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The eight domains of self-integration
by Daniel Siegel
What is a healthy mind? Is it simply the absence of symptoms and dysfunctions, or is there something more to a life well lived? How can we embrace the diversity of behavior, temperament, values, and orientation across a wide range of cultures and still come up with a coherent definition of health? Just as some scientists are reluctant to define the mind, some people say that we shouldn't define mental health at all, because it is authoritarian to do so—we shouldn't tell others how to be healthy. But how do we account for the universal striving for happiness? How do we understand the cross-culturally recognizable ease of well-being? Positive psychology has offered an important corrective to the disease model by identifying the characteristics of happy people, such as gratitude, compassion, open-mindedness, and curiosity, but is there some unnamed quality that underlies all of these individual strengths?
Over the last twenty years, I've come to believe that integration is the key mechanism beneath both the absence of illness and the presence of well-being. Integration—the linkage of differentiated elements of a system—illuminates a direct pathway toward health. It's the way we avoid a life of dull, boring rigidity on the one hand, or explosive chaos on the other. We can learn to detect when integration is absent or insufficient and develop effective strategies to promote differentiation and then linkage. The key to this transformation is cultivating the capacity for mindsight.
In new interventions based on the approach of interpersonal neurobiology, mindsight has helped many people shift the flow of energy and information in their lives toward integration. But why is integration such a powerful tool for transformation? My search for an answer to this question has led to some surprising and practical realizations.
The Complexity Choir
These days, before I define mental well-being in my lectures, I often ask for volunteers to sing in a "complexity choir." Experienced singers usually break the ice and come bounding up to the front of the room, while others, initially more reticent, slowly find their way to join in. Whether my audience is parents or teachers, therapists or scientists, I know that the best way to help them grasp the power of integration
My first request is that the newly assembled choir members all sing the same note at the same time, simply humming along in unison. Someone comes up with a mid-range pitch and they quickly settle into a uniform sound. After about half a minute, I hold up my hand to stop them and then make another request. This time I ask them to cover their ears so they can't hear one another, and then, at my signal, launch individually into whatever song with whatever words they'd like to sing. The audience usually laughs when the singers begin, but they quickly get restive, so I hold up my hand again.