This week I went to see one of my patients at the board and care facility where she lives. I was sitting in my car digging around in my bag to make sure I had a pen when she appeared through the glass of my passenger window. I startled. She was wearing a hospital gown with some shorts underneath (thankfully!). Her hair, which is naturally curly, was standing out from her head. And she had painted bright red lipstick on her lips that was just slightly smeared onto her philtrum and the tip of her nose. She legitimately looked like a costumed portrayal of a psychiatric patient from a haunted house! This was not her typical look and she had the faculties to choose a different outfit, so I wondered why she chose to present this way. My best guess is that sometimes, we just want the outside to match the inside. And sometimes it’s a horror show.
I’ve observed this in myself. From the time I could dress myself, I have changed my clothes several times in the morning. Often I leave for work with a small pile of rejected clothes lying on the bed. I have wondered why I can’t just pull something out of the closet and wear it. That seems so efficient! I think what I’m searching for is something that matches my feeling on the inside that day. It feels so much better when my clothes coincide with my self-perception. I don’t always choose the best coordinated outfit or the nicest top or jeans. It just has to feel right.
Interesting right? If my exterior is incongruent with my interior then I feel some level of cognitive dissonance. When those things match, I experience integrity. When I learned about integrity is a kid, it was related in stories about returning miscounted extra change to a store clerk or fessing up about breaking something that belonged to someone else. The word integrity comes from the Latin word integer, which means whole and complete. Another word that shares this root is integrate. I love thinking about integrity in this way. It no longer becomes a giant check list of doing all the right things and avoiding all the wrong things. Integrity is about integrating yourself. About becoming whole and complete.
One way to do this is to allow the outside to match the inside. I am a recovering manipulator. I used to believe that my main power of influence over other humans was to attempt to create the ideal conditions in which they would not be able to chose anything other than my desired outcome. I was a benevolent manipulator, for the most part. I attempted to use my power for good. But man! It took a lot of hustle and it wasn’t very effective so I usually ended up feeling exhausted and resentful. I think men are both guilty of using these tactics, but this approach seems pervasive among feminine culture. And it makes sense! For centuries, most of the power women held was in getting their man to think something was his idea.
Recently I postulated that maybe this wasn’t at all necessary. What if I just decided to just ask for what I want? What if I used boundaries to protect myself from things I was not willing to do? What if my outside matched my inside? What if I could integrate these two selves?
The answer is still playing out for me. But for now, in the early stages of this experiment, I can tell you I feel unburdened. I worry less about managing other’s emotions and experiences. I am considering more readily what I desire, over how to be desired. It feels like integrity. A step toward being whole and complete. It’s a practice. The sum of so many little choices to honor myself by showing up and being real and being seen.