Living life from our values is one of the ways we can create meaning.
I find that many people I work with are stumped when they are asked what they value. Often people are not attuned to their values and how they are living them. Without awareness of our values we are making choices without a foundation of what brings meaning to our lives. When we are in harmony with our values we can make choices in our life that keep us aligned to our integrity and the person we want to be.
Why does living your values matter?
I think the main reason our values matter is that they give our life meaning. For better or worse humans are meaning making machines. We cannot experience the world without associating some kind of meaning to what is happening. In so many ways we, as humans, make this meaning up.
Without having any values there is no meaning. If what you do in life has no value, not better or worse, then it is nearly impossible to find meaning. If you have ever done a job that you didn’t value it quickly becomes clear that you find yourself in place of meaninglessness. If there is no meaning in work it quickly becomes drudgery. If, however, we do find value in our work it is easy to find meaning in what we are doing.
I believe it is important to be in touch with our values so that it can keep us in line with our integrity. Our integrity is the moral compass that directs us towards what we value. When we do things outside of our values we can immediately know this is not how we want to act in the world. This can lead to quickly course correcting our actions and choices so we can get back in line with our integrity. Values are a way of informing our internal sense of who we are and directing us forward in our life.
The last reason (I’m sure there are lots more) I think we should be more aware of our values is that we can then determine what is valuable to ourselves. Instead of living the values of your parents or some religion you can actually make sure that how you are valuing things is in line with what is important to you. Without making this conscious by exploring our values we might still be living someone else’s values.
Living our values helps us in relationships.
In his book, Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain Under Any Kind of Stress, psychotherapist Steven Stosny explains how we can use our values to help us maintain emotional stability. “When we act out towards our loved ones we feel a sense of shame because we are often acting against our values system. This is a good thing. Many of the habits activated under stress violate our deeper values—for example, blaming, yelling, stonewalling, or devaluing loved ones.” (Stosny, 2016) By being aware of our values we can continually course correct toward our values.
Once again, this keeps us in line with who we want to be in the world. We can use our values as a way to continuously change our unhealthy behaviors towards the people we love.
It is also true that we can experience others as valuable. When we find someone or a group of friends as valuable we want to commit our time and energy towards these people. Often by doing this we are living out our values as well.
Not only is it important to value others but it is also critical for our relationships to find our internal value.
Relationships are hard and often the people we love can lash out at us with criticism and blame. When this happens we must have the fortitude inside ourselves to tolerate the intensity of feelings that come up. This means we need to find our inner value that is not dependent on what others think or express.
People in relationships often become overly dependent because they lack a sense of themselves. When we can find an internal value we start to stand on our own two feet. This allows someone to weather the inevitable storms of a relationship and not lose themselves in a cycle of self-aggression.
When we can be in a relationship with a strong sense of our own individual value we won’t get caught up (as much) in the drama of our relationship. We can hold the space of the moment and acknowledge the hurt feelings of our partner but also be bolstered by valuing ourselves. This includes self-compassion, self-validation and self-empowerment. When we give this to ourselves we are much safer in our own skin and don’t project our emotions onto our partner.
Desire not emotional neediness
When we are hurt, blamed, criticized or accused of something we often move to a defensive posture that demands retribution. This is a normal response from our nervous system’s need to protect us. However, in this often self-righteous place of feeling wounded we often get pulled into our toddler brain (overactive limbic system) which leads us to childlike behaviors. These behaviors are often not in line with our values.
When we can move from our toddler brain to our adult brain we can reconnect to our values. Being attuned to our values allows us to move towards what matters to us rather than living from the moment to moment needs of our emotional experience. Living out our values provides a sense of living our purpose. We are either living a meaningful life or we need to refocus our lives towards what we value. Emotions are important but they are very momentary and are not necessarily about our purpose or values in the moment. Often we feel a sense of neediness because our emotions are telling us we have been unjustly hurt by someone.
How this shows up in my life.
The challenge for me is getting my emotional preferences confused with my values. This has led me to express my needs through the lens of emotions rather than something deeply important like my values. When I’m hurt in a relationship I often get overly expressive about repairing my hurt emotions rather than digging into what I value at that moment. I can spend a lot of time forcing the people in my life to rectify my internal space. In these moments I’m putting my personal emotions over my personal values and not acting in line with my integrity.
I aspire to move out of this child-like thinking and instead find more of what I value in the moment. When I get hurt I can honor the need to establish a boundary with my partner while also not needing to beat her over the head with my hurt feelings. Instead I try to move out of the overactive child brain (limbic system) and connect with my adult brain (prefrontal cortex). Here I can connect to what I value which, may be finding compassion for myself and my partner and moving towards connection.
Being stuck in emotional neediness doesn’t allow much movement towards what really matters. I often find myself feeling a sense of self-righteous disdain for my partner which is out of alignment with who I truly am. Who I truly am is someone who values connection and intimacy rather than being right.
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Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Stosny, Steven. (2016). Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain Under Any Kind of Stress. Deerfield Beach, FL. Health Communications Inc EB.
LeJeune, Jenna & Luoma, Jason. (2019). Values in Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Helping Clients Explore Values, Increase Psychological Flexibility, and Live a More Meaningful Life. Oakland, CA. Context Press.