of people really love him, so I will refrain from listing what I feel are too many instances where Sweets has said something that slighted Brennan’s character; Brennan has many times slighted his profession, but not his character.]

    I think I agree with what people have been saying here: compartmentalizing is great for her job, but when it comes to her personal life, she’s not nearly as good at it as she used to be. I think that really scared her in the Gravedigger case, because she felt like it was affecting her work, which is a large part of how she identifies herself. But since her eyes have been opened to what she’s been missing out on, she’s been struggling with how to give of herself without losing herself, and we will probably still see some of that even though she’s with Booth now.

    I really like what someone said earlier about how Brennan went through hell and back on her own because Booth couldn’t be there how he normally was, and how that experience taught her how strong she is. In spite of her pain, she was strong enough to support Booth when he needed it. In the Pinocchio episode, his heartfelt thanks was unexpected and really nice to hear. Her reaction made me feel like it wasn’t easy for her to do it, but she was putting him before herself. And when she says “I’m an exceptional partner,” I chuckle. But

    • I guess I should finish that thought…
      But instead of chuckling at her statement (because he knows better than to be shocked), he agrees very seriously, “Yes, you are.” Like he already thinks that and she didn’t have to tell him. I think that’s pretty special. They still mean a lot to each other.

  13. More to say…
    I’m glad that (almost) everybody here recognizes she needs to compartmentalize to do her job well. Brennan isn’t at the top of her field just because she’s a genius. She’s at the top of her field because a) she worked her butt of, and b) her ability to compartmentalize allows her to be as objective as she can in analyzing remains/evidence, which is crucial in interpretation of the results. As a scientist, she strives for excellence by way of accuracy.

    This is one thing I never want them to change about her character. I don’t mind shifted priorities, but the Dr. Brennan I met was the “best in the world” and I want it to stay that way (for as long as the show lasts). She’s so good she would only go to anthropology camp to meet herself, lol. If the show ever loses that aspect about her, that would make me the most disappointed. I don’t even care if she changes her mind on marriage 😉 .

    • I don’t even know if it would be a matter of “changing her mind about marriage”, C-bones. Like how she always says its a good thing she likes to be alone because she is alone, etc….she says these things to “compartmentalize”, but is that truly how she feels? If its an equal partnership between two people (aka like what she already has with Booth), would she truly be opposed to it? I mean, hey, if we’re gonna have baby Booth here next season, I’m going for it all! 🙂 haha

    • haha, I totally agree! I loved the way Brennan says that too, completely free of modesty but also free of arrogance. It’s just a fact. She’s the best, but if she weren’t she would want to meet the best, haha! I can’t remember the name of the episode but it’s the one with the pirates in season 1 and the remains get stolen and Brennan goes crazy and she’s says something like, “I could have gone to Stanford, you know,” or something like that to Goodman and I just crack up. No an ounce of modesty to her, but hey she could have gone to Stanford, that says it all, right? lol!

  14. I love this concept! I’ll have to come back when I have more brain power to come up with a response to the question, but I wanted to say congratulations on the promotion, Sarah! 🙂

  15. Congrats Sarah!
    Sometimes I think Brennan can compartmentalize just fine — especially when she wants to distance herself from the pain of a particular case. But those cases are usually not personal. Boy with the Answer shows a truer version of herself because the case is personal and the enormity of it overwhelming. She has nightmares about trying to save Booth and Hodgins from the gravedigger but fears she won’t be able. I was so happy she was able to share that with Booth and that he understood her fears and comforted her. Then in Beginning in the End, she is able to tell Angela (though she can’t tell Booth) that part of the reason she is going to Maluku is because she needs some distance to evaluate everything. Clearly she is having trouble compartmentalizing then. Also, she is able to tell Hodgins ‘I love you too’ when he gives her the list of bugs, etc at the airport. I think she has used compartmentalizing in the past as part of her walls she constructed. Now that she realizes it is worth it to let people in and let herself feel, she won’t need to compartmentalize as much. I am looking forward to that.

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