Values: What are they and why do you need to know what yours are?
Values are those inner standards from which you receive the motivation to act as you do. They signify what is important and worthwhile to you. Our values help us map out the personal choices we make in order to live the life we want.
When I work with adult clients, I encourage them to do values clarification. Why? Because living a life that is NOT in accordance with their own personal values produces resistance in them, and will eventually cause them stress, anxiety, or depression.
Where people spend their resources (time, energy, and money) is a statement of their values. But sometimes, clients spend their own resources on values that are not in fact their own but are the values of other people or organizations with whom they feel pressure to conform, such as their parents, friends, or partner, their church or political party. When this happens, clients come in with feelings of confusion, resentment, and bitterness. They know they’re not living the life they want, but feel powerless to change their situation.
The healthiest people I see are the ones who have given themselves permission to identify and live out the values that are true for them, not others. And, depending on how much pressure there was on you as a child to conform to the values of others, it may take a lot of courage to declare your own values and live them out.
Do personal values change over time? Yes, they do, depending on circumstances or stages of life.
For example, a life-threatening illness, or the death of a loved one, or entering a new stage of adult life such as menopause, empty nest, or retirement, can all bring about shifts in our values.
Need help clarifying your values? Try the following exercise, and do it by yourself, then ask your partner (or other family member) to do it on their own. When you have both completed the exercise, then discuss your answers with one another.
What’s important to me? Check those that apply to you:
_____a physical appearance to be proud of
_____to be educated and have a degree
_____to be in a relationship with a partner with whom I love
spending time and doing things together
_____to have and exercise political power
_____to be known as an authentic person
_____to be in a relationship where I’m loved for who I am right
now, not who I “was” or who I “could be”
_____to be creative in the “palette” of my choice, be it painting,
gardening, decorating, fashion, textiles, cooking, or
any other form of creative expression
_____to enjoy nature and/or being outdoors
_____to help people make changes that they want
_____to have employment that I enjoy and that has meaning for me
_____helping the sick and disadvantaged
_____being actively involved in the lives of my children or
_____having a beautiful home in the setting of my choice
_____eating fine foods
_____experiencing cultural activities
_____having a close circle of friends with whom I share interests
_____a meaningful and fulfilling spiritual life
_____being different; not following “the herd”
_____fitting in with my social group
_____to have time to spend every day on something just for me
_____to be a recognized expert in my field
_____to have a financially comfortable life
_____financial security for my retirement
_____to be sexy
_____to feel physically safe and secure in the world
_____to live a really long life
_____to be completely myself without feeling judged by others
_____to have high social status in my culture
_____to be free from physical pain
_____to have prized possessions surrounding me
_____to be admired
_____being taken care of
_____being in control
_____having stimulation and no boredom
_____having self-acceptance at every age of my life
_____freedom to do as I please
_____learning and knowing a lot
_____preserving my family’s roots
_____living fully in the moment
_____having high quality material possessions
_____having lots of time to be by myself, doing what I want
_____not being tied down by material things
My personal values: (List your top ten.)
Now rank each value in priority order, then, for each value you listed, answer this question:
I will know this value has been met when________________________
This value is currently being met by ____________________________ _______________________________________________________________________
A few questions to consider when discussing values:
- If my partner’s top values differ from my own, do we (and if so, how do we) allow for, and honor, one another’s differing values within our couple relationship?
- If my adult children’s top values differ from my own, do I (and if so, how do I) allow for, and honor, the values they have which differ from my own?
- What values of mine differ from my parents’/family of origin? How do members of my family of origin allow for, and honor, my values that differ from theirs?
- Are there ever times when you feel in a position to have to defend your values to someone else? If so, have you ever felt uncomfortable or unsafe having to do so?
- Are there ever times when you feel unable to stand up for your values and/or are silenced in the face of opposition to, criticism of, or minimization of your own values? If so, what would support you at times when you feel unable to stand up for your values?