40 years of silence and self-betrayal led my client to choose between potentially decimating her relationship with her aging parents( with a slim chance of ever seeing them again) or continuing to be the person she could barely face in the mirror.
Have you ever grappled with such a decision? Being torn completely apart by your conflicting values?
What They Don’t Tell You About Values
Let’s talk about values for a moment. It’s widely known that in self-discovery and personal development, understanding our values is a big deal. Therapists and coaches often start here with their clients because it helps them make decisions that feel right and clear. I believe in this too, but like most things, there’s a flip side- a shadow side.
Let me give you an example. My client has been openly lesbian for over 40 years, but her parents have always denied her truth, causing her lots of pain. When she came to me, it wasn’t just the family denial that bothered her most. It was how she’d betrayed herself for four decades by letting her family treat her in a way that didn’t match who she truly was.
Now, with her parents nearing the end of their lives, she felt she had to keep up this self-betrayal until they passed away. She felt stuck because she’d let it go on for so long.
But she was also wrestling with herself. She told herself she was a coward. That she didn’t stand up for her convictions. That she was a weak person who lacked boundaries. She told herself lies. Though, to her, they felt like the truth.
I worked to help my client view her circumstances through a more compassionate lens. From my perspective, it looked like she valued family and relationships, but she also valued being true to herself and having courage.
The Dilemma of Imperfect Choices In Our Truths and Values
Do you see the problem?
The truth is, no one should have to choose between their family and themselves. In a perfect world, she could have both her family and her authenticity. But our world isn’t perfect, and sometimes we have to make tough choices, and we do our best with the options we have.
So, while I think values are important and helpful, I also think most advice about them is incomplete. It doesn’t prepare us for the tough experience of making imperfect choices—choices that might go against some of our values while staying true to others.
That’s why I want to share four unpopular truths about values, so you can have a complete picture, and be prepared for what may lie ahead in your journey.
4 Unpopular Truths About Values
1. Values Are Always Changing:
Maybe you’re a person in your early thirties. In your twenties, you placed great importance on career success above all else. You wanted to be at the top of your field, widely recognized and admired by the people in your space. But, something you didn’t expect happened. You fell in love and had a child. Now, all of your ambition has been replaced by a profound sense of fulfillment and love. Suddenly, what once felt most important no longer holds the same merit.
In this scenario, you find yourself at a crossroads, realizing that your values have shifted significantly. The emotions of fulfillment and love have taken precedence over the pursuit of career success. This transformation can indeed be confusing and disorienting, especially when we forget that we have the freedom to change.
But here’s the essential reminder: your personal values are not static commandments; they are dynamic, responsive, and ever-evolving.
So, be open to how your values can shift as you gain new experiences, insights, and perspectives. Embrace these changes as a natural part of your growth journey. This flexibility and openness to change will ease your suffering as you move through different transformations, helping you find alignment with your evolving self.
2. Values Can Create Inner Conflict:
Maybe you’ve found yourself torn between the truths and values of freedom and responsibility. Perhaps you love adventurous solo travels, but you see that your parents are aging, and you’re committed to being there for them. This can feel suffocating. The tension between your desire for adventure and a sense of duty makes it hard to breathe. Values can give birth to internal struggles as they seem to clash. They can make it difficult for you to navigate your life in a way that feels good.
In this scenario, you are faced with a profound inner conflict, torn between the value of “freedom” and the value of “responsibility.” The feelings of suffocation and tension are real.
To navigate these tough moments, it’s crucial to make space for your complexities without judging yourself. Self-judgment will only intensify the challenges you face. Avoid buying into narratives that label you as selfish or uniquely unlucky, for these judgments only add to the weight of your internal conflict.
Because inevitably, no matter what you choose, the choice will come at a price you dread to pay. You will find yourself torn between two deeply held values.
Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that such conflicts are not betrayals of self but opportunities for growth and self-discovery. These conflicts can reveal layers of your being you didn’t know existed. Embrace them as a chance to explore the complexity of your humanity and your capacity for spaciousness and growth.
3. Values Require Us To Do Things We Don’t Want To Do
Maybe you’ve experienced sudden job loss during a recession. A career that you loved and dedicated time and effort to. A career you made huge sacrifices for. But now life demands that you do something you don’t want to. You take a job that pays your bills, feeds your kids, and does nothing more. You will feel the emotions of disappointment, frustration, anger, and sadness.
But ultimately, these tough choices are not just about doing what you don’t want to do; they are also leading you to a place of strength and resilience. While the path may seem uncertain, it’s essential to recognize that these challenging moments can open doors to new self-explorations and self-discoveries.
Perhaps, if you’re open to it, you can find new ways to discover joy and happiness in your life that aren’t tied to the work you do but are more bound by finding joy in who you are.
These moments of self-reflection can lead to a greater self-awareness journey and increased personal growth, helping you adapt and thrive even in the face of unexpected and unwelcome changes. It’s a reminder that your core truths and values can guide you through life’s twists and turns, helping you find meaning and purpose even in challenging circumstances.
4. Values Can Change From Moment to Moment
Maybe you’ve found yourself in a situation where you face the dilemma where speaking the truth may hurt someone you care about. In this moment, you begin to experience an inner battle between empathy and honesty. Normally, you would choose straightforward honesty, but here, empathy seems to serve a greater purpose. You choose to hold back because, in this moment, empathy feels like the right path to take.
In this scenario, you’re confronted with the fluid nature of your values, as they fluctuate from moment to moment. You experience the tension between two important values: “empathy” and “honesty.” This moment reminds you that life often demands flexibility with your values, as each situation presents unique challenges and opportunities.
Give yourself permission to be flexible with your values, for it’s a natural response to life’s ever-changing circumstances. Allow your values to respond authentically to the present moment.
Practice staying attuned to your values in the here and now, understanding that this flexibility can lead to more authentic and compassionate decision-making.
Values Are A Guide, Not A Pain-Free, Bullet Proof, End All Be All
In our journey through life and the exploration of the often-overlooked aspects of values, one thing becomes abundantly clear: life is not always neatly aligned with our values.
My client’s story of four decades of silence and self-betrayal reflects the heart-wrenching choices that conflicting values can force us to make.
Have you ever found yourself torn apart by your values, faced with imperfect choices that challenge your principles?
The reality is, no one should have to make such excruciating decisions. In an ideal world, we could honor our values without compromise. Yet, our world is far from perfect, and life often demands flexibility.
Understanding these four unpopular truths about values gives us a more complete perspective. It reminds us that values are not fixed, but ever-evolving. They can create inner conflicts, urging us to embrace our complexity without self-judgment. They require us to do things we may not want to do, leading us to newfound strength and resilience. Values can change from moment to moment, inviting us to be open and present as we navigate life’s twists and turns.
So, as you continue your personal growth journey, remember that values are a dynamic force to help guide you, but they cannot spare you from discomfort.
But I encourage you to practice embracing value’s ever-changing nature, navigate their conflicts with compassion, and find strength in the choices you make, even when they are imperfect.
Ultimately, your values can illuminate the path to self-discovery and authenticity, even in the face of life’s most challenging decisions.