Psychological Inflexibility and Values

Posted by in Stress Management | 2 comments

Values are related to psychological inflexibility in two ways; (1) values conflicts cause people to become rigid and (2) fusing with values limits options for coping with threats. In order to understand these two contributing factors it is first necessary to define values and discuss their nature.

Your values are the mirror of your personality and are central to defining who you are as an individual. While your knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs strongly contribute to who you are, they’re more amenable to change. Your values represent the ideals you cherish, hold most dear, and are least willing (or able) to change.

When you were a child, your values mirrored those of your parents. As you moved through childhood and adolescence and into young adulthood, your values began to shift and more accurately represent what you personally believed in and stood for. Most of the time you didn’t even realize that this shift had occurred until you had a values conflict, that is when one of your values clashed with a value held by someone else such as a parent, spouse, or employer. For example, many years ago I worked for a public agency and was reimbursed on a monthly basis for using my personal automobile to do field work. The first month I submitted my mileage voucher, I was told by coworkers that it was too small and I’d make everyone else look bad if I submitted it. When I asked for clarification, I was told that everyone padded their mileage to earn extra money each month. As soon as I heard this, I had a queasy feeling in my stomach because my values (being truthful about the miles I drove ) conflicted with what my peers expected me to do (lie about the number of miles I’d driven). I didn’t feel right about handing in a voucher that padded my expenses, so I just nodded as if I agreed and hoped the issue would never come up. My supervisor did ask me about it and I just told him that was the number of miles I’d driven. He did not press me, so it never came up again. Fortunately I received a promotion and was reassigned to a new location that provided an agency vehicle.

Values conflicts are among the most threatening of all potential stressors because they represent a threat to what you cherish most in life. When something is a threat to your values, it rocks you to your core because it threatens the very foundation of your personality. It can contribute to psychological inflexibility and becoming stuck because you literally do not know what to think about the situation or how to behave when confronted with it. You find yourself trying to figure it all out in your head in advance instead of taking action that is consistent with your values.

Because your values are so deeply embedded in your self-concept it is easy to fuse with them and get stuck. Cognitive fusion, becoming overly attached to one aspect of your conceptualized self, is often linked to fusing with values. When this happens, you become the value rather than just viewing it as one part of your conceptualized self. As a result, you have a hard time stepping back and looking at the conflict clearly. Sometimes you fuse with a value that no longer works for you but it is still a part of who you are and how you view yourself. You’ve simply outgrown the value and it’s no longer helpful in meeting your goals. Other times the value you’ve fused with is still important and has meaning for you, but it puts you in conflict with others (as in the example of my mileage voucher). In any case, you want to move forward, but your old value keeps you stuck and you can’t find a way out of your problem.

One of the six major causes of psychological inflexibility and getting stuck is lack of clarity regarding personal values. This lack of clarity is usually accompanied by troubling thoughts and painful emotions that create psychological barriers that keep your clients stuck and unable to make progress . To overcome these barriers clients need to become more psychologically-flexible.

Remember, your coaching clients do not have diagnosed mental disorders; they are just stuck.

My AC Coaching Course will show you how to help them become more psychologically flexible by using easy to learn techniques derives from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Find out more by getting a free copy of Training Session # 1, An Introduction to AC Coaching. This 30 minute training course (a $79.00 value) is yours free.

Click Here to Obtain Your Free Training Session

2 Comments

  1. How then, do we help someone to move forward when stuck with a value that is no longer useful?

    • Hi Dr Thomas-McLean,

      We teach them acceptance and setting new values-congruent goals. One of the things clients need to understand is that it is OK to tell themselves, “While this value was important to me at one point in my life, it no longer works. It is still a part of me but I do not let it have to drive my behavior.” Actually getting clients to write these things down and step back from the words (a Defusion technique) is a powerful first step. Setting new goals based on their current values is another important step in moving forward.

      Dr Rich

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