Values – are yours hurting you?

Living in accordance with your values is often the final step in the therapeutic process.  But what if living in line with them could make you miserable?

Living in line with your values can sound aspirational, or even irrelevant, to a lot of people.  But it only takes a couple of moments’ thought to realise the harm that can come from a life that makes you compromise or contradict them.

At its most obvious that can be a job that requires us to fudge the truth or put a spin on facts when integrity or transparency are at you core.  More subtly it can be about making accommodations with family or friends that make us feel uncomfortable or inauthentic.

But living in accordance with your values won’t automatically bring you happiness or contentment.  In fact, if misunderstood, it can actively make you more miserable.

That’s because many people use their values not as a guide of how to live but as a way of measuring how short they’ve fallen.  This is when they end up driving disappointment and discontent rather than helping us to live our best lives, and there is normally one of two reasons for that.

The first reason is that we adopt the values that we feel we should have; that we think are expected of us, or that will make our life the easiest or the most comfortable.

These aren’t then our real values, they’re phantoms that haunt us, not help us.  The way to respond to these is through honesty – what really matters to you?

The second reason that our values fail to inspire us is that we misunderstand them.  That can be because we use a label, or have a mental image, instead of a value.  For instance, a ‘value’ I often come across in women is “to be a perfect mum”.  That’s not actually the value – it’s what lies behind the label that shows the values.

If for you being a perfect mum is about being emotionally supportive, encouraging, or open and accessible, then those are values you can usefully use as a set of guidelines.  And that will be a much more constructive and healthy way to live than feeling ‘not perfect’ when you do, inevitably, get it wrong.

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