The word “integrity” comes up in my office all the time. It is the word that comes up when your life from the outside does not match up with what you are thinking, feeling, believing and knowing on the inside. Sometimes it looks so different that trying to manage this dissonance becomes increasingly unmanageable. So much so that you may even find yourself resorting to substances to numb the discomfort, acting out of your character, or experiencing your body in a state of rebellion with an illness or other physical manifestations, such as panic attacks, digestive issues, heart palpitations, headaches, or fatigue.
How do you get out of integrity? This happens when you have made a departure from your inner truth or core values. In other words, you have lied to yourself or someone else. It’s not that you set out with the conscious intention to lie, but you may be a people-pleaser, one who avoids conflict at all costs, or someone who needs to be needed. These lies can be so subtle it may seem as though you are even doing someone else a favor, but in actuality you are in denial of the truth. You may also lie to yourself and make excuses for other’s bad behavior, pretend you have no needs, or play the martyr and rescue others to the detriment of yourself under the guise of “helping.” Other lies you might tell are when you report “I’m fine” (when you are clearly boiling inside), “It’s fine” (when you feel completely violated), or “Its not that big of a deal” (when you feel overlooked or even crushed inside).
You are out of integrity when you commit to a relationship that you know has serious red flags, or continue in one as you slowly die inside without speaking up. You are out of integrity when you stay in a job you hate or stay in a situation that you know is wrong for you but refuse to do anything to change it. It may happen when you blame someone else for a crisis you created, or when you choose to believe that what is not working in your life has nothing to do with you. You may also be out of integrity when you believe and act on what others say over what you know to be true about yourself, allow others in your life to define you, or project an image of an amazing life that has it all together, when you are actually in total breakdown (hint: the pictures on Facebook often paint a skewed version of what is really going on behind all those ecstatic faces.
Lying to yourself may sound like that internal dialogue that says you aren’t good enough, smart enough, or lovable enough. Or the critical voice that tells you that you are not worthy, deserving, or beautiful. How about the one that says you are a burden if you ask for what you want, or that no one is really interested in what you have to say? Or if you actually shared your Truth, everyone you care about will leave.
In your heart of hearts, do you believe these lies to be true? When you allow internal space for this type of self-examination and open up to the small voice within you that knows who you are beyond this egoic human experience, you begin to discover your Truth. I talk a lot about “Speaking Your Truth.” When you empower that inner voice to speak, and you actually listen to it and follow it, your internal state and your external state begin to match up. This is what being in integrity is all about.
So if you recognize yourself in any of the above scenarios, how might you bring yourself into integrity? Counseling can be an effective tool to help you gain clarity about this and to gain the courage to discover and share your Truth. In the meantime, here are 5 steps to get you on your way:
Tell the truth when its hard: You may be afraid of hurting someone you care about, or you may think that they “cannot handle the truth.” Give the person with whom you need to share your information the opportunity to decide that for themselves. Sparing them is not as altruistic as you may believe.
Tell the truth when its unpopular: There may be peer pressure, cultural norms and/or societal or family expectations that will be broken if you reveal what feels true for you. Holding it in only eats away at you. Maybe your Truth is that you are gay or that you don’t want to be married anymore and these topics just are not discussed around the dinner table. But to not say what is real about your experience denies your reality. Don’t punish yourself in order to “not rock the boat.” You might tip the boat over, but at least you are now in the waters of truth rather than in the boat of illusion.
Tell the truth when no one is looking: You might feel anonymous in your life, or behind a computer screen, but you know what you are up to. Hold yourself accountable and own the reality that you are creating. Allow yourself to live freely in the world rather than hide behind your own lies and secrets. If you can own your Truth when no one else is around, it is the first step to bringing it into the light and living in the open.
Tell the truth even if it turns your world upside down: Sometimes the decision to share your truth with your family members, partner, or co-worker is the right choice but its not the easiest choice. In fact, it might be absolutely terrifying. Many of you spend a lot of time in my office trying to come up with alternative solutions to telling the truth. You are sometimes more open to choices that keep everyone in the dark rather than risk the temporary discomfort and disruption of breaking the illusion. Meanwhile, you are crumbling inside. Realize that your world is being held right-side up by an illusion, by masked truths, and by denial on both sides. This is actually more destructive, even though it seems more comfortable. Take the risk.