Late last summer, my life seemed surreal.
I was a tense and defensive ball of shaky, flush-faced, quiet rage in the face of an impending child custody hearing.
My relationship ended in a surprise meltdown. I had to move two times in six months, two kids in tow.
None of this resonated with me. I didn’t recognize myself. How had I gone from an intelligent, put together, fun-loving woman to a tragic paper doll torn to shreds by this tornado?
At what point did I lose control?
I had unwittingly dropped something along the way. Once it was gone, it was like my protective shield disintegrated and life and all its ugly characters were going in for the kill.
After six months of therapy, a lot of reading and self-discovery through my writing and art practice, I recognized what I had disregarded:
My core values.
Along the way, my self-esteem dipped so low I guess I felt like I wasn’t worth them.
Intrinsically, I had always known they went something like this, but never really shone a light on them:
Commitment: Implies attentiveness to and support of family; working to maintain focus on your priorities.
Health: Mindfulness, growth, balance
Creativity: Making exploration, play and imagination an elemental part of life
Honesty: Being down-to-earth; self-expression, openness, trust
Sanctuary: Privacy, cleanliness, peace, security
Respect: Includes the practices of valuing one another, kindness, empathy, helpfulness, reliability, boundaries
Optimism: Humor, confidence, faith
Whether or not we have ever really identified our personal values in an intentional way, there’s something innate about them that develops within us as we grow. They vary from person to person. Just because yours and mine are different from hers or his is not bad. They are simply our own personal code for living—no harm, no foul. Some people value adventure more than home.
Either is fine, but put an adventurer and a homebody together and you won’t wait long for the stress. When we try to force-fit ourselves into relationships or situations that are too far misaligned from our values, things tend to go haywire.
Case(s) in point:
Leading up to the custody hearing, my ex was designing a strategy to undermine my parenting. Although I knew logically it wouldn’t hold up and that it was coming from his hurt ego (I left him), the fact that it triggered distress was an alarm signal.
If I had been intrinsically okay with how I was doing as a mother, I wouldn’t have felt the discomfort that I had under his attacks.
I stopped punching the air and honestly admitted (to myself—there was no need for a sharing party) why he was getting under my skin: I was allowing things to dilute my devotion to my kids. I overspent mental energy into work that wasn’t a fit, and I allowed a relationship (with a person whose priorities were grossly misaligned with mine) to trample the dynamics I held so important for my little family.
This way of life pulled me from living by my values with my children, which in turn made me feel like sh*t, which in turn made for open season on my delicate triggers.
See that circle of chaos?
My relationship ending was not surprising, in retrospect. I had long suppressed my discontent for fear of losing him—or more precisely, for fear of being alone. (Hello, low self-esteem!) I didn’t trust him, and it became too much to force myself to be “okay” with things I wasn’t comfortable with.
When I got real honest, he got real gone, rather ungracefully.
The behavior displayed to me was so far out of my range of acceptable or understandable that I felt like my intelligence and self-respect cards had been completely revoked and that I had been dropped into a social class below sewer level.
Our partners should be our best friends; the people closest to us should make us feel at ease and supported. Our tribe reflects how we feel about ourselves and how we conduct our lives. I realized there were actually a few people close to me whom I didn’t trust and whose mentality I did not admire.
And that’s when I understood that I didn’t trust myself to find my own way and do what’s right for me—to “do” according to my values. I was shamed into believing my needs weren’t valid.
I was so disconnected from my personal code that I became a trivial plaything for unhealthy people.
The disharmony that was bred from not feeling worth the values I loved seeped into my functional life as well. I picked two places in a row to live where I felt uncomfortable, but thought I should just take it because given my situation, who was I to hold out for what I wanted? I’ve done the same thing with jobs and a marriage.
Every time I’ve jumped on a decision out of fear that I won’t get what I want anyway, it ends poorly.
But when I allowed the possibility that the Universe might like me and want the best for me, I considered perhaps the chaos that ensued from my settling-for-less was its way of pushing me to try a new tack: faith.
How did I “do” faith?
At first I just took a deep breath and gave it a blind shot: I assigned worth to my needs. Like, I just declared it, and rooted myself in faith that they could be met.
Then a funny thing happened. I started applying my core values—honesty, respect, optimism, commitment, creativity and sanctuary—as criteria to my decisions.
And I didn’t die.
I asked if the choices I was making honored my core values. When I made sure they did, and I wasn’t settling for less, I felt more content, supported, productive and in control. I now find people treat me with a little more regard and when asked for, appropriate solutions appear. My kids and I are in a great flow. My work has shifted to a more fitting direction.
And my new home? Much more appropriate.
That was it. One thing. By discovering and using my core values as my navigation system, I found life got simpler, less stressful.
Decisions got easier, my focus got focused and bonus: unhealthy relationships became much easier to shed.
Living out of alignment with our core values generates resentment, weakens our direction and allows us to be pulled deeper into rabbit holes we’d rather not wander.
We are intrinsically worthy of having all of our core values active in our lives. Once I got hold of mine again, everything started to magically fall into place.
Author: Kelly Berdine
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Helga Weber at Flickr