What is integration?

A few days ago, I promised that I would attempt to explain why phrases like integration, wholeness, and reconciliation have become so important in my thinking. Although these three words describe similar concepts, in my thinking, they are distinct in certain ways.

Let’s start with integration. Although it can mean different things, my understanding of integration has been deeply shaped by interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), a transdisciplinary field described and developed principally by Dr. Daniel Siegel. IPNB deals with the brain, mind, and relationships.

The brain is our body’s control center and it is deeply connected with the entire body. It processes all modes of sensory input and also facilitates both simple and complex responses with regard to both our internal world and our external world.

Although you may have heard the terms used interchangeably, the mind and brain are different. Siegel defines mind this way:

A process that regulates the flow of energy and information within our bodies and within our relationships, an emergent and self-organizing process that gives rise to our mental activities such as emotion, thinking, and memory.

Siegel, Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology, 1-1

In other words, the concept of mind is broader than what we typically think of in terms of brain.

Relationships are the third component important to understanding IPNB. We cannot be fully human outside of relationships with others. Looking again at Siegel’s definition of mind, there is a flow of energy not only within a person, but between people, so understanding who we are in relationship to others becomes an important developmental task–one that continues throughout our lives.

So what does all of this have to do with how I understand integration? Well, a core task of health and human flourishing is integration, not only within, but between people. Healthy integration is grounded in recognizing one’s individuality (differentiation), but also that we are deeply interconnected, even with people we have never met (linkage). Disintegration is the route to unhealthiness. In fact, Siegel suggests that “When we examine various mental disorders, what is revealed is that virtually all of them can be described as clusters of chaotic and/or rigid symptoms that we would say are examples of impaired integration” (Pocket Guide, 16-3).

It is these concepts from IPNB that inform my thinking and writing about integration. I believe that God created us for intra- and inter-personal integration, but that in a fallen world, each of us operates with various degrees of disintegration. So one of the things I am most interested in is understanding how we become more integrated in our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation.

What do you think it takes to become more deeply integrated?