What are Values?
As we work to transition from unhealthy to healthy, one of the most important lessons, if not THE most important lesson we need to learn is that creating personal values and sticking to them is the basis of all other learning experiences going forward. Your values, or lack thereof, can and will set the stage for your success or failure. And so, if you want to change from unhealthy thinking and behaviors to healthy, you must have a set of values, and they must be more important to you than anything else.
To a love addict, the term “values” can be hugely confusing, because we either don’t know we have any values, or if we do, we do not consider them to be something very important. Case in point: have you ever stayed in a relationship with someone who degraded you? Who did drugs and made you feel uncomfortable? Who lied all the time and it hurt you? These are all examples of entering into relationships (or remaining in relationships) with limited personal values. But…I am getting too far ahead. Let’s start here:
“How do I figure out what my values are?” That’s a very good question! And like I said, not many people even know what values are. I didn’t really have an idea about my values until age 40. I thought I’d explain here…
First of all, a value is a thing (a principle, a belief, a standard of behavior) that we regard as essential to our being, so essential, in fact, that without it, we feel lacking or wrong or worthless. It’s a MUST HAVE, not a want or a wish. A value ( a MUST HAVE) is something we cannot live without and it’s different for all people, save a few biggies. Being treated with kindness is a value. Believing that you should never be physically beaten is a value. Respecting others is a value. The trouble is, either we don’t know what our values are, OR, more importantly, we have a vague idea of our values, but don’t stick to them, and other things become more important.
In order to figure out what your personal values are, I would suggest you start with a list of your own personal likes and dislikes, as well as what you like or don’t like in other people. Think of the people currently in your life and those from your past. Did they have any qualities that really disturbed or upset you to the point where you said, “I cannot deal with this person at all!” For example, say your ex PoA always “neglected” you. When you wanted to talk to him he wouldn’t pick up his phone even though you knew he was home. The feeling of this “crushed” you. That being said, one of your values might be “I cannot remain in a committed relationship with someone who ignores or neglects me.” Remember, a value is a MUST HAVE. It’s essential to who you are. Once you put this on your list, YOU STICK TO IT. You don’t bend. And the reason you don’t bend is because this VALUE is about maintaining your honor and self-worth. This value is your way of protecting yourself.
What’s not a value? Say you dated a guy (or girl) and he or she picked their teeth with a toothpick at the dinner table (funny, perhaps. But this type of behavior bothers some people). Every time this person did this particular behavior it drove you nuts and you didn’t like it. Is trying to avoid this kind of behavior a VALUE? Probably not. It’s more of a preference. But the bigger VALUE might be “I need to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t embarrass me in public.”
So you see, VALUES are things, concepts, ideas that you recognize as being EXTREMELY important to you (must haves) and once you know what they are, you stay true to them. By staying true to them, you only let in people that are good for your well-being. Your values will not be the same as mine. Everyone has different values. What is really important to you, might not be to me. But when you find someone who SHARES your same values, it makes the relationship feel good to you and it makes the relationship work well.
VALUES are personal. But they rarely change throughout the years, unlike “preferences” (i.e. the guy picking his teeth at the table). More importantly, some values are very difficult to recognize. For the longest time, I thought I could handle a man who smoked pot occasionally. So, I kept dating men that did drugs socially. I thought I was wrong for being so critical of “socially laid back” behavior. I used to hear all the time, “C’mon, T, lighten up! You’re too rigid.” And so, for many years, I thought the goal was to learn to lighten up. I WAS SO WRONG! The goal should have been to find people who thought like me, who also could not handle social drugs in their world. What a difference it made!
Here’s a list of my VALUES, and below, is a list of my “preferences” in dating. See if you can see the difference.
1. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who drinks heavily or does drugs. Absolutely no way.
2. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who lies.
3. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who cheats.
4. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who cannot take care of himself
5. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who does not treat my children or his with decency and respect
6. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who hurts or abuses me mentally or physically.
7. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who does not enjoy physical affection and sex.
8. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who doesn’t allow me my space
9. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who is an avoidant
10. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who is not mutually committed to me.
1. I would really like the person I am committed to to be intelligent and teach me things.
2. I would really like the person I am committed to to be musical and play guitar.
3. I would really like the person I am committed to to have a great sense of humor
4. I would really like the person I am committed to to be a good listener
5. I would really like the person I am committed to to be great in bed
6. I would really like the person I am committed to to enjoy travel
7. I would really like the person I am committed to to be financially stable (this might be a VALUE for someone else)
8. I would really like the person I am committed to to be open-minded about religious views and tolerant of all religions
9. I would really like the person I am committed to to like spending lots of time indoors
10. I would really like the person I am committed to to enjoy my family and friends.
Do you see the difference???? Remember your VALUES need to be written in stone, whereas your preferences can change. So, how do you know if something should just be a preference or it should be a value? Say for example you met a guy who you found to be cute, friendly, kind-hearted, but he wasn’t well-educated. Because of his lack of knowledge of the world or college education, you start to feel a rift. Maybe you even start to feel slightly embarrassed when you bring him around your college alum friends and he can’t keep up with the conversation. How does that make you feel? Is it a situation that you can overlook and live with and accept because his kindness outweighs everything else? Or do you feel as though it is making you lose respect for him? If it’s something you can live with (and be tolerant and ultimately happy about) then this is a mere preference. If it’s something that begins to agitate you and you find yourself constantly handing him a catalog of college courses, then “Intelligence in my partner” is more of a VALUE. In fact, intelligence should be moved to my VALUES list as it is more important that I initially thought.
Lastly, a more easier approach to understanding values is the act of having things in common. I’m not talking about the same color hair, or the same birthdate or you both went to the same high school twenty years ago and now you’re the perfect match. I am talking about shared beliefs. When two people share the same beliefs about religion, money, sex, intimacy, family, it tends to be easier for those two people to co-exist and have a healthier relationship. In my case, I thought if we both liked the same music, or we were both dumped by our exs that was a sign that we had stuff in common. I was so wrong! When you don’t know your values, you do not know how to discriminate. When you don’t discriminate (put up boundaries and keep out the weirdos) you are not taking care of yourself. And that is the ultimate goal of values.
Why don’t you share your list here, for others to see.
Here’s a comprehensive list of personal values.