We experience life through emotion. Life without feeling is not living; it is merely existing. Perhaps, it is this key role of emotions that so much of my research and writing is dedicated to the topic. We feel peace, joy, and anger. Some days are packed full of frustrations, others smoothly guide along. In the multitude of psychological literature I come across, I occasionally hear the advice, “be true to your emotions.” Based on the context, the writer is usually referring to some type of emotional integrity.
But what exactly is ’emotional integrity’? And how can I be true to emotion? These are excellent questions which deserve a little deeper examining. Most emotions are reflexive, conditioned responses to inner and outer stimuli. Since they are conditioned, they can be misdirected, well, at least our response to the emotion can be misdirected. And this is key: By understanding the difference between a feeling and the following behavioral response, we may discover the meaning of emotional integrity.
Emotional integrity refers to the alignment and consistency between a person’s emotions, thoughts, and actions. It involves being true to oneself and expressing emotions authentically, while also considering the impact of those emotions on others.
When someone possesses emotional integrity, it means they have a deep understanding of their own emotions and are able to manage them in a healthy and constructive way. They are honest with themselves about how they genuinely feel, and they do not suppress or deny their emotions. Instead, they recognize the importance of acknowledging and processing their emotions in order to maintain a balanced and authentic state of being.
Integrity implies a dynamic interaction between something and its environment. An object with integrity maintains boundaries, keeping its form separate from the external pressures. “We live in a world with billions of other people, each experiencing life with individual feelings of sadness and joy. To fully appreciate this diversity, we must find solitude within ourselves first; a sense of our own life while living among others. Integrity creates one’s own reality with freedoms to give and receive from interactions with those around them” (Murphy, 2017).
Carl Rodgers suggests that a “person who accepts his own feelings within himself, finds that a relationship can be lived on the basis of these real feelings” (1995). Best selling author, Daniel Goleman, wrote “social chameleons, though, don’t mind in the least saying one thing and doing another, if that will win them social approval.” He then advises, we have the capacity to be true to ourselves. He describes being true to ourselves as “acting in accord with one’s deepest feelings and values no matter what the social consequences. Such emotional integrity could well lead to, say, deliberately provoking a confrontation in order to cut through duplicity or denial—a clearing of the air that a social chameleon would never attempt” (2005. Kindle location: 2,534).
Emotional integrity is recognizing our emotional reaction to an event, accepting the discomfort, honoring our feelings without defense, and then acting according to our values. Easy to write, much more difficult to apply.
The Subjectivity of Emotions
The subjectivity of emotions makes the whole practice of emotional integrity confusing. T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “emotions are dumbfounding; logical to a point, but sometimes identifying the cause leaves us grasping for straws in the stacks of complexity. Firstly, the blurred cause of feelings (whether excited or depressed) leans upon conceptual explanations, evaluating environments, experiences and socially expected responses. Then, we assign meaning, causes, and rightness—a subjective practice. In psychology, we refer to this process as affective realism. Consequently, our interpretations appear as fact” (Murphy, 2016a).
Our error of judgement comes from being true to our subjective interpretation of the feeling affect rather than the feeling affect itself. Being true to the subjective interpretation of the feeling (or emotion), may continue to protective lie. We can ditch integrity to lies. We need to be true to the original source—the feeling.
However, our response to the feeling must be carefully calculated. High arousal simply suggests an event has significant personal meaning. We must honor the message even if a deeper examination exposes that our feeling reaction is out of alignment with the present triggering causes. Perhaps, there is something in our past that should be looked at.
“Pain is pain; whether physical or emotional, the pain hurts. When we experience pain, it dominates consciousness, demanding attention and diverting focus. We naturally respond to the painful cues, signaling that something’s wrong. We are programmed to seek resolve from discomfort. Unseen urgings push for action. the pain hurts and we want relief” (Murphy, 2016b).
Who are we to deny a feelings existence. It is screaming out, pointing to personal sensitivities, and, perhaps, unhealed wounds.
Empathy and Emotional Integrity
Moreover, emotional integrity also involves honoring the emotions of others. People with emotional integrity strive to be empathetic and compassionate, understanding that emotions can vary greatly from person to person. They make an effort to listen actively, validate others’ feelings, and respond with kindness and respect.
Personal emotional integrity aids respect for others emotions. And respect for others emotions strengthens integrity of our own emotions. Integrity implies autonomy. Integrity suggests boundaries. Emotional integrity allows for dynamic integration of self and others without loss of self or demanding others to deny their own identity and feeling experience.
Emotional Integrity and Emotional Regulation
A person with emotional integrity respects the feeling experience without detaching from the affect. Yet, the emotion may be destructive if left to run wild. Murphy wrote, “When felt experience derails, creating chaos, and colliding with logic, we stumble in disorder. For the demands of stability, we must slow the runaway power of dysregulated emotion and regain control experience” (Murphy, 2019).
We can downregulate heightened arousal without denying the message. Often, heightened arousal segues into regretful behavior. There is an important difference between regulating with defense mechanisms and regulatory coping mechanisms. Defense mechanisms operate unconsciously. We resolve the inner conflict buy denial, projection, and repression without ever giving honor to the feeling and the personal meaning it broadcasts.
Emotional regulation, on the other hand, recognizes the emotion, understands it is broadcasting a message, and then regulates the arousal so we can constructively act in line with personal values. When engaged in a emotional arousing conflict, we should calm the emotion first.
Strengthening Emotional Integrity
Building emotional integrity requires somatic awareness and a willingness to engage in inner reflection. It involves recognizing patterns and triggers that might impact emotional reactions and making a conscious effort to respond thoughtfully rather than reacting impulsively. It also entails taking responsibility for one’s own emotions and behaviors, rather than placing blame on external factors.
Mindfulness is a key practice for strengthening emotional integrity. Mindfulness provides a safe shelter for examining the intricate wiring between our past and present. Through a healthy practice of mindfulness, we can explore heightened emotion without judgement or blame, learning hidden truths about ourselves that may aid in future contacts with similar situations and people.
A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic
Having emotional integrity can lead to healthier relationships, both personally and professionally. When individuals are honest and authentic in expressing their emotions, it fosters trust and creates an environment where open communication thrives. It also allows for a deeper understanding of oneself and others, leading to greater empathy, connection, and overall emotional well-being.
In summary, emotional integrity is about maintaining alignment between one’s emotions, thoughts, and actions. It involves being true to oneself, acknowledging and managing emotions in a healthy way, and showing empathy and respect towards others’ emotions. By cultivating emotional integrity, individuals can foster healthier relationships and enhance their overall emotional well-being.
Goleman, Daniel (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam Books. Read on Kindle Books.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2017). Living With Integrity. Psychology Fanatic. Published 5-1-2017. Accessed 10-6-2023.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2016a). Emotional Patterns. Psychology Fanatic. Published 3-10-2016. Accessed 10-6-2023.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2016b) Emotional Pain Hurts. Psychology Fanatic. Published 11-6-2016. Accessed 10-6-2023.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2019). Emotional Regulation. Psychology Fanatic. Published 12-19-2023. Accessed 10-6-2023.
Rogers, Carl (1995). On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Harper-One; 2nd ed. edition.