On Friday I heard a story about values and the importance of not just accepting other’s value systems without ensuring they are right for me.
I remember reading a book on psychotherapy and the “pathological critic” (Self-Esteem by McKay and Fanning) that described four criteria to evaluate my personal values that allow me to check whether my own values are “healthy”.
- Flexible – healthy values allow for exceptions and accept room for some mistakes in the process of learning new things. Unhealthy values often include the ideas never, always, all, totally, perfectly – which are likely to end up creating feelings of worthlessness. “I should never make mistakes” might sound like a worthy ambition, but is likely to generate stress in all but the most safe situations.
- Owned – healthy values are owned: critically examined and right for me. Unhealthy values are inherited without critically determining if they are right for my personality, needs and circumstances. They are often our parent’s values that we have accepted as valid without a process of checking whether they are right for my life.
- Realistic – healthy values are oriented to outcomes. Unhealthy values are absolute and global, prescribing behaviour because it is morally “good” or “right”. “A good parent keeps their children safe from danger” is unhealthy – there will be situations where the parent has little control over the situation eg bullying at school, underperfomance in sports.
- Life enhancing – healthy values do not diminish or narrow me as a person – they allow pursuit of areas that are positive, nourishing, supportive to my needs. Unhealthy values are life restricting – “I must always be happy and positive” is not life enhancing – it denies that there will be moments that I am sad, frustrated or angry – and it is restrictive to deny my full range of emotions.