Integrity is a skill, although understandably many people fail to see it as such. When we think of skills, we often recall those that seem easier to learn or develop, especially if there are numerous books or TED Talks on them, such as empathy. When I initially considered integrity, my mind instantly went to thoughts of ‘well isn’t that just who we are?’ And I’m not far wrong. In the book 7 Skills for the Future, author Emma-Sue Prince provides the following definition,
“The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. In this context, integrity is the inner sense of ‘wholeness’ stemming from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others ‘have integrity’ to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.”
To achieve integrity, we first have to understand who we are and then choose to live by this template. As someone who has experienced depression and today works as a Life Coach who specialises in mental health, I and many of my clients find integrity one of these most challenging characteristics to define and ultimately achieve. Once we have gained an understanding of what integrity is we feel a sense of disappointment, the realisation integrity has been something we have sacrificed for so long and no less so now that we are experiencing or recovering from depression.
Integrity is like a friend that has lived within us and often had the solution to us living with more authenticity and fulfilment, but we have sacrificed this relationship for relationships in the outside world – our family, friends, and colleagues.
For someone with depression, and potentially for many people who haven’t experienced a mental health challenge, we rarely understand our values. What is fundamentally important to us? I believe a high proportion of stress, anxiety, and depression links to forcing ourselves either consciously or unconsciously to act or behave in a way which is in direct conflict with our values. Leading to a lack of integrity and the resulting conflict this creates within us.
Defining our values and then reviewing each area of our life to ascertain how closely we are meeting these leads to a level of self-discovery that can be both alarming and overwhelming. During my training as a coach, I recall moments where the masks I wore for other people, which were numerous, slowly slipped away and I was filled with a sense of fear or not knowing who was underneath. There was a sense I wouldn’t know how to ‘be’ with the people around me as I had always been what they expected rather than who I was. In that moment and to today, I realise I’d identified one of the core reasons for my depression.
Add to this that a person with depression, to survive, will often feel like they have no choice to but to make decisions that further breach what remains of their integrity. People would ask me how I was to which I would respond I was fine. I would call into work and say I ‘d been up all night with sickness and diarrhoea when secretly I couldn’t face wearing a mask to work. I’d use similar excuses to avoid social engagements with friends and family, knowing days in advance I wouldn’t be able to make it yet leaving cancelling to last minute.
I was escaping a life that lacked integrity by making choices that lacked integrity. The proverbial ‘adding insult to injury’.
As with all the advice I share in my articles, it is best followed when we’re mentally resilient although it may support you in breaking free from a tough time. I often remark to my clients, ‘you can’t train for a fight while you’re fighting.’
If you haven’t yet cultivated a life lived with integrity it’s going to be work, but it’s the best sort of work to commit to as the payoff is huge. If there is such a thing as a quick win, and I said quick, not easy, it would have to be being honest. Begin by being honest to yourself and others.
If someone asks you how you are, tell them you’re finding it tough, arguably you’ll knock them off their feet, but you never know they might offer to help. If they want to help but express not knowing where to start, send them my article on empathy! If you can’t handle work, have an open and honest conversation with a colleague, HR, or your manager. Most organisations will proactively support employees with mental health challenges. If someone invites you to something and you know your head isn’t in the right place, politely decline and give an honest reason. I’ve lost count of the increased respect I have received by openly saying to people ‘I’m not socialising this month, I need to focus on taking some time out and looking after myself.’ The most common response? ‘That sounds amazing; I should do that.’
In the book mentioned earlier by Emma-Sue Prince, she provides seven steps to integrity and I challenge you to see how many you are achieving consistently,
- Start with working out what your values are
- Be responsible
- If you have to let someone down, do it with integrity
- Be personally accountable… stop assigning blame
- Start with yourself
- Be boring… by being consistent, reliable and predictable
- Manage expectations… of yourself and others
In summary, there is a vicious cycle at play here. Not living with integrity can cause us to experience a mental health challenge as our brains do not like actions or behaviours which are in direct conflict with our values and beliefs. When we begin to experience a mental health challenge we often retreat into dishonesty, out of fear; of rejection, of appearing weak or making people uncomfortable. When depression takes hold, the symptoms themselves are in direct conflict with our beliefs and values. Motivation is replaced with procrastination, energy with tiredness, solutions with problems. the future with the past, and the list goes on. This cycle evidences on thing and one thing alone, the necessity to understand ourselves, how we achieve integrity and then a wholehearted commitment to a life lived on our terms.
Warning: Achieving and maintaining integrity may lead to the following side effects: fulfilment, happiness, authenticity, honesty, accountability, and respect.