Understanding the Role of Values

Values are intended to help you lay a solid foundation for permanent change. This three part series is focused on the single most important aspect of your recovery: your values. Specifically, your ability to recognize, develop and use your values in practical ways.

Values: What Are They?

Your values are those principles in your life that you use to derive meaning and fulfillment. They form the foundation of your identity. If those values are consistent, your identity will reflect consistency. If those values are in conflict with one another, your identity will reflect conflict. For many, values are conceived as idealistic concepts without any real practical value in helping them to manage their day-to-day life. This needs to change. You need to construct a foundation of practical values from which you will manage the most important aspects of your life. Without this foundation in place, more complex life skills such as prioritization, decision-making, urge control, goal management, emotional management and others simply cannot be mastered. And addiction cannot be overcome.

The Role of Values

What an engine is to your car, values are to your life. Can a person still drive a car without an engine? Yes, but not efficiently. The engine performs a particular role for that car (to generate energy), and unless that role is fulfilled by some other means, the car will not run. What other options are available to generate this motion? The use of a tow truck, or the assurance that all of the trips made in that car will be downhill. Yes, that is sarcasm. But nonetheless, the car can still function as a mode of transportation--albeit in a much less efficient manner. Can a person live without values? Yes, but not efficiently. Values perform a particular role in life (to generate energy), and unless that role is fulfilled by some other means, that life will not run. What options are available in a life not stimulated by one's values? Well, addiction for one.

In a healthy person, values provide the motivation that drives their behavior. They are the impetus for decision-making and the foundation for feelings and emotions. Without a foundation of values, our lives would lack even the most basic sense of significance or meaning. We would be reduced to nothing more than animals guided by whatever made them feel good at the moment, no matter what the consequences. Which is why, as the progressive nature of addiction begins to take root, one's values diminish. And as that behavior continues to progress, the connection with their values can be lost altogether. Is it any wonder then that people who have struggled with addictions over long periods end up living a life that produces little, if any meaning?

The values that drive our behavior can be divided into two groups: practical values and universal values. Practical values include those which can be measured through daily interaction with other people, places and/or events. Values such as being a good father, a faithful wife, being healthy enough to complete a marathon, or persistent enough to write a book, financially responsible enough to buy a home...these are practical values that involve the inclusion of other things to determine their success or failure. Intimately intertwined with practical values are the more universal values that serve to produce the foundation of a person's identity.

The following Universal values are by no means comprehensive; rather, they are a list of some of the more common values that people derive genuine fulfillment and emotional comfort from. It is not necessary that you develop each and every one...though historically you will find your life to be stable and fulfilling when your foundation is based on anywhere between 5-8 active values (practical and/or universal). Any less than five and you will find your foundation vulnerable to collapse. Any more than eight and you will likely struggle to achieve the depth required from any single value.

Universal Values
Self-respect: Taking pride in who you are, the decisions that you make and the life that you are living
Safety/Survival: Maintaining patterns that promote life and avoid death/debilitation
Social Acceptance: Having the ability to initiate/maintain healthy relationships with others
Meaning: Pursuing a reason for your existence--spirituality, progeny, self-awareness, etc.
Security: Securing the resources (e.g. food, shelter, transportation) needed to maintain specific values (e.g. good role model, peer acceptance, travel)
Intimacy: Sharing a special trust and vulnerability with another human being
Health: Maintaining optimum physical and mental health
Love: Experiencing the three types of critical love: self-love, parental love and social love
Identity: Feeling that you are a unique, special and valuable person in the world
Integrity: Being proud of who you are in the eyes of others
Autonomy: Being in control over the direction of your life
Order: Having an organized plan for your life, even if that plan includes spontaneity

Practical Values
Whereas universal values anchor the stability of your identity, practical values make up the movement. Practical values are what you use on a day-to-day basis to affect change in your life, to derive ongoing fulfillment. All universal values have the potential to be practical values--if you develop them as such. For instance, valuing self-respect as a concept is a universal value; actually using that concept to assist you in decision-making makes it practical. Practical values are what promote change; practical values are what you need to be most actively developing in recovery.

Take a look at the following and see if you can identify the differences between the practical values and the universal:
• I believe in God (U)
• I pray to God each day for strength (P)
• Family is important to me (U)
• I am improving the way that I communicate with my wife (P)
• I want to be a role model for my kids (U)
• I want to role model patience, compassion and forgiveness to my kids (P)
• Family is important to me (U)
• I want to strengthen the role that I play in my brother's life (P)
• I value freedom (U)
• I take three hours each week to enjoy my freedom (P)
• I want to reach my potential. (U)
• I will spend no more than sixty minutes a day in front of the TV and/or computer--unless it is directly related to my pursuing my personal goals. (P)

Note that practical values are more specific than universal. That many practical values may fall under a single universal value. Note also that practical values can often be measured and/or assessed in quantifiable terms. This is not always the case, sometimes that assessment can only take place subjectively, but there must be some way of determining whether or not progress and/or regression are taking place.

