Do you ever get a nagging feeling in your stomach, or maybe it feels more like at the bottom of your heart? The feeling that wakes you up at night or creates other behavior changes that are abnormal for you? More times than not, this is an indicator of ambivalence due to your values being different than someone else's, or what I call a values clash. We get this feeling when we are involved with something or someone whose values are different than ours.
So what is a value?
A value is a core belief, mission, or philosophy. A value is what's important to us and what gives us purpose. When we know our values, decisions become easier. We can align our values with the decision at hand, and see if there harmony. We all have a set of values, whether we are aware of them or not. Making daily choices that are in congruence with our values leaves us feeling energized and purposeful. Being in situations where a person or institution has a different set of values could lead to a values struggle, or values clash.
An example of a value clash would be if I worked for a male boss who values micromanaging, men over women, and impulsivity throughout the work day. If I value freedom to do my work in my own way, equality of men and women, and predictability of the structure of my day, I could be experiencing that nagging feeling. At this point, I can do one of two things. The first is to come to a realization that the boss I'm working for has a different value set than I have. In other words, I see this as an external issue. At this point I might go to him and present my concerns. If he changes and really listens to my concerns, then this is really great news and a best-case scenario. If his behavior continues even after I've spoken to him, I then have to make the choice of how long I can tolerate it. Seeing this as an external issue, I can see that there is an obvious values clash. And unless I want to stick around for the nagging feeling to worsen, it becomes my job to get myself out of the job. The second thing I could do, and unfortunately the most common, is to see this as an internal issue, minimizing my own values and therefore trying to live by my boss's values. Seeing this as an internal issue does not allow me to see it as a values clash anymore, because I'm operating under the assumption that there must be something wrong with me. This is why I spend time in my head fantasizing about a different life rather than seeing my life for what it is. In this moment I give away my power and voice to create the life that I want, or the life that aligns with my values. This giving away of power often results in passive-aggressive actions and unhealthy coping skills or behavior changes within myself. We often have greater loyalty to convincing ourselves that the nagging feeling is wrong rather than seeing the situation as one that is creating a values clash.
Another way to look at this is a head or heart split. When we are obsessing over something or trying to revise a situation over and over in our head, it probably means that we have moved away from what we “know” to already be true at a whole-heart level. This “living life in our heads” means that we've closed down some part of our heart, often because we are afraid that living from this authentic place will bring us punishment, loneliness, embarrassment, or shame. And this is often a fear from a past experience where this actually manifested to one degree or another. The important thing to remember though, is that this is a past experience, and the person causing this pain was most likely someone who lived by a set of values that was very different than your own.
There are a number signs or symptoms to watch for that could be indicators you’ve moved away from being centered in a heart-knowing or heart-living place. One of these signs is if you're having a desired conversation with someone over and over in our head versus real life. This can lead to obsessional thinking and leaves you only more frustrated. Some signs take shape as somatic (or body) problems, such as headaches, stomach issues, muscle tension, lack of sleep, or fatigue throughout the day. Our body never lies, so somatic symptoms can be an honest indicator of what our head maybe isn't quite ready to admit. Another sign to be vigilant of is if you find yourself coping in ways that leave you feeling guilty afterwards. Some people might turn to drinking, overeating, self-medicating, excessive TV watching, or video game playing. Often these behaviors can leave us with consequences of regret, anxiety, guilt, isolation from those we love, and a lost sense of connectedness with ourself our the world around us. Being self-aware can help us watch for these signs and symptoms, as they help us learn to trust our heart, intuition, and body.
Of course no job or relationship is perfect. The point of values is to help you live the healthiest life possible, which means to set boundaries and use your “voice” and to know yourself well enough to get out of an unhealthy situation before damage is done.
What are some examples of values?
Values are generally pretty steady, but they can change throughout life. Therefore it's important to stay in touch with them and be sure the choices and decisions you make lead you to continually aligning with whatever your values are at that point in your life.
How do I determine your values?
Here are a few ways to use your history and current situation to identify what your values are.
Past: As you look back on life life, when were you feeling the most confused or helpless? This can be an indicator of a values clash you experienced in a situation or in a relationship.
Current: Check in with your current mind and body state, and trust that they will be the most helpful teachers. Are you obsessing over something internally? This could mean there's a situation you are avoiding because of what you're telling yourself will happen if you act externally.
Are you feeling lonely? This most likely means you value relationships, and that you're lacking meaningful relationships or the relationships you're in leave you feeling disconnected.
Are you talking about the same scenario over and over with friends and family? This could be another indicator that it is time to use your voice, set boundaries, or that you are seeing a situation as an internal issue. If you have tried to set boundaries or use your voice and the situation isn't changing, it could mean it's time to see it as an unchanging situation of values clashing, and see that it's time to move on for your own good.
We can't know what we truly want out of life until we examine who we are, and who we are is determined greatly by our values. You'll know you're living closely to your values when there is less chatter in your head, you sleep better at night, and you find yourself making choices and doing things on a daily basis that leave you feeling energized, peaceful, and with a sense of congruency.