I like to joke about what I call ‘Therapyland,’ the world of self-help, self-care, and self-confrontation that I live and work in. Therapyland–like all cultures–has a language: ‘differentiation‘ is a good example of a Therapyland word that most normal, non-Therapyland people don’t use.
Here’s another one: ‘integrity.’ This is a word that is used by normal people–not just counselors like me. And it usually means what you think it means: to have integrity is to be honorable, trustworthy, reliable, a generally good and honest person. But in Therapyland, I think there’s a second shade of meaning to this word.
In my work with clients, I talk about ‘integrity’ as holding yourself together, or to say it metaphorically, having all your ducks in a row. If you have low integrity, you might be a very honest person–a trustworthy person–but you’re making big mistakes in your relationship, or you’re falling under the weight of an addiction, or you’re having a horrible time working through your grief years after losing someone, or you’re still deeply resentful about a wound or insult you suffered long ago… In all of these examples, the problem is an integration/integrity problem: you haven’t integrated something into your life, or into your self.
For example, I will never “get over” my mother’s death thirteen years ago, if “getting over it” means being totally fine with it and unaware or unconcerned about that loss. But I have integrated it: I am not preoccupied with it to the point where I can’t function, or even (God rest her!) preoccupied with it at all. Sometimes I’m reminded of it and get emotional, but that’s normal–even wonderful. But I’m able to walk on this planet and interact with other human beings without that wound staying open, and bleeding. In this dimension of my life, I have integrity.
Sometimes having ‘low integrity’ is appropriate. When my mother died, I had plenty of ‘low integrity’ in the following weeks and months. That’s supposed to happen. Sometimes we’re supposed to fall apart. But at some point the developmental task we face is to integrate that upsetting event–or that challenging relationship behavior, or that problem we have with substance use–into our life. We’re supposed to get that duck in line with all the others.
How are you working on ‘integrity’ these days?