I have been wanting to write on the topic of integrity for quite some time. As a traumatized person, integrity is the premiere character trait that I search for in people. As a very baseline idea, integrity means doing what you say you are going to do.
One can imagine that children of many generations of divorcing parents have had traumatic memories related to parental figures not following through on what was expected. At this point in time in America, the divorce rate is 50%, meaning half of all marriages will end in divorce. For the child in the situation, the divorce represents a faulty expectation that both parents would always be there. This is setting up an integrity trigger at a very baseline level.
Children of divorce are set up for both kinds of developmental trauma simultaneously, with the breach of integrity being the trigger. The child will expect both enmeshment and abandonment to occur after a breach of integrity. This is because divorce is a very painful thing for both parents and children. The parent that does not get as much time with the child will appear to the child as abandoning, no matter how hard that parent tries.
The parent that gets more time with the child will inevitably be experiencing their own emotional struggles around the divorce. That emotional struggle, no matter how well kept it is from the child, will create an energy around the primary parent. The child, being in the vicinity of that parent primarily, will absorb the parent’s divorce struggle and feel somewhat responsible. This is called enmeshment.
This child grows up to have a very sensitive integrity trigger. The adult they become probably values integrity over all other character traits. So what is integrity? Here is the definition from the Oxford Languages Dictionary:
Learn to pronounce
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
“he is known to be a man of integrity”
the state of being whole and undivided.
“upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty”
This quote from one of my favorite psychology researchers explains it quite nicely. Integrity is having the grit to do what is honest, trustworthy, fair, and responsible, instead of what is convenient. I think in today’s society many people often choose what is convenient, over having integrity with their fellow human beings. We see this in the form of “ghosting,” canceling plans at the last minute, or simply not following through. This is triggering, no matter who is doing it, but it is most triggering for the children of divorced parents coming from romantic partners.
As adults, when these breeches of integrity happen… the trigger immediately initiates the fear mechanism in the amygdala of the brain. What happens next? The body is preparing for the potential trauma. Pupils dilate, we are flooded with adrenalin. Will we be abandoned? Will we have to carry the emotional weight for someone else not strong enough to carry it on their own? Young minds are very programmable. The programming that comes from these divorces is very deep seated in the limbic system of the brain.
Perhaps we cry out, we beg for follow-through, projecting this fear onto whoever we perceive has breeched the trust of the relationship. This pleading further pushes away potential intimacy with partners and friends. So what is the solution? Well, the solution is two-fold.
It is important to choose the correct people to be in relationship with. Our trauma will teach us to reach out for what is familiar. Unfortunately that means that we are likely to reach out to the people who remind us of the same people who abandoned or enmeshed us as children. People who aren’t exactly balanced in their own struggle.
Some people might say that this is because our inner child is still trying to resolve the trauma by using someone who is similar to the character in the story. The reality is that we likely choose these broken people because of the fondness of familiarity. The replay of the traumatic story only happens when we project that story onto relationship partners, whether they are romantic or friendly.
Choosing the right people to engage in relationship with is of the utmost importance. In order to choose the right people we must fully understand our trauma story so that we can identify character traits in others as dysfunctional as opposed to fond and familiar. We can still choose to be in relationship with those people, ultimately. However, we will then be fully informed going into it, that this person is highly likely to trigger my integrity breach sensitivity. It is in this way that we can take full responsibility for our own emotional sobriety when engaging in relationship with these people. We start the relationship fully conscious of the likely outcome, so we don’t blindly trip and fall into our own trauma replay cycle.
The second thing that we must do is reduce our own reactivity… give a little. Our expectations for integrity may be way too high based on our fears of abandonment and enmeshment. Reducing reactivity isn’t always as easy as it seems. That reactive amygdala in our limbic system isn’t connected to our thoughtful frontal lobe. Instead of thinking and speaking… try breathing and moving as a regular practice to calm that trauma center in your brain. If you do this regularly, you will be much more likely to be able to gently accept people forgetting their commitments or backing out of their plans with you. If you are more fluid with people, you will be less likely to push away the functional, healthy people you really want in your life.
Now, I know I said the solution was two-fold, but I would be neglecting my responsibility if I did not mention a third thing that will help. Role Modeling. You likely already do this, but being a person of integrity will draw more people who embody integrity to you. Also, role modeling integrity will cause the principles of integrity to rub off on anyone who is in close relationship with you. This will (over time) cause them to follow through more and remember their commitments to you… because you come through and remember your commitments to them.
Go forth and spread emotional (and consensual sexual) intimacy throughout the world! 🙂 Thank you for letting me share my musings on intimacy with you. You are the best part of Asylum Advising, and thank you for reading this blog.
~Kara Jean Brei, MA, NCC – Founder and Executive Advisor at Asylum Advising, Vice Chair Person of the South Mountain WORKS Coalition