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  • Writer's pictureHeather Gibson, MA, LMFT

Identifying Our Values

Updated: Apr 12

Written by Alexandra "Lexi" Roa, APCC

When we recognize them, our values can be a compass, providing us direction towards living a full and authentic life. Knowing what we value is also the first step in setting boundaries, making choices to protect our space and making sure our needs are met. However, it can be difficult to identify our values, to the point where some might believe they don’t have any values at all.

Here are 2 ways we can identify our values:

  1. Our choices. Every time we make a choice, we get a glimpse into the things we value. Even the times it feels like we don’t have a choice, if we look closely, we may realize we did, but the action we chose was so aligned with our values that it seemed like the only option. For example, if a loved one tells us they had a hard day and need us to come over later, we might say to ourselves: “I have to go over there tonight.” It’s a no brainer, we don’t have a choice. When we stop to think about it though, we did have a choice: rush over to be with our loved one to offer comfort and support or stay home and go about our normal routine of making dinner and watching that new episode of our show.

The only reason it seemed like we didn’t have a choice was because we value our relationship with that loved one, or maybe we value the feeling of caring for others, so obviously we’re going to be there. On the other hand, we might choose the second option on days when we had a tough day or just need some time to ourselves, signaling that our value of self-care took precedence and we need to reschedule with our loved one instead.

2. Guilt. This one can be tricky because guilt often shows up when it doesn’t need to. Sometimes others try to place guilt on us, so that we’ll make a choice that benefits them. Similarly, the word “should” is a regular part of our everyday language. We use it towards ourselves and others, and guilt tends to tag along with it. And when it does, it is heavy.

In reality, our emotions are just signals for us. When we pay attention, they show us how to care for ourselves. Guilt lets us know when we’ve done something that went against our values (and we knew it when we did it!). In the example above, if we value the relationship and showing compassion for others, but then choose to ignore the call from our loved one, we will likely feel guilty. In this case, that guilt is probably appropriate, and a signal to us to find a way to realign with those values.

Because it often shows up unnecessarily though, guilt is an emotion we need to be careful about attending to. If we choose the self-care option from the example above, we don’t need to feel guilty about that either, since self-care is valuable in itself. As with everything, there is hardly ever a “right” or “wrong,” and responding to guilt requires lots of flexibility and compassion.

Every action we take involves a choice, and every choice reflects a value. So next time you choose to stay 30 minutes late at work, to reach out to an old friend, or say no to plans, it might be worth asking yourself: what value is this representing? The more we get in touch with this, the easier it becomes to engage in self-compassion, and to be intentional about living out our values and pursuing a life that supports and reflects them.

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