People who suffer from depression often feel as though nothing matters any more. It is as if life has become so difficult or painful that they just want to be cut off from it. And yet, ironically, it is generally because something we value – something that is really important to us – has been offended, undermined or even destroyed that people become depressed.
This raises important issues about what we value, about what really matters to us. Values are often seen as abstract, and therefore disconnected from real life to a certain extent. However, seeing values that way is a big mistake, a very big mistake. This is because our values influence:
- Our thoughts What we think will, of course, be shaped to a certain extent at least by our values, by our sense of priorities, for example. This isn’t just ‘abstract’ – what we think will have very concrete consequences for our lives.
- Our feelings Likewise, our emotional reactions will depend a great deal on our values. For example, if dignity is important to us, if it is part of our value base, then witnessing somebody not being treated with dignity is likely to make us feel angry. However, if dignity were not part of our value base, then witnessing indignity would probably not evoke an emotional reaction – it would not matter to us.
- Our actions Of course, both our thoughts and our feelings will influence our actions, so, at the very least, our values will indirectly influence our actions. However, there will also be ways in which what is important to us will also influence our actions directly. For example, if we value learning and personal growth and development, we will seek out and capitalize on learning opportunities.
Having a clear picture of what our values are can therefore be a very useful step in the direction of developing self-awareness, such an important capability when it comes to working in any field that involves a concern for people and their problems. It can make a very significant positive difference in this regard.
Having an awareness of other people’s values can also help us to understand them, to be able to tune in to what matters to them. This can be a great asset in trying to help or support people, whether in our private or our working lives. It won’t make us mind readers, but it will give us some insights into what makes people tick.
What we also have to be aware of is that there will be times when we are in danger of losing sight of our values. These would include:
- When we are tired, run down or under the weather At times like this we can be not thinking straight or be emotionally knocked out of our stride. We may then find ourselves behaving or speaking in ways that are not consistent with our values. For example, we may value the importance of listening to people, of paying attention to them, but find it difficult to do so when we are not feeling one hundred per cent.
- When we are busy, overworked or even stressed This is when we can be focusing on just getting through the day – in effect, going into ‘survival mode’. This can mean that we act ‘out of character’ (although it is actually about values, rather than character). This can lead to a vicious circle in which our actions or attitudes can actually increase our workload – for example, by creating unnecessary tensions.
- When we feel threatened At such times we are likely to focus narrowly on returning to a situation of safety, and that can, understandably, mean that we lose sight of our values, temporarily at least.
So, what is important to you? What are your values? The more aware of these issues you are, the stronger a position you will be in.