by Ryan Berkompas, a Doxa Counselor.
In my previous post, I used a swimming metaphor to capture the process of accepting our difficult thoughts and experiences instead of fighting against or avoiding them. I made the case that, like leaning into the water when swimming, being willing to have difficult thoughts and feelings helps us “swim” towards what is important to us with greater freedom.
Now I want to look at another part of that metaphor: “What is your ‘other side of the pool?’” In other words, who and what are important enough to you that you are willing to have difficult experiences if it means that you can live more fully and purposefully in that relationship or area of life?
The process of clarifying what matters to us has a history within the positive psychology movement. This movement arose as a response to what some saw as a preoccupation with illness and abnormality within psychology research. In an attempt to offer an “antidote” to this apparent negative bias, positive psychology asks questions such as “What contributes to human flourishing?” One answer is that values and valued-living play a role in alleviating suffering and promoting well-being.
Why Values Matter
So, with a little bit of history and context out of the way, it’s time to look at why values matter if you are in therapy or interested in pursuing therapy. Through the process of working with a therapist who is familiar with helping people work through values issues you can learn to become more aware of what is important to you, how to stay focused on what matters even in the presence of difficult inner and outer experiences, and how to build up effective actions that carry you in valued directions.
In working with a therapist, you may learn how to recognize the social messages about worthiness and worthwhile living that you have taken in that do not serve you. You may also learn how to connect your values to life goals that genuinely move you towards a more rich, meaningful life. For example, I may have the goal of attaining a certain therapy training certification that helps me bring more compassionate care into my work as a therapist. Notice that I could “check off” getting a certificate from a to-do list, but I will never be able to “check off” bringing compassion and care to my work. Compassion and care are values that serve me like a compass serves a person navigating towards a destination.
What Do You Want to Live Towards?
By talking early and often about values, clients and their therapists can acknowledge the common reality that few (if any) people seek therapy simply to reduce their psychological symptoms. Instead, therapy is sought after because psychological symptoms serve to “get in the way” of aspects of life that matter to that person. As is often the case, we can lose sight of what is deeply meaningful to us when we are caught in pain or suffering. Thankfully, therapy can help you in both the areas where you are hurting as well as identifying what you want to be living towards in your life.
Finally, I want to present some food-for-thought, tips, and questions that may help you engage with this idea whether you are in therapy, considering starting therapy, or simply want to engage in a process of understanding what is important to you in this moment of your life:
- Break down the different life domains that are important to you. An example of this would be breaking down into areas of work/education, personal growth/health, relationships, and leisure/play. Consider how important each area is to you and how you can engage each this week.
- Recall stories or memories from your past in which you felt vitalized, alive, and connected to something rich and meaningful to you. Where were you? What were you doing? What qualities of living were you able to engage in within that story or memory?
- Spend some time writing about or reflecting on the following questions: Who and what are important to you? What do you want to live for? What do you want your life to have been about?
- Try writing goals for this week connected to your values using the following sentence structure: In service of __________(Who and what is important to you) I will __________(Partake is specific actions) in the presence of __________(Uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that are likely to arise).
These tips and questions are only a starting point on a journey of understanding and learning what your core values are and how you want to pursue them in your life. Working through this issue is not as simple as “I wrote it down in my journal one time, so I’m good.” If you would like help along this path, I encourage you to reach out to me or another therapist who is comfortable examining these topics with clients. You can contact me by calling 601-207-4699 or filling out the web contact form here on the website to arrange an appointment.
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