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Values: Work on Being Yourself

Posted March 20, 2017 by Tresa Clemmensen M.SC. CCC

Values: Work on Being Yourself Recovery from an eating disorder includes many different areas and one area that Westwind feels is important to address is that of values. When we speak of values, we are not referring to morals necessarily, but more about what you want your life to be about. What do you want to be meaningful in your life? Ultimately one would aspire to lead a value-driven existence, that is, living according to your values.

What does it mean to be living by your values?
Living by your values means that you continually pursue or work toward your values; values are not destinations. While setting goals is one way that can help you to live by your values, achieving a goal does not mean you have completed your task. For example, if you value learning and knowledge, having completed a degree would be a measure of your knowledge in a particular area at a particular point in time, however, to truly live by the value of knowledge and learning would require the continual pursuit of knowledge throughout your lifetime. Living by the value of knowledge and learning may mean consciously choosing to learn something from every person you meet, attending intellectual discussions, reading for knowledge's sake, as well as obtaining degrees in areas that interest you.

When you pursue things that are a reflection of what you value, you feel better about yourself - as you are not hiding behind the facade of someone you are not. If you find yourself engaging in activities, behaviours, or relationships that don't fit into your value system, it is important to explore the reasoning, and to potentially change what it is you are doing. When setting goals, it is helpful to ask yourself "Why am I doing this?" and "What is my purpose?" These questions can shed light on your intentions and the underlying reasoning behind your goals. Asking such questions can also help you to aspire to goals that are in line with your values. Thus, you can either look at the things you are doing to see if they fit with your values, or you can choose to do certain things based on your values. Choosing to engage in things that fit with you will make you feel more fulfilled and better about yourself.

What if you're not living by your values?
Generally the things you pursue will fulfill at least one of your values, or attempt to fulfill one of your values. Sometimes however, the things you choose to do will go against some or all of your values. The eating disorder has a different value set than your own. It can be interesting to take a moment to write out everything that is important to the eating disorder and compare this list to things that are actually meaningful to you. The eating disorder values such things as comparisons, shape checking, ideal body, eating disorder behaviors, rigidity, control, anxiety, and low self-esteem. You may value such things as family, friends, loyalty, laughter, adventure, animals, creativity, and compassion. The eating disorder wants to pull you away from what you value in hopes that you engage all of your time in it. As you progress in your recovery and are making conscious choices to pursue your own value set, there will be less and less time to engage in the eating disorder and that is why pursuing values is a big part of the recovery process.

Now what?
Values are parts of life that are important to most people. Values are often categorized into nine domains or areas: Family, Friends, Romantic relationships, Leisure, Education, Career, Citizenship, Health, and Spirituality. While these values can be categorized it doesn't mean that they cannot overlap (because they do). Values are important because they make the hard work worthwhile (can motivate you to work towards a goal) and give you an alternative to eating disordered behaviours.

Choosing more than ten values as the "most important" makes things more vague rather than specific. Once you determine your ten most important values it would be beneficial to look at how you are currently living your life and ask yourself whether you are doing what you value. It is also important to look at your problematic behaviours to see what the positive motivations are behind the behaviour, and what are the values that are being blocked. Essentially one needs to recognize what values the eating disorder fulfills and replace these behaviours with more positive coping skills that can fulfill all of your values and not block any of them. For example, you determine that your top five values are acceptance, family, purpose, excitement, and contribution. When looking at your life you determine that you are not living by your values. You recognize that the eating disorder gives you purpose (something to do), and a way to strive for acceptance, however the purpose and acceptance are not meaningful, nor are they recognized by others. The positive motivation behind the eating disorder was to have a purpose and to feel accepted, but essentially isolated you from your family, took away the excitement in life you used to enjoy, and pulled you into yourself thereby not contributing to the world in general.

Recognizing the things that prevent you from living a value-driven existence can be refreshing and scary at the same time, but it can help you to figure out what other things would be more fulfilling for you. Becoming aware of your values, exploring your relationship with your values and with your eating disorder, and finding discrepancies can allow you to begin to change your behaviours and find positive coping mechanisms that will fulfill your values. Remember that congruence between your values and your behaviour make you feel less anxious and more self-confident. Ask yourself today, what is your relationship between your personal values and your behaviour?