I know what the word “integrity” means, but I don’t think I understood clearly what it meant to “live with integrity” until recently.
I understand that having integrity can mean “being principled” and “doing the right thing”, but living with integrity is different. My current thinking about this is that integrity is about having all of the parts of yourself in alignment, integrated with each other, and there being harmony in that wholeness.
When I am with another person, someone I care about deeply, and I think to myself, “I really want to tell them how much they mean to me”, or “I shouldn’t have said that and I want to apologize”, but I stop myself because I don’t have the right words, or I can’t find the right moment, that is part of myself not being in alignment with the other parts. That is a sign that I am not living within my values, not being a fully integrated person, not living with integrity.
My work on my recovery from food addiction has helped me understand this concept of integrity, in terms of this wholeness, and has helped me recognize when I am stepping out of alignment. Once I have the awareness of this lack of integrity, I can do something about it. There is usually some kind of fear, doubt, or insecurity that stops me from saying the thing that I really want to say. If I can identify that thought or feeling and face it head-on, I can get myself to the point of saying the thing I want to say.
For example, I might have said something sharp, or critical, or judgmental to someone I care about, or even to some random person on the street. I think of myself as someone who is kind and compassionate, and who cares a great deal about her loved ones, and about being a good member of society. Those are my values, but if I am going around with a sharp tongue — to my friends or to others in the world — then I am not living within my own values. This is the first point of awareness. If I can get myself there, I can realize that I need to apologize for my actions — and that is where the fear, doubt, and insecurity come in. I can think to myself, okay Shaney, you’ve said something hurtful, now you have to apologize.
- “BUT the moment has passed.”
- “BUT if I say something now, it’s just going to be weird.”
- “BUT I don’t know what to say.”
- “BUT they are going to think I’m weird/crazy/…”
- “BUT, BUT, BUT…”
These BUTs, and the “fussiness” that I now feel in my head about this situation, are a clear sign that I am now not living with integrity. I have done something against my own values and I now have compounded the situation by not taking any corrective action and my head is spinning and my heart is pounding and there’s a knot in my stomach. And even worse, this is all likely happening when I am still with this person, so now I am all up in my head and I am not even properly engaging with them because of all the noise up there.
So, what do I do?
In the past, I would almost always do nothing. I would stop at the point of knowing that I needed to apologize, and the mountain of BUTs would rise up before me and make it impossible for me to take the next step.
These days, I am trying to do this differently. If I can get myself to the point of having awareness of this scenario playing out (and it happens more often than I would like to admit), I can take some deep breaths and say to myself, “Shaney, you are out of alignment. You are not living according to your values. You are not living with integrity. Apologize.” And then I just need to apologize. It’s not actually that hard, and I don’t need to overthink it. I literally just need to say, “I’m sorry”.
So far, I have never regretted it. The timing of the apology may have been weird, as the conversation may have gone on to something else, and I might not have had the exact right words, but just the act of saying, “I’m sorry” — even blurting it out just like that — is the key to getting back to living in harmony with my values, to being whole, to living with integrity.
And when I live with integrity, I can use that as a foundation for building other good things in my life.