Do you seek to be less reactive, less judgmental, and more understanding of others? Using techniques of active understanding, you can find a healthier way of interacting with the people in your life.
In this self-help guide, retired psychiatrist Charles DeLong shares what he learned after three decades of private practice psychotherapy. He provides theories, examples, and steps to guide you through how to use active understanding to approach yourself, others, and the world.
Using active understanding principles helps us “get beyond ourselves” so that we can stay connected to the external reality. This not only increases our ability to adapt, but is also safer and more satisfying than being dependent upon the environment. What’s more, it allows us to grow emotionally, evolve our personalities, and live with personal integrity.
Active understanding teaches us to
• stay in the here-and-now reality
• not take anything personally
• resist narcissistic defaults
• stop judging others
Discover the deeper meaning behind your emotions and learn simple ways of improving your relationships and your life.
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Achieving Personal IntegrityA Psychiatrist's Insights
By Charles C. DeLong
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Charles C. DeLong, MD
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat is Personal Integrity?
Before we can learn how to live with personal integrity, it's important to understand the attributes that people with personal integrity share. First and foremost, people with personal integrity are entirely comfortable with themselves and with their feelings, so much so that they do not require support from the environment. By support from the environment we mean external validation, such as approval or guaranteed acceptance. They can accept criticism, rejection, even hostility. They don't take things personally or regress emotionally into the sensitivities of their own unresolved emotional conflicts.
Let's look at an example of how someone with personal integrity reacts to an unpleasant, even hostile, remark.
At a potluck supper, "Susan" who always brings generous amounts of elaborate dishes, sharply criticizes "Ellen" for bringing a skimpy amount of a rather plain dish. Ellen accepts Susan's criticism comfortably as an accurate reflection of both how Susan assessed things and felt about the situation and as a possibly legitimate, and perhaps even accurate, commentary on her own contributions. She was not at all hurt and remained available for more of Susan's opinions and comments. When Ellen acknowledged the paucity and plainness of her dishes, Susan went on further to say "I wouldn't dare to offer what you bring." Instead of responding with anger, hurt or retaliation, Ellen, knowing this slight is not personal, looked at the situation from Susan's point of view and responded, "I know, I think you're afraid of what people will think so you won't risk bringing anything but the very best. This is probably why you require so much of yourself." By adhering to her personal integrity, Ellen completely disarms Susan and puts her in touch with the source of her frustration. Susan replies, "You know, I think you're right! And when I see that you are so at ease with yourself, and that I have to be so hard on myself, it really makes me angry!" This was said with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. We could guess that their relationship will now be based on greater mutual confidence and respect.
Ellen, who has a personality with integrity, is not at the mercy of the environment for emotional support, which includes Susan's opinion of her, and is able to stay in the "here- and-now" external reality. This is adaptive because it allows Ellen to objectively stay in the relationship with Susan and not become immersed in her own feelings. A personality without integrity is dependent upon the environment for support of their emotions, as Susan in the above example worried about what others thought of her, and, therefore lashed out at Ellen. This significantly compromises adaptability.
Personalities with integrity, like Ellen's, have the capacity to "get beyond themselves" and stay there long enough to perceive and understand reality. Too often we become mired in our not- so-well-understood emotional conflicts and don't perceive and understand reality enough to get the overall picture.
Another trait shared by people with personal integrity is their ability to recognize frustration. In moments of potential frustration, they are aware that the world isn't providing according to their wishes, they accept this, and recalibrate their expectations to line up with reality. Their wish likely will continue to exist but the anger about this wish subsides when the fact that it will not be gratified is accepted. They may subsequently have to deal with the disappointment of the personal loss, but this is a separate problem, involving their degree of emotional investment in the thing that was lost. Again, there are two parts to this: first, anger over the fact that the wish will not be gratified and the dissipation of this anger when this expectation is renounced and, second, sorrow and disappointment stemming from the lack of gratification of the wish which will not disappear until the wish subsides.
Let's look at an example of how a personality with integrity deals with frustration. If my three–year-old daughter dies, at first I am both angry and sad. Eventually, when I accept the fact that she's never coming back, my anger subsides; I accept that my wish to have her back will not be gratified. However, even though I have accepted reality, my wish to have her will continue and I will continue to feel sad. The sadness will remain until the wish subsides. This may involve the process of mourning, of denial, or the gratification of a similar wish such as having another child. An "unevolved" personality tends to just become angry, incapable of identifying their own unrealistic expectations, and consequently unable to align their expectations with reality. Their frustration and anger will continue unabated.
