Securing Emotional Progress Through Integration – 5 Possible Strategies

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

The past four days I’ve been incredibly fortunate: I took part in a retreat just for women and was able to explore my femininity together with 27 beautiful of different ages. Through the different exercises and rituals, the deep conversations and meaningful silences, a space was created in which I could grow and transform, and leave today feeling filled up, joyous and more relaxed than I have been in a long time. But…

… that’s today, and maybe also tomorrow and for a few days after that. Yet, I also know that there are steps needed to secure some of the emotional processing I went through, and some of the insights I’ve gained.

After pretty much any kind of personal work, emotional work, personal development or spiritual inquiry, it is important to consolidate what has happened through a process we call integration.

Integrating insights means nothing more than giving them a space in your life, a place in which to be and perhaps affect change. Whenever I’ve forgotten to integrate an experience fully, I often find that the effects won’t last and I might even have to repeat part of my process in order to meet that same insight again. That, in and of itself, is not really a problem, except that it means I’m not acting on what I know as much as I wish I would and could. And it can be bloody frustrating!

Luckily, integration isn’t a difficult part of the process. All you really need are time, attention and intention. I’ve used different techniques to integrate and the ones I share below are the ones I’ve found most useful. You can use only one, or combine them for a stronger integration.

  1. Journaling
    Writing about what you’ve experienced is a very powerful way of retaining it. Not in the process itself, per sé, but after the process has already taken place. You can write about how you feel, what thoughts come up, and how you imagine this experience changing your life.
  2. Dialogue
    Most of my therapy sessions are integrated through talking with my partner about what took place during the session, and what it meant for me. He often does the same with his sessions, and it allows the experience to sink a little deeper. Especially after EMDR sessions, this is incredibly important for me because I tend to forget those very quickly due to the different level of awareness during the session.
  3. Contemplation
    Whether it’s through meditation or by taking a walk in the woods; taking ample time to devote quiet attention to what’s going on inside of you can be incredibly helpful for integration. You can do this once, or decide on a time each day or week in which you revisit your process until you feel it is no longer helpful.
  4. Creative expression
    I like processing through words most of the time, but sometimes I can’t voice my emotions correctly or can’t quite express my experiences in full sentences. When that happens, I use art, any kind of art that fits best. Maybe I’ll sing a song that helps me to feel my feelings, or I’ll paint what I’ve learned or capture the unsayable in between te words of a poem.
  5. Action
    Perhaps the most durable way to integrate your insights fully is to act on them. Sometimes this means having a conversation with someone, sometimes it means letting something go. It can mean buying yourself something beautiful or cleaning out your house. In the retreat, we were invited to think about some actions that we could take to integrate what we learned fully. For me, one of those actions was checking in with my pelvis more regularly, just as I do with my head and heart, to hear what that part of me has to say about what goes on in my life.

As someone who lives very much in the moment, planning ahead to look back on something feels very counter-intuitive. But I know, by now, that this part of emotional work can’t be overestimated: integration is absolutely key in making any transformation last.

In which ways do you like to integrate experiences? Which of the strategies above appeals most to you? Why?

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