Integrity, values, and mental health

It’s easier to build an authentic self on a firm foundation of inner values. Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash

There are at least two mental health reasons to think of behaving with integrity.  Firstly, if a principle forms part of your inner value system, then going against it may hurt you in the form of guilt or shame.  And secondly, if you live in a society which punishes or demotes certain behaviours, then you may later be hurt or restricted by others in the wake of your actions.


It is very normal to fall short in small ways.  Convenience means it is sometimes easier to gloss over decency, than to take time to attend to it carefully.  The trouble is, small diversions can turn into big ones.  Financial fraud, for instance, often begins in a relatively humdrum way, and then escalates as the path becomes more of a habit.  Similarly, when we fail to act with integrity early on in a relationship, we can get stuck on a track of dissembling which can make full authenticity almost impossible later.


When you are trying to develop yourself, therefore, perhaps try to attend to two things.

Firstly, become familiar with your own authentic value system, and contemplate, honestly, how your behaviour sits within it.  What qualities and behaviours do you respect in a person?  Do you match up?  If not, is it your behaviour that you want to change, or your values?  Sometimes you may want to persuade yourself to get in line with your inner values.  But sometimes you may discover your inner values are too harsh, and leave no room for aspects of your own character which deserve more respect.  If so, you may find it appropriate to adapt your values, and become more tolerant of yourself.

Try not to fudge it.  Much mental illness is made worse by hiding self-incongruity.  We blame others and act up, when really, underneath it all, we are uncomfortable or uneasy with an unresolved tension or argument in ourselves.


Secondly, become familiar with the values of the people and societies around you.  Learn to empathise, to play the game.  You don’t have to believe the same things as they do, but it is wise to structure your behaviour so that you can move and act freely, and are protected against their adverse reactions.


Do I have integrity?

What are my inner values?  When did I even last examine them to find out if they’re still values I actually hold?  Do I value honesty, kindness, courage, resistance, obedience, disobedience?  Among all the possible character traits I could hold, how do I weigh up which ones really matter?

What do those around me think?  Do I moderate my behaviour wisely, so that I can keep good relations with them?  Am I sufficiently respectful to win their friendship?  And, when it matters, am I sufficiently assertive to avoid being taken advantage of?

In terms of integrity and values, how can I find an easier relationship with myself, and a healthier relationships with others?