Further traits you will notice shared by those with personal integrity are that they tend to be comfortable with themselves as well as others, and the world in general. They approach just about every interaction with active understanding; a concept which will be further explained in Chapter 3. They have a pleasant self- confidence and the capacity to enjoy their activities, others, and the world without judgment. They tend to be accepting of their own anger and to regard it as a signal that their expectations are unrealistic and in need of recalibration, thereby tending to have less anger, and to never discharge their anger outside of the verbal arena. We will discuss anger and its root causes in Chapter 2.
You will notice that when those with personal integrity attempt to evolve, the changes will tend to be subtle and not so dramatic. On the other hand, a person who has not yet achieved personal integrity will struggle because they lack the techniques to move themselves forward, which leads to recurrent failures to evolve their maturational arrests, meaning that they must start at whatever primitive level at which they got "stuck" and then attempt to evolve from there. Their attempts can be quite challenging and require understanding from those around them because they often unknowingly set up situations that accommodate their primitive techniques in order to try to advance. They will try to set up situations where they can experience the full depth of these immature feelings. In attempting to do so they may project anger or criticism upon Achieving Personal Integrity: A Psychiatrist's Insights others and thereby experience this as an attack from outside themselves.
For example, "Kathy's" parents were hostile, critical and controlling. Kathy grew up fearful of herself and of her parents and tried to hide herself from them. She was inhibited, quiet, anxious and wary, if not frightened, of herself. She imagined that others would find her objectionable and often misinterpreted remarks about her as criticism. She tended to keep people back and away from her with low-grade hostile sarcastic remarks. She never risked expressing her feelings, her new ideas or playfulness.
Kathy became a member of a group of women who hiked for three or four miles at a time twice a week. The conversations tended to be pleasant and somewhat superficial. She listened intently, found the other women's personal accounts of their feelings and experiences meaningful, but could never venture hers. One day while walking, without any apparent provocation, she began to express herself. Angrily, she accused the group of mistreating her with hostility, criticism and control. All of the members were surprised and some were shocked. This was the first time that she had ever risked expressing her feelings and it resulted in a distancing from many of the other women. As a result, she started walking more with just one member named "Roberta". As they walked they discussed her outburst with the group. Kathy reiterated her grievances and Roberta just listened. Roberta comfortably accepted Kathy's complaints and discussed them with her at length. Roberta eventually indicated that while she didn't feel that Kathy's issues were well founded she did feel that Kathy's perceptions and/or misperceptions were quite worthy of taking seriously and of being understood. During their subsequent walks, Kathy began to risk expression of her feelings with Roberta. It was very difficult for her because her inner self was so infused with anger, but they both seemed to realize that it was the best she could do. After particularly abrasive moments Roberta would keep the conversation going, unlike others who would turn away. At times Roberta would say with a pleasant look on her face "a little more gently, please." Here, Kathy is reconnecting to herself as she was in her early childhood and trying to evolve from there. This meant that she had to reconnect with the horror of those years. She had to risk being her real self, for better or worse, and evolve from there. This involved the pain that was inflicted upon her, her painfully low self-esteem, her rage and her inability to play, to enjoy and to be optimistic. On her walks with Roberta she began to risk more than she ever had before with another human being. She was beginning to grow emotionally by learning to accept and understand her troublesome feelings. This was mainly because of Roberta's comfort level with her anger.
During one of their walks Kathy suddenly burst into tears and exclaimed "I want to be your friend, but I have nothing to offer." Roberta replied "You bring your real self, for better or worse, to our relationship and that's more than any of the other gals do." With Kathy, Roberta got a meaningful connection. Interestingly, Kathy's expression of anger when she was with the group, except for that one time, was only to maintain some distance from the others and didn't involve risking her real feelings.
Later, in her walks with Roberta she began to risk connecting to her real feelings, as uncomfortable as they were. Thanks to Roberta's comfortable acceptance she was able to come to grips with these troublesome feelings and grow emotionally in ways that were not possible in childhood with her primitive parents. It's much easier to be comfortable with Kathy's anger when one realizes that its expression is in the service of her emotional growth and personality evolution.
Personalities with integrity help other people by accepting parts of them that they cannot accept which may include anger, conflict, negative self-esteem and even sadness. I recall a patient who had sobbed about her sadness throughout a three-year period in therapy. Several years later toward the end of her sessions with me, she reflected on this time with the remark, "You (doctor) stayed connected to me all those years when I cried and cried!" It was during this time that she came to grips with the grief of her terribly sad childhood and eventually her depressions disappeared. The important thing here is that as her therapist I stayed absolutely comfortable and connected to her while she sobbed for two or three hours a week for three years. Of course it's much easier in my role as a therapist to avoid taking anything personally or distorting reality but the principle is the same.
The ultimate example of personal integrity occurs in those who are able to comfortably accept any and all of their own and other people's feelings. They view others just as they are because they have no need to distort their perception of the real world according to their own needs, conflicts or unrelated feelings. In short, they do not need to use others or the environment to maintain their equanimity. People without personal integrity are frequently engulfed by their feelings stemming from unresolved conflicts and, as a result, leave the here-and-now external reality and lose that sense of calm and self-control.
