Integrity – striving to live your truth
Integrity is a concept that many of us struggle with, particularly when we may be in a place where we are unable to identify our needs, or perhaps we feel like we say 'yes' when we should say no, thereby compromising our integrity.
Many people feel guided by societal norms and the expectations of 'right and wrong' set by parents, friends, partners or colleagues. If you've read any of my stories in the Sunday Journal, you'll know that I spent a lot of my life searching for myself through the approval of others, only to be met by confusion and a sense that I was always disappointing someone, or that I wasn't 'enough'. There is always 'instinct', but when you're a little lost, that's hard to trust, so the identification of what makes you happy and the knowledge of how to protect that is important. I discovered how to do this in therapy and in the very first Sunday Surgery, I have asked a therapist that I know and trust to talk about building integrity and what it means to live authentically and define your 'authentic self'. I think it's a great read, written by Jodie Cariss, a therapist with 15 years' experience, who is the founder of Self Space.
Let me know what you think... Emma x
What does living a life with integrity actually mean? How can living with integrity have a real, tangible and meaning to us?
Let's take a look at integrity in terms of the principles that you live by.
In a fast paced-world where we often find ourselves comparing our lives with others', and finding that others' perceived or actual thoughts define us more than we define ourselves, it can be difficult even to know where to start. That’s OK. To develop personal integrity can take some time, energy and sometimes it may feel like you're walking in the dark. It takes time to get to know yourself.
Integrity and wholeness: Self-acceptance
Psychology Today has written that we can only have integrity and wholeness when parts of our self are integrated. Again this can feel daunting: we bury parts of ourselves we do not like, think others would not accept, or that we find too difficult to think about.
However, the article states that 'the self must harmoniously incorporate – not be sabotaged by – its different parts'. This means to develop integrity, we need self-acceptance. We know that can be really tough sometimes.
If we have more acceptance for ourselves (which includes our thoughts, feelings, actions, loves, joys and hates), we will have a stronger sense of self. Living closer to our truth is living with integrity.
The less we compromise our integrity, the more strength and resilience we have to maintain our mental health. Examples of things that move us further away from our integrity are: constantly accommodating others' needs; being disconnected from our feelings; and not questioning others’ thoughts about us and having them shape our self-identity. Compromising our integrity decreases our resilience, and can make us more vulnerable to shame, low self-esteem and negative thoughts. These can then stimulate more challenging emotions and states of mind, and compromise mental wellness.
Building our integrity: saying yes and no
By setting yourself some core values connected to the things that have energy around them for you is a really good start. Things that have drawn you into compromised situations before or feel like cycles repeating is often a good position to start from. I received a CV from an intern some years ago and, under the section 'a bit about you', she had written:
● I only say yes to things I really want to do
● I always do what I say I’m going to do
● I am mostly never late
Each point is connected. For example, if you don’t want to do something, you are more likely not going to do it or be late for it. Setting boundaries such as these can have a very significant impact on our emotional world. If we are not late because we only do things we really want to do, we avoid the feelings of chaos, guilt and manic overcompensating that we can experience when we are late. We then feel calmer. Saying yes only to things you really want to do connects you back to yourself. It may take some time for you to work out what it is you really want and need.
Of course, an obstacle here to surmount is that saying 'no' to people you may not want to disappoint may feel very difficult, if not impossible. Sometimes it isn’t possible. However, by articulating why you feel the way you do is acting with integrity. We all want to feel integrated and not fragmented, and therefore we are drawn to people who have integrity.
What is also really important when you do realign your value system is that you don't judge others by your own values. Your boundaries are designed to support your internal structure. Other people will have their own. So, if people are late, it might be helpful to question whether you are imposing your personal expectations on to them.
Equally, try not to allow rigidity of your integrity to shame you and manifest into something that negatively impacts the way you feel. For example, if you lapse for a period or let things slide for a while, that’s OK. What really matters is you noticing how that makes you feel and trying to take some action to help yourself. Be compassionate to yourself.
Integrity: growth and evolution
As we grow, develop and experience new people, places and things, our sense of self evolves, and so the process of integrating parts of ourselves and nurturing self-acceptance is continuous.
It is really useful to freshen up your boundaries and principles, challenge your status quo, and use emotional responses to events and people to re-address the founding aspects of your integrity, so that you can grow, evolve and thrive.
Sometimes we don’t know what we want, so we don’t know how to set our boundaries. Sometimes we feel lost, so we don’t know what we want or need in the first place. This can be especially true when we are in exceptional circumstances, under stress, experiencing something we have not experienced before, unwell, run-down or being treated badly by others. Making time for you and investing in rest, investing in self-care and in anything that gives you space to notice what it is you want, and to be able to have that is important. You deserve it.