Sometimes We Have to Compromise Our Values
The key is understanding why we do it, and reflecting on whether or not it was it was the right choice for us at the time.
I used to beat myself up over my bad decisions. Sometimes I did things that would completely go against my values, and I wondered why.
Why would I hold such strong values and then go do things, or allow things into my life that were completely the opposite of the values that I hold dear.
Then I learned an exercise in therapy involving a tool called “Values Cards.”
Values Cards each have the name of a value on them. There are usually at least 100 values to choose from. They are the types of values we would hold in all different areas of our lives. For instance, you might have some values that seem related to your professional goals, such as “wealth”, “success”, “passion”, or “challenge”. Then you may find some values that seem to pertain to relationships, like “love”, “connection”, “intimacy”, or “trust”. The list goes on.
All of these values are together in the Values Cards deck. They are not sorted into categories because some values might fit into different areas. You might be able to fit “integrity” into multiple areas in your life.
Some of the values may seem very similar, like “trust” and “honesty”.
Here is the hard part- in the Values Cards exercise, you only get to choose a set number of cards. Your therapist, or group leader, or maybe even you and a partner (if you’re practicing at home) would decide on a number. A common number is ten. Then you have to choose that number of the most important values from the deck.
I have my own method for completing the exercise. I like to look at the values and place them together with the cards that are the most similar, like “vulnerability” and “surrender” and put them all in a group with the ones I feel are related. I would put “vulnerable” and “surrender” together because they are similar, and then I might group them with “connection” and “affection” because they are all values I want the most in my relationships.
Grouping the values together makes it easier for me to then narrow the deck down to my most prioritized values. Below is an example of the values I hold most important.
As you can clearly see, there are twelve values here. I only want to choose ten, so that means I have to cut two. Do you see how it gets difficult? Which values would you be willing to go without?
I decided to cut “respect” and “leadership.” I figured as long as I have self-respect, then ultimately I will probably avoid people who don’t respect me. I also decided that I don’t have to lead and I don’t have to be lead by someone else.
Ideally, I would want to be lead by someone because I like the idea of not having to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. However, I can be free from that burden just by working in tandem with another person or people, so “leadership” got cut in favor of the other values.
It’s important to really pay attention to your choices. What do your choices say about you? By asking yourself this question, you can be more mindful of who you are now, and who you want to become — and then let your future choices exemplify that.
One time when I did this exercise, I realized that all of the values that I chose were things that I expected of other people. I had to ask myself, “What do I expect from myself?” and “Am I holding myself accountable?”
Changing the way we take in information can broaden our perspectives. A great thing about this tool for me is that it provides both visual and tactile stimulation. Different parts of the brain are activated in this manner, helping you to really think of your values, and the choices you make surrounding them, in a new and different way.
Everything about life is fluid. We’re all on a journey. Sometimes your entire values will change. Sometimes, in different scenarios, you might keep the same values, but the weight of each individual value may be the thing that changes.
So, have you ever sold yourself short, and kicked yourself afterward because you invested time with someone who wasn’t consistent? I think we can all relate to that, in this day and age. Did you feel bad about yourself afterward?
Instead of feeling bad about yourself, ask yourself if there was a conflicting value that you held that was more important for you at that time.
Maybe the person was inconsistent, but the sex was incredible. Maybe at that time, passion was more valuable to you than consistency. If so, then don’t feel bad about yourself. Own your decision, and feel good knowing that you took care of a need you had at the time and that you were true to yourself.
On the flip-side, maybe you got really hurt from that situation. Don’t beat yourself up. Use that experience as an opportunity to get to know yourself. Maybe you didn't know before, but now you know that consistency is more important to you than passion. Next time you are in that situation, you can be more mindful of your choices.
For a long time, I beat myself up because I allowed myself to spend a lot of time with a man who was not a feminist. The thing about that, is that I was dealing with someone who felt that I was fundamentally different than himself. I could be smart, and to him I was incredibly smart — for a woman. I could be independent, and resourceful, and to him, I was impressive because in his mind, women are helpless people who need men to take care of them. Annoying. I know.
I felt so embarrassed.
I was in the thick of that short relationship, saying to myself “This is not me. What am I doing? I should be ashamed of myself.” And ashamed of myself I was.
It was humiliating for my friends to know how he was and see me continuing to spend time with him.
I felt bad about myself, and that disgrace affected my mental health after the relationship ended. I got really depressed about the whole thing, and it wasn’t the break-up that bothered me — it was my betrayal of my own values.
I carried that regret with me for a long time.
And then I learned the Values Cards exercise.
The Values Cards exercise didn’t provide some magical cure for my pain. I didn’t feel better by performing the exercise. The Values Cards exercise helped me because it changed the way I saw my past choices, and it changed the way I would go on to make the majority of my future choices.
The Values Cards exercise changed me.
I looked back at that time with that man, and I asked myself what I was getting out of that relationship at that time. I couldn’t change my past choices, but I could change how I related to them.
From the aforementioned relationship with the non-feminist, I was getting consistent affection, adventure, passion, and I was learning so much about myself and about life. Another thing I did was learn to tolerate someone who was not the same as me. We came from the same type of background, but we held vastly different beliefs.
Very rarely in life have I strayed from what I know, so this experience was invaluable for me. And when I was with that person, I was pampered in his home like a princess. I had to contend with the idea that he was sexist, and that fundamentally, I could never have had a future with him. But at the time, I was going with what felt good, because overall I was gaining value from that experience.
Once I realized that I hadn’t just thrown all of my values out the window, but that instead I had made choices based on what was important to me then, I was able to better accept the choices that I’d made.
For the values I was prioritizing, I was willing to pay the cost of having to compromise certain other values that were of less importance to me at the time.
Now I feel at peace with that relationship. I took what I needed from it, and I put it behind me.
That’s the thing about emotions — they all serve a purpose. Emotions like shame and guilt can be very destructive if we sit with them for too long and allow them to destroy us. Instead, we should feel free to experience the negative emotions and then let them pass.
Let them go, because their purpose is simply to teach us more about ourselves. Learn the lesson that those negative emotions have for you, and them put them behind you.
Everyday is a new day. Everyday we get to start over and be a better, stronger version of ourselves than we were the day before. Everyday we live, so that we can continue to learn from our experiences and grow.
Let’s be kinder to ourselves.