My mother used to say, “There is no rest for the wicked.” Religious views and centuries of shame aside, when we step out of integrity, we are cast out on the turbulent seas of our own making. The level of that turbulence will be in relationship to what we know is right.
Having integrity is not about following someone else’s view of what is right or wrong, even if that person is a spiritual teacher, a parent, or a good friend. It is not about following a doctrine or a diet. It is listening to the truth of our heart and the wisdom of our soul in the process of choosing what is right and good.
It can be easy to berate ourselves when we notice a step out of integrity. The right step being so obvious, how could we, why would we, choose another way? But these momentary lapses of judgment represent areas where we have not yet blossomed into the fullness of who we might one day be.
In this moment, we do not yet have the strength to realize the highest and most noble aspects of ourselves. These moments also serve to alert us to what work still needs to be done, where there is a need to strengthen our resolve and let go of our baggage.
When we attack ourselves for our mistakes, we are not able to learn as fully from them. We divert our attention from the important task at hand, which is bringing ourselves back into integrity so that we might once again be able to benefit from the well-being it bestows.
It is helpful to remember that if we innocently make a mistake, this has a different effect than when we knowingly act in ways that are out of integrity. It makes no sense to judge ourselves harshly for something we were simply unaware of. However, once we recognize our errors, we are responsible for and to them.
It does not matter how much we try to fool ourselves: we know what is right. We know when we have chosen to act in ways that are wrong. We feel the impact whether we try to hide it or not. If we play cat-and-mouse games with the truth, we are deeply out of integrity. And although we can do so for a lifetime, at some point, there will be a reckoning.
Accountability is a central mechanism of integrity.
The path of integrity requires taking responsibility for our actions with compassion for the parts of ourselves that are still growing. We do not let ourselves off the hook, but we understand that sometimes we will fail. Mistake are inevitable; our job is simply to correct ourselves and get back on track.
This can be hard work in a world where integrity seems scarce. It can be challenging to know what is right, and even more challenging to follow through on that. While we can be aided to act with integrity by those around us, the true answers to what is right can be found in our hearts.
In a world where so many people so often act in contrast to their values, we might also wonder if is it even safe to try to act with integrity ourselves. Are we not putting a lamb before a wolf? What is the price that we might pay to try in this kind of world?
However, integrity offers its own protection.
This does not mean that harm will not come your way or that you will not get confused in situations that are designed to confuse you, because even the best of us fall or get taken down sometimes.
Being in integrity means that your heart is clear and therefore less easily taken advantage of. It means your mind is clear and therefore less easily corrupted. It means you know the truth of who you are and therefore are not a pawn for others.
Integrity is a blazing sword of protection and clarity. To wield it, we need to deeply respect ourselves and others. And, from this place of respect, choose to do what is right—plain and simple—each time we are faced with a choice.
To have this is to have an inner peace regardless of the circumstances.
If we want to accept ourselves more it is helpful to see how we do not accept ourselves. Answer the following prompts to see where you might not be accepting of yourself .
• One thing I have a difficult time accepting about my life, but deep
down know is true, is:
• Some of the things I feel I need to accept about my life that may be
difficult to accept are:
• The reason I know these things are difficult to accept is:
• I will know that I have fully accepted these things about my life when:
• This stops me from accepting these things about my life:
• I would accept these things about my life if only:
• I am afraid that, if I accept these things about my life, then:
Integrity: 1.) The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
2.) The state of being whole and undivided (Dictionary.com).
Integrity is doing what is right each time you have a choice—or otherwise, it’s owning up to your mistakes and making amends. The following is a list of things that you can do to have greater integrity in all areas of your life.
Do what you say you are going to do. When you make a commitment, stand by it. Yes, it is true that things happen and plans change. Sometimes you will need to break a commitment because it is the choice that has more integrity, but this should be the exception, not the rule. If you make lots of false promises or do not follow through on what you say, it might be time to buckle down and make some changes.
Be who you say you are. Similar to the last point, don’t present yourself as something you are not—in big or small ways. Learn to honestly portray yourself; if that is difficult, explore your insecurities or lack of self worth.
Tell the truth. This does not mean you need to crush people under the truth of your personal perspective—just be honest and forthright in all of your dealings.
Clean up your messes. Mistakes happen. Yes, it is better to prevent them—but when they do happen, you should own up, apologize, make amends, and do whatever else needs be done to take responsibility for your part.
Don’t take responsibility for what is not your fault. You are not obligated to take all the responsibility for a situation wherein you are not the sole actor. This would just be lying to yourself in a different way. Own your own mistakes, and let other people own theirs.
Know your shadow. Our shadow is the part of us that we do not see. Mostly, it contains the parts of us that are considered socially unacceptable or too painful to know and integrate into ourselves. When we do not know our shadow, it leaks out in ways that we are not aware of, which can cause harm. When we know what we have put in shadow, we can choose not to use it or we may put it in service of the higher good.
