Complexity Choir


Complexity Choir

The eight domains of self-integration

By Dan Siegel

January/February 2010


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…

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