17 Nov 2020 Survival: Using Your Values to Guide You
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl
People are feeling powerless these days. Just mentioning the election or the COVID pandemic can trigger immediate physical feelings, such as a surge of adrenaline, a heaviness in your head or a sudden increase in heart rate. For many people these issues can evoke the emotional feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness and fear.
There are certain concrete actions you can do to affect these situations, such as exercise your right to vote, decide to take safety precautions, volunteer to help others, become politically active and/or engage in charitable causes. Simultaneously, it can still leave you feeling hopeless toward the situations that are outside your control, such as the outcomes despite your efforts. Therefore, let us look at what you can do to feel better during these challenging times.
First, recognize when you have done all you can to affect a situation. There are real situations that are scary and threatening, however if there is truly nothing you can do to change the outcome, resisting or denying reality isn’t going to change it.
After this, you must radically accept the situation as it is. Radical Acceptance is when one fully and completely accepts the reality of the situation that is occurring. This does not mean that you like or want the facts to be the way they are, but you are surrendering to the facts as they are.
Next, do your best to adjust your behaviors to be in line with your values. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) defines values as the words that describe how we want/desire to behave in this moment and on an ongoing basis.
Values are not rules. They are not right or wrong (or who we “should” be). They are not goals. Values are a description of how we want to behave in the world and behaviors that make our life meaningful.
An easy way to assess your values is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I stand for in life?
- How do I want to treat people around me?
- A few years from now, if I were to look back at this time, what did I stand for and who was I in this moment?
- At 80 years old, looking back on my life, what did I spend too much time doing… or too little time doing?
- If someone was to describe the person I am, I would like them to say I am…?
Once you are able to establish what is important to you, you can keep that value in front of you and alter your behaviors to move toward them. Take time to think about ways of intentionally infusing these types of behaviors into your days. If you value compassion and kindness, do small acts that demonstrate this each day, such as giving random compliments, being mindful of your tone in difficult conversations, or telling your loved ones what you appreciate about them. The ideas could be endless.
Also, take time to consider ways to demonstrate those values in times of adversity. If you plan ahead, you will be able to respond to challenging situations and feel good about who you are. You may not be able to control outcomes, but you can reclaim your power by incorporating your values into your responsive behavior.
Therapist tip—Ensure that you are being gentle with yourself by using the Dialectical Behavior Therapy mantra, “I am doing the best I can,” when approaching values. We are all human and will inevitably do behaviors that are not in line with our values. It’s ok…you are human! Just be mindful, forgive yourself, and then choose another behavior that will realign you with your values.
Authored by: Alison Trenk, MA, LCSW