It is impossible to make it through a day without making some kind of error in judgment. You spill coffee, knock something over, forget to do things, and the list goes on. If you are really self-critical, you might hold onto these small errors, but most often they can easily be let go of.
However, the bigger mistakes are often not as easy to excuse. You might hurt someone you care about, make a poor ethical choice, or make a bad business decision. Sometimes, you hold onto these mistakes for years, unable to forgive yourself.
Just as forgiving others can set us free, so can learning to forgive ourselves. The following are some steps that you can take to clear the slate through self-forgiveness.
Give yourself space to grieve your losses. When you make a mistake, you are usually aware of it because it causes some type of pain. You may lose a trusted friend, self-respect, or an opportunity. Giving ourselves time to grieve what we have lost honors not just the part of us that made the mistake but also the part of us that has lost something because of it. When you acknowledge what you have lost and give yourself time to grieve, it softens you.
Understand why/what motivated you. Sometimes you make a mistake because of a lack of insight or information. Sometimes you make a mistake because of emotional pressure or intensity. But very often there is a clear understanding that you did not do the right thing. Understanding why you made the mistake allows you to empathize with yourself for the choice. It also helps you understand how you can avoid doing it again in the future.
See the intelligence behind your choices. It might be hard, if you just did something that you consider really stupid, to find the intelligence in it. While it might be a stretch in some situations, more often you can find a reason that is smarter than you thought. Maybe the choice resulted in more clarity. Maybe it brought something to the surface so that it could be cleared.
Put it all in perspective (big picture). Seeing the parts of the choice that were productive or supportive can help us get a broader view of the situation. What seems at first like a big loss might ultimately result in an even bigger win. Our defeats might result in a stronger character. And what about all the things that you have done right? Maybe this was a big mistake, but look at your track record. Perhaps you have made many more right decisions. Or, after a long stretch of mistakes, you have become ready to turn the corner. That is a huge step forward and puts you in a different relationship to your mistakes.
Honor and affirm the essence of who you are. No matter what you have done, there is a ton of good in you. It may be hard to connect with that when looking at your mistakes, but it is there nonetheless. When you are struggling with forgiving yourself, it is helpful to think about the core of who you are. What can you do to affirm this essence, especially at these times?
Commit to a new direction. It can be easier to forgive yourself when you make a decision not to make the mistake again (when possible). Making a commitment to a new direction means that we have acknowledged the error of our ways and decided to do something different. Being accountable to yourself and others through making better choices helps you feel better about yourself, and it is easier to forgive yourself from this place.
There is a point where you will realize that forgiveness is a necessary ingredient to your happiness: that you might as well start down the path of forgiveness because there is no other way to freedom. This is true of others, and this is true of ourselves. Carrying the weight of past errors does nothing to correct them—forgiving yourself does.
Self-acceptance is not the result of what we have or have not done in our life. No matter what the outside looks like, whether it’s fabulous or not so fabulous, we may still be unable to accept ourselves.
When we look for deeper acceptance through accomplishments and accolades, we have fleeting moments of self-approval but we do not get the long-term benefits of self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is unconditional positive regard for ourselves no matter what. “Unconditional positive regard” is a term created by Carl Rogers that means “the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does.”
We know that we have stepped into a deep level of self-acceptance when we can answer the following question with a “yes”: Do I know that no matter what I discover about myself, I am good and worthy of love?
We are all mixtures of some wonderful things and some not-so-wonderful things. Everybody has limitations as well as strengths. Self-acceptance means we are able to see and love both the good and the challenging aspects of ourselves.
One way or another, most people struggle with self-acceptance, whether it’s because of what we’ve been told by society and our caregivers or that we just came up with some idea that who we are –our whole self—is somehow not right. So we push away these parts of ourselves or try to minimize them, and as a result, we become cut off from our full selves and thus less—less alive, less happy, less real.
However, self acceptance is not just about seeing who we are and being OK with it. It also requires us to see our shortcomings and challenge ourselves to be more. Not from a place of lack of respect or disrespect for ourselves, but rather with great care and honoring of our true nature and deepest potential.
Self-acceptance does not mean self-indulgence. It means deep respect for all of who we are.
Our ability to love ourselves completely and our ability to ask ourselves to become more are two separate but complementary pieces of being healthier, happier people. When we see our limited behavior, limited way of being, or a less than perfect choice, are we able to accept it and love ourselves unconditionally? And, can we at the same time remember that self-acceptance does not mean that we melt into our limitations and indulge them? Self-acceptance is about loving ourselves so much—so completely—that we are able to acknowledge our faults while being willing to step into our potential.