Do You Have Emotional Integrity?

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Here is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of Integrity: The quality of being honest and fair; the state of being complete or whole; incorruptibility; soundness.

What, then, is Emotional Integrity? It’s knowing what you feel and why, and being able and willing to share it with others, even when it’s painful for you.

So general integrity involves being honest with others. Emotional Integrity involves being honest with yourself: facing uncomfortable or painful truths inside yourself so that they don’t harm the people you love. It’s more about your internal choices than your external ones. It’s the opposite of what we think of as denial. It’s the opposite of avoidance.

It is entirely possible to be a person of good integrity while also lacking Emotional Integrity. We human beings have a natural tendency to avoid difficult things, like painful feelings, conflict, problems, or our own weaknesses. It’s somewhat built into us to take the easier route. It’s not always clear to us that the easier route carries its own threat; a threat to our Emotional Integrity.

Example of Emotional Integrity:

Barry, a 35-year-old stock analyst, is a successful and reasonably happy guy. He loves his job, and he loves his wife Jeanette. Jeanette, however, has recently been talking more fervently about having a baby. Each time she has asked his feelings about it over the past year, Barry says, “Yes, I want to have a baby, but just not quite yet.” Or, “I’ll be ready soon. Just give me a little time.”

What Barry does not tell Jeanette is something he does not tell himself either. He is not exactly lying to her with his answers, because he wants to believe that he will be ready soon. But in giving her these vague, open-ended, affirmative answers, he is not being honest with Jeanette because he is not being honest with himself. The truth is painful, and he does not want to go there.

Barry’s Emotional Truth:

Barry was raised by a violent, alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother. Throughout his childhood he had little support, and witnessed a lot of ugly fighting between his parents. Growing up frightened and alone, he vowed at a young age to never bring a child into this world to suffer, as he was.

As Barry put himself through college, established his career and built a good life for himself, he put his childhood behind him and never looked back. He did not want to revisit his childhood vow, or his childhood at all. He did not want to think it through, as that would bring back the pain and fear from his childhood.

Barry is, overall, a person of integrity. He possesses all of the qualities that Merriam-Webster describes. He would never cheat in business, he does not lie. He is a reliable and consistent person who can be trusted to follow the rules of honesty and morality.

But, with Jeanette, on this one extremely important issue, Barry is not showing Emotional Integrity. He is avoiding pain, taking the easy way out. He doesn’t actually know how he really feels about having a baby, and he doesn’t want to face it. Right now, the delay tactics are working okay for him, but this is clearly headed for disaster. Jeanette’s biological clock is ticking, and she will eventually have no choice but to force the issue. At that point, under duress, Barry will have to decide between his own avoidance and his wife’s happiness and trust.

Here are Five Tips for Emotional Integrity:

1. Remember that painful feelings are temporary. They go away much faster and thoroughly when they are faced and dealt with. Avoiding the pain gives it more power over you.

2. Know that when you are not honest with yourself, it may very possibly hurt the people around you. Taking the easier route always comes with a price.

3. Take seriously your duty to know yourself. People who love you rely upon it.

4. Be willing to say things that others might find painful. Speak your truth with compassion and care. If Barry would just say to Jeanette, “When I was ten and living in misery, I vowed to never bring another child into this world,” then Jeanette would know what she’s really up against, and would have the opportunity to talk with him about it.

5. Own your mistakes and weaknesses. We all have them. And it is far more honest to accept and face them than to ignore or hide them.

No one can be perfect at this. Everyone’s Emotional Integrity is vulnerable, and will often be tested through the course of our lives. As we try, we will falter and fail at times. The best we can do is try our hardest.

After all, we’re only human.

To learn more about your emotions and how they can affect you and your relationships, visit, or see Running on Empty.

This article was originally published on and has been republished here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Valerie - November 29, 2018 Reply

Your book is helping me to understand why I am how I am. Failure to thrive seems to show the quick version of CEN and explain how much we must have emotional validation.
Thank you for making me feel less broken.

    Jonice - November 29, 2018 Reply

    Dear Valerie, you are not broken. Just neglected. I’m so glad to have helped you realize that.

beverly - July 2, 2018 Reply

Hi Dr. I have ordered your book. I hope this information can help me as I totally could not believe i answered yes to so many of your questions. My father was a 22 year naval officer. My mother I remember hardly anything unless i see a picture then, maybe I can recall her. One evening when i was ten years old i was playing a game in dads room closet with a friend. i left to get a drink downstairs , when i returned he had died of a heart attack.My mother turned to alcohol …so my sister who was 21at the time got us out of the house, never to return. Ive been in therapy for 17 years now with same DR. My phsychiatrist said that when a young girl loses her father at a young age …it messes them up for the rest of their life. IT TRULY DOES ! Hope your book can make me a better person. Sincerely, Bev Putnam

Dorothy Hartman - July 1, 2018 Reply

Dr Jonice, Thank you again for the profound but overlooked insights about holding and hiding things about ourselves which drain our peace of mind and happiness and damage our relationships.
Delighted to hear the retreat was a success
I hope to attend if you have another, if I can manage it.
With gratitude.
Dorothy Hartman

    Jonice - July 2, 2018 Reply

    Thank you Dorothy! I do think I’ll do another retreat since this one was so rewarding. I’d love to have you come!

Leigh - July 1, 2018 Reply

I really like your comparison of emotional integrity to overall integrity. I for one found it very enlightening because it brings out WHY the need to practice that in life. I’ve lived thinking people don’t want to hear your feelings. So wrong. It all makes sense now as to why I lost my marriage due partially to in my ex’s words “I was emotionally drained”. Thanks for awakening what SHOULD have been “common sense”.

Leigh Summer

Millie - July 1, 2018 Reply

I’ve been touched so much by all your information. All my answers to the CEN questions were affirmative. I came to this article from your emails about the 2018 Challenge. I’m 63 and, because of my lifelong emotional ineptitude, I have hardly any relationships to work on. I have a long happy marriage that is my one saving grace. My daughter is alienated, and away with her family for six weeks. She attacked me a couple of years ago, with very bad timing, because I’m travelling a lot, trying to have my own life and not being the perfect Grandma of her fantasies. Of course that shut me down even more. I can’t feel a thing around her. I’m so afraid of being hurt and attacked again.
You say that I’m surrounded by people interested in me. That’s not true. Even my husband seldom asks questions about what I’ve been experiencing on my trips. My son is completely self-involved and just thinks what I’m doing is “cool”. I do feel love and support from him, but no depth.
The new people I meet are fantastic and i could be friends with them, but they are, of course, far away.
I just got your books from the library and am looking forward to learning more. It seems so late in life to start again.

    Richard Kram - October 18, 2018 Reply

    OMG, your story is like looking in a mirror with a future I hope to alter. I have been following Dr. Webb for some time, I recognize what has effected me, but changing is a whole different thing, like a brick wall in front of me. Thanks for sharing your story, have a great day.

Di - July 1, 2018 Reply

My husband was never praised but critisised, nothing was good enough when he was a child.
Throughout our marriage he has had extreme temper and more so if he feels criticised by myself, even if the criticism is carefully given.
He needs to admit to all of it really.

Alekxandra - July 1, 2018 Reply

Hello. English is not my native language, so, sorry for mistakes. As a member of CEN “community”, I believe that our past, in this contest, determinate our choices in life while we are so unconscious about it. Even if we were exposed to several hundreds hours of education in psychotherapy(as I was). I wonder, does only psychoanalysis can bring the light in our core of decision making? It would be nice to understand ourselves.

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