By examining our core values in therapy, and understanding them, we can use them as motivators to make changes to enjoy a fuller, healthier and richer life.
This is the foundation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps individuals commit to values-guided action to improve their wellbeing. You accept the things that are out of your control, and commit to the work it takes to realise a values–guided life.
What are Values?
Values are non-material, the beliefs that guide your actions; the concepts that are core to how you believe you can make your life worthwhile.
Problems arise when an individual’s core values are in conflict. This can be the cause of deep distress and unhappiness. Examples might be:
The Teenager in Trouble – The 13 year old who believes loyalty and trustworthiness keeps your best friends close; but also believes that true friendship means being protective when that friend is in trouble. So a teenager can be plunged into massive anxiety when a best friend confides she wants to kill herself – because if she is a “true” friend, she is not to tell anyone.
Parenting or Success? – The 30-something young father whose own workaholic father had little time to spend with him. As a result of his own deep sadness, his core value as a parent is developing close ties with his own children, by making sure to spend some time with them nearly every day, to help them flourish and grow into secure adults.
At the same time however, he has another core value also learned from his high-flying father: that successful masculinity, and his identity as a man, requires him to be a rich man by the age of 40. This means he must spend long hours at his business, leaving little time to be with his children. This conflict in his values may be deeply disturbing for him, and give rise to very high levels of stress affecting his health, his management skills and his relationships with his family.
For Better, For Worse – The woman whose religious beliefs, core to her being since childhood, mean that marriage is for life, for better or for worse. This is challenged when she discovers her once adventurous, bright, clever, loving, beloved daughter is suffering from verbal, psychological and financial abuse in her marriage, and has become frightened by the threats, feeling inadequate as a person and a mother, and is very depressed. The mother has always been fiercely protective of her daughter’s wellbeing as core to her beliefs about being a parent. If she believes her daughter is “sinful” for divorcing her husband, yet fearful for her adult child, she will be in great distress and will find no peace until this conflict of values can be resolved.
The work in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy requires the individual, finding themselves in these seemingly impossible double-binds, to examine in depth their core values and where they conflict, in order to decide which value must take priority in a given situation, to develop a rich and meaningful life.
Resolving Conflicting Core Values
Learning to be insightful and deeply honest about the self can be hard work, but also very rewarding.
Once the values we commit to are truly in line with our best selves, we can be inspired to follow through with the actions that will lead to the reduction of stress and distress. Once certain of the values that will safely guide us, they are guiding lights to help us confront and change – or accept, with strength and calm – the challenges as well as the joys, of experiencing fully mindful lives.
If you would like to find out more about core values in therapy, as a way to enrich and provide meaning to your situation, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Susanne Gilmour, BA, Dip Soc. Science, Grad Dip Psychology.
Susanne Gilmour is a Registered Psychologist with nearly 20 years’ experience working with children, adolescents and their families, in addition to a background in management.
Bookings and Fees: To make an appointment with Susanne Gilmour, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Aisbett, Bev, and Harris, Dr Russ. “The Illustrated Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living”. Shambhala Publications, 2014, Boston. (Recommended as a starter guide to this approach to reduce stress and overcome fear to create a richer and more meaningful life.)