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Toxic Baggage: How Dishonesty And Bad Behavior Takes A Toll On Your Health

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Do We Really Get Away With Anything?

Let's talk about integrity – or the lack thereof and why it's a big deal. Sometimes, we start down the slippery slope of not being all that honest or kind because we just don't want to face the music. We may think we are going to escape consequences. But do we really, and why do we do it?

First, let's review the top ten most common reasons why people lack integrity:

  1. Fear of Consequences
  2. Low Self-Esteem
  3. Lack Of Healthy Role Models
  4. External Pressures From Peers Or Society
  5. Lack of Emotional Intelligence & Empathy
  6. Habitual Or Learned Behavior
  7. Selfishness & Justification
  8. Financial Pressure
  9. Short-term Thinking
  10. Ego & Pride

Why Do We Lie, Cheat & Behave Badly?

Lying, cheating, and acting poorly can manifest in small everyday acts or become more severe, manipulative, or harmful. Why do we do it? The most common reason is to avoid taking responsibility for our actions and deflect from our own challenges.

Perhaps you lied or said something hurtful and avoided getting caught or called out. Are you in the clear, or will some cosmic karma catch up with you? Do we really fully get away with things when we are not caught?

Lack Of Integrity Literally Poisons Us

The problem with even the sneakiest of covert bad behavior is that when we escape consequences from other people, our brain still knows what we did. Our mind knows when we've been up to no good. And guess what? Our bodies are in on the secret, too, and we carry this in our bodies.

That means that even if you don't realize it, your body's truth detector is on high alert. Even if you're oblivious to it, your body starts carrying around the chemical baggage of your not-so-stellar behavior. It's like hauling around a suitcase full of poison made from bad deeds. And over time, this baggage can really mess with your mental well-being and physical health.

Research shows that when you behave in a manner consistent with your values and ethics, you will experience higher levels of psychological well-being, and the opposite is also true. This connection is often explored in moral psychology studies.

If you struggle with depression or anxiety, it may have started from childhood wounds, but if you act without integrity toward others, do yourself a favor. Head on over to that bathroom mirror and take a long look at who's been messing with your inner peace and who is making you sick now. 

Research has demonstrated that chronic stress, which is highly linked to unhealthy or toxic behavior, can lead to various health problems, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and weakened immune function.

You see, those pesky health problems we sometimes face, like ulcers, headaches, or even those heart-pounding heart challenges, might just be tangled up in how you've been treating your fellow humans. It's like your body's way of saying, "Hey, who are you trying to fool?!"

Even if you look like the squeaky clean poster child to the rest of the world, deep down, you know it's a lie. Or perhaps you proudly flaunt your inner troublemaker, proudly proclaiming to the world that being blunt or an asshole is just who you are these days.

The catch is that your self-esteem is whittled away even when you try to compensate by exerting control, criticizing others, or acting superior because your body knows the truth.

How It Poisons Us

Unethical behavior can indirectly affect your physical health in various ways. Here are ways that these behaviors can contribute to physical health problems:


Engaging in unethical behavior can lead to chronic stress. The guilt, anxiety, and fear of getting caught can trigger the body's stress response, leading to various health issues, including stress-induced sexual dysfunction.

Sleep Disturbances

People who engage in deceptive or unethical behavior often suffer from sleep disturbances due to guilt, anxiety, and racing thoughts. Poor sleep, in turn, can lead to various health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and impaired cognitive function.

Depression & Anxiety

Ethical conflicts can make preexisting mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety worse, as well as initiate them. These conditions can cause physical health repercussions, including digestive issues, headaches, and a weakened immune system.

Substance Abuse

Many people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the emotional turmoil accompanying dishonesty or unethical behavior. Substance abuse can lead to a host of health problems, including addiction, liver disease, and mental health issues.

Relationship Strain

Engaging in lying, cheating, or destructive behavior can lead to strained relationships, including familial, romantic, and social connections. Poor relationships or social isolation can contribute to stress, which negatively impacts mental and physical health.

Negative Coping Mechanisms

People who engage in unethical behavior may use negative coping mechanisms, such as overeating, self-harm, or reckless behavior, which can have immediate and long-term physical health consequences.

Legal Consequences

Engaging in unethical behaviors can lead to legal problems, including divorce. This can be a significant source of stress and financial strain and take a toll on one's mental and physical health.

You Never Really Get Away With It

There is no such thing as fully getting away with mistreating others. Our bodies and brains are like secret detectives; they can tell when we're sneaky, lying, cheating, or causing harm. And guess what? They're not cool with it! It poisons us in so many ways.

You can go through the motions of therapy, work out, and eat healthy, but when we knowingly make choices that hurt people, we hurt ourselves. Healing our wounds mentally and physically to be our healthiest selves can only occur with honesty, and the only way to be really whole is to have integrity.

How To Increase Your Integrity

Okay, so you get it. It's time to embrace self-care, nurture our connections with others, and refine our integrity. Let's review how you can increase it:


Self-awareness is the first step toward improvement, so reflect on your actions, values, and beliefs, and honestly examine how and why you have compromised your integrity in the past.

Define Your Values

Identify your core values by listing what matters most to you, such as honesty, accountability, empathy, or respect. Knowing what is important to you can help you guide your behavior.

Set Boundaries

Establishing boundaries can help you maintain your integrity by allowing you to live authentically. Communicate your limits to others, and be consistent in enforcing them.

Apologize & Make Amends

If you've compromised your integrity, take responsibility for it. Apologize sincerely and make amends in any way you can. Then, ensure it does not happen again.

Practice Honesty

Honesty is a cornerstone of integrity. Be truthful in your words and behavior, even when it's challenging.

Act Ethically

Make ethical decisions by considering the consequences of your actions on yourself and others. Choose the path that is fair and just.

Keep Promises

Only make commitments you can keep, and then follow through on them.

Be Accountable

Take ownership of your mistakes and shortcomings. Acknowledge when you've fallen short, and work to rectify the situation.

Surround Yourself With Ethical People

Associate with people who share your values and demonstrate integrity. Their influence can help reinforce your commitment to ethical behavior.

Continuous Self-Improvement

Strive for personal growth and learn from your mistakes by using them as opportunities to improve.

Seek Feedback

Ask for feedback about your behavior from friends, family, or colleagues. Constructive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement.

Practice Empathy

Consider the feelings and perspectives of others to help you make ethical decisions and treat others with respect.

Be Consistent

Consistency in your behavior is essential for integrity. People should know what to expect from you and be able to depend on you.

Maintain Confidentiality

Respect the privacy and trust of others by keeping sensitive information confidential. Breaching can harm your integrity.

Avoid Rationalization

Resist the temptation to rationalize bad behavior. Hold yourself accountable and avoid making excuses.

Seek Professional Help

If you struggle with behaviors that compromise your integrity, consider seeking guidance from a therapist who can help you address underlying issues.

In Closing

The path to true well-being, both mentally and physically, is illuminated by the light of integrity. It's not merely about avoiding consequences or projecting a certain image for the world to see; it's about being honest with ourselves and others and taking responsibility for our choices.

Remember, to truly be free and to have the healthiest, happiest versions of ourselves, protecting our integrity is essential. 

Also, see our related guide: Is Your Toxic Partner Making You Sick?

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