Let's look at another example of a situation involving a person with integrity: a father is dining out with his twenty-year-old daughter. In the midst of their conversation, she suddenly says, "You're a terrible father." He asks, "How's that?" She replies, "You should know, we've been over this many times before, and I'm not going to tell you again." The father nods, accepting this possibility, obviously comfortable with his daughter's opinion and appreciating the risk she might be taking by bringing her real self, for better or worse, into the trusted relationship with him. The subject changed for a while but then she said, "I have this problem. I'm spending too much of my time with Jack in Los Angeles and not enough time with Bob in Seattle. If you weren't such an insensitive father I wouldn't have this problem." She didn't elaborate and let the conversation lapse. Her father waited patiently. She then broke the silence with "I guess I'll have to start going to Seattle!" This was said with a sense of conclusion. She then seemed satisfied, became calmer, and didn't bring up the issue again.
While we don't know what was motivating her comments, what is clear is her father's comfort level with her and her opinions. While the father may not have fully understood his daughter's internal struggle, certainly in the beginning, he was nevertheless at ease with her opinion as to his perceived "terrible (ness)" and "insensitivity." We could suspect that the father's relaxed tone was helpful to his troubled daughter as she solved her problem. The father demonstrated the integrity of his personality by his ability to stay calmly focused on his daughter and her struggle. By staying in the understanding mode he was not available to take his daughter's derogatory accusations personally; he wasn't dependent upon the environment, in this case, his daughter's opinion of him, to support his self-image, nor in any way apparently dependent upon it. This was accomplished not by avoiding the environment or denying the criticism, but by his understanding. He was fully aware and accepting of the environment. He did not have to exclude any aspect of it by denial or avoidance. Interestingly, if he can do this, maybe his daughter can, too and eventually resolve her conflict. And, someday she may even start handling reality the way her father does.
Now, let's look at what we see so often: the father displaying a lack of personal integrity in his response. In this version, the father reacts to "you're a terrible father" with hurt: "You can't talk to me this way," and "I buy you a nice meal and you insult me." Here, he's completely at the mercy of the environment to support his self-esteem. He doesn't feel comfortable enough with himself to withstand the external criticism. He experiences emotional discomfort, and in all probability sees his daughter as the source of his unrest. The source of his unrest is actually his own deep-seated poor self-image, which his daughter's comments mobilized. Here he has left the external reality and the understanding that it might afford. And, he has regressed emotionally into the discomfort of his less-than-adequate self- image.
As this example demonstrates, a lack of personal integrity puts one at the mercy of the environment, further understanding is precluded, adaptation to the environment stops, and frequently both parties suffer.
Here's another example. "Mark" and "Sarah" are a very mature married couple. Mark tells Sarah what he would like to do on Saturday afternoon. Sarah responds by telling Mark exactly how his activity will impact her. Sarah's remark, even if it is unfavorable, is both gracious and responsible as it permits Mark to make the final decision based on both of their needs. However, so often when one's wishes are met by their partner's reluctance, annoyance, irritation, or anger the mutual understanding process screeches to a halt. In this case, Mark was very comfortable with his needs and, therefore, able to welcome Sarah's response whatever it might be. Mark's desire to gratify his wish/need is entirely separate from his spouse's level of comfort with it.
Personalities with integrity, whenever hurt or angered by the environment, ask themselves "what is it I can't accept?" They let themselves feel their discomfort, begin to identify the cause, and then recalibrate their expectations of their wish gratification to be in sync with reality.
Obviously, nobody's perfect. There will be times in an encounter that we may become irritated or downright angry. As our integrity develops, hopefully we can begin to recognize this, not become immediately engulfed in it, and put it aside to be dealt with later as one of our own unresolved emotional conflicts needing attention. And, hopefully, either retain our focus on the here-and-now external environment or immediately return to it.
Excerpted from Achieving Personal Integrity by Charles C. DeLong Copyright © 2012 by Charles C. DeLong, MD. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: What is Personal Integrity?....................5
Chapter 2: What Stands in the Way of Achieving Personal Integrity....................17
Part 1: Reality....................17
Part 2: Anger....................27
Part 3: The Thrust to Grow or In Statu Nascendi....................33
Part 4: Nature & Nurture....................37
Part 5: Narcissism....................40
Chapter 3: Active Understanding....................47
Part 1: Why is active understanding important?....................47
Part 2: How does active understanding work?....................50
Part 3: Using active understanding on ourselves....................65
Part 4: The importance of active understanding in raising children....................68
Part 5: How active understanding impacts our relationships....................82
Chapter 4: How Personal Integrity & Active Understanding Help Society....................87