For recovery to take place, to make the transition to health, you will have to evolve your practical values. The success of this development will be predicated on your ability to identify an initial set of values that is CONGRUENT with the life that you want to live. These, as opposed to developing a set of ideal values that define a life that you want other people to think you are living. There is no more room for appearances. If you are to end your addiction, the changes that you are making now must be real...and they must be sincere.

The following are common values that people might use to rebuild their life. Your goal is not to embrace these values because they sound good, but to really look at who you are and adopt those that you want to become a part of you.

Examples of Commonly Pursued Values
• Living with integrity
• Living with compassion
• Sharing my true self with the world around me
• Strengthening my role as a partner to (add partner’s name here)
• Strengthening my role as a son/daughter
• Strengthening my role as a brother to (add your siblings name here)
• Strengthening my role as a (add relationship here) to (add person/group here)
• Strengthening my role as a close friend to (add friend’s name here)
• Strengthening my role as a coworker
• Being an inspiration to others
• Being dedicated
• Showing appreciation towards other
• Being tenacious in my pursuit of (add pursuit)
• Being charitable, giving
• Developing intellectual depth
• Expressing spirituality in my day-to-day life
• Enhancing my spiritual awareness
• Integrating religion into my day-to-day life
• Bringing joy to others
• Providing quality in my work
• Establishing competence in my field
• Being respected as a professional by others
• Being playful
• Staying active
• Being dependable
• Being reliable
• Working as part of a team
• Honesty
• Humbleness
• Sense of humor
• Sense of responsibility
• Being considerate of others
• Being considerate of myself
• Putting other’s needs before my own
• Taking care of myself
• Being a role model for my family
• Being a role model for others
• Living an exciting life
• Living an adventurous life
• Loving others
• Being loved by others
• Being challenged; overcoming challenges
• Competition
• Developing emotional maturity
• Risk-taking (danger)
• Pursuing a career change
• Creativity
• Striving for excellence
• Establishing financial freedom
• Experiencing fatherhood
• Adopting a child
• Establishing a partnership w/someone
• Overcoming/surviving personal struggles
• Physical health
• Physical beauty
• Being a teacher/mentor
• Physical pleasure
• Sexual intimacy
• Sexual contact
• Experiencing euphoria
• Feeling sexually desired
• Feeling appreciated
• Feeling masculine
• Feeling feminine
• Feeling empowered
• Passionate about life
• Being recognized as an expert in my field
• World-wide recognition
• Developing sustained friendships
• Encouraging my wife's independence
• Being validated by others
• Being respected
• Being judged trustworthy
• Feeling unconditional love
• Indulging in creative inspiration, development
• Developing patience
• Living a humble life
• Sharing my true self with the world around me
• Nurturing children’s creativity/maturation
• Developing superficial friendships
• Being known as reliable
• Wisdom
• Connected to my own feelings
• Being identified by others as charming and warm
• Being a survivor
• Companionship
• Resourcefulness
• Appreciating natural beauty/nature
• Integrity
• Connecting to purpose, meaning of life
• Establishing my legacy
• Organization
• Instilling healthy values in my kids
• Teaching appreciation for music, art, film
• Adaptability
• Financial stability
• Personal independence
• Feeling needed, desired, loved by others
• Power
• Control
• Experiencing uniqueness
• Curiosity
• Experiencing the forbidden
• Avoiding conflict
• Improving my social interactions
• Being a leader
• Vulnerability
• Sacrificing for others
• Fidelity
• Walking the same path as equals
• Sexual intimacy
• Physical attraction/Beauty
• Masculinity
• Building things
• Intellectual growth, debate, communication
• Communicating feelings
• Experienced in conflict resolution
• Taking care of others in need
• Feeling happy and content
• Pressure to accomplish
• Accepting responsibility for living my life
• Be known as truthful and honest
• Sense of accomplishment
• Feeling challenged
• Friendship
• Forgiveness
• Realistic
• Personal growth, development
• Selflessness/Altruism
• Respecting Mother Earth
• Open-minded to the beliefs and values of others, tolerance
• Self-discipline
• Raising a healthy child
• Guiding, teaching, role modeling for my children

Another wonderful resource for exploring your values is a website called Humanity Quest. You can search there for additional examples and for assistance with value development.

The content of this article is taken from the Recovery Workshop on www.recoverynation.com written by the late Jon Marsh, founder and author of Recovery Nation.com. Content revised for this format October 20, 2010.

Coach Cheryl Thacker
Recovery Nation Inc.

Author's Bio: 

The author of this article, Cheryl Thacker, is an Addiction Coach who has been successfully coaching and guiding clients on RecoveryNation.com for several years. Let Recovery Nation help you in your journey towards Health Based Recovery. www.recoverynation.com