Show me a behaviour that you value, but exhausts you - and I'll show you a wound that needs healing!
Updated: May 18
Do you give and give and give and feel like you're taken for granted?
Do you chase one achievement after the next but still feel you "haven't done all that much"?
Do you always offer help, and regret it because you end up doing it all - often for people you don't care that much about?
Generosity, being accomplished, helpfulness - they are wonderful traits aren't they!? And if you are someone who displays them, you might also express them as one of your values, but here's a secret:
VALUES aren't supposed to exhaust you!!
So before I go on, this is not to say that someone who gives, who achieves, who helps and does it just because of the joy it brings them is in the wrong - for you those may indeed be your true values - and that's wonderful. I'm talking about the people who do those things - or in fact anything which objectively is a positive, likable behaviour (eg. diligence, problem solving, "life and soul of the party", organiser etc etc...) but resents it because they don't feel their work is appreciated!
We become good at what we practice
...but what we practice may have been a strategy rather than a desire/value
When we are young we learn what earns us praise and avoids punishment...this basic (and base) conditioning or association can occur before we even have time to cognitively process and understand what is happening. And, even if wasn't deliberate, and our parents were doing their best to help us grow into empowered adults, mistakes can be made and life happens in ways they may not have expected and that intention may have been thrown askew.
The child who loses a parent at a young age may become a caregiver to others because he felt he needed to "step up"; the child whose parents neglected their emotional needs may become overly generous and helpful because they are seeking love; the child whose own talents weren't valued may become the "life and soul of the party" because if I can make you laugh you'll still want me around (the same may be true of the achievement chaser - if I'm top, you notice me).
Psychologist William Schutz said that our need for social interaction (of varying degrees) was as "...essential to health as food and water" - and as such, if what we authentically needed was inclusion, affection and love (or being "seen") - we go to great lengths to achieve this...although we don't always realise how great they are until we get to adulthood and think - "Why do I keep on doing this!?"
Try the "folder test" from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
1. Hold a folder in front of your face - this, for ACT practitioners, is like the critical voice in our head (and whether it tells us we're not good/pretty/successful etc...enough - the second part of that critique which we often overlook because it's painful is to be loved/wanted/included/accepted in this family.) When I say this, it's not meant as "boldly" as I've written it - of course parents are likely to still have clothed you and fed you, and professed love - but it's likely that they may have just been that little more enthusiastic (or perhaps you found that others were) when you did that thing which is impressive and praised...but is exhausting you today! See if you can identify what that critique is.
2. Now reflect on how easy (or not) it is to go about your daily tasks while holding the folder. You'll probably find it distracting, AND because we're always trying to push that voice away - hold that folder out at arm's length. Tiring isn't it!?
3. Now try and identify what YOU do to stop that critical voice...do you chase qualifications? Do you make sure you finish your work and that for the rest of your team for fear of reprisal? Are you overly generous with your time, energy and love getting little in return? (Or perhaps it's a mix of many things!)
4. See if you can pinpoint that behaviour and now decide if you can tweak the value so that it serves you better.
For example: I have a client to whom it was constantly implied he was "not as good as others" - and so he learned that being helpful got him acceptance, and he continued to carry that helpfulness to adulthood seeing it as a positive value, at the same time questioning why he really didn't want to offer it. We tweaked that value to "caring" - because this enabled him to think about the skill of helping - but also whether he cared enough about the person or situation he was facing to offer such a well honed skill...
Values are not skills
Whatever skill you have developed is not to be dismissed - it's a wonderful asset, BUT when it comes to lived values they are things which drive your choices without qualification. If you don't want to help everyone, that's ok - but "helpfulness" - at least not as the action - is probably not one of your values...however, you can, for example, care for everyone and this may affect how you respond to them, what you say to them, and whether you offer your help or not, so perhaps "caring" is the value but helping is the skill.
Perhaps you can do the same with your skill(s) which you may have previously held as a value and see if you can find something to better serve you eg:
Generosity may change to "supportive"
Accomplished may change to "dedicated" or "focused"
GSOH may change to "reads the situation"
...I know this sounds a little clunky, but the tweak has to be to what you find meaningful as a lived value - the emotional motivation - which you are happy guiding your actions every day...not something you feel compelled to do to subconsiously prove your worth.
And you're worth it...without the skill
You are now in, hopefully, a very privileged position - you have developed a skill -eg: diligence, helpfulness, humour, and become very good at it...retain it, BUT know that you don't have to apply it all the time to try and fill the emotional void that it was originally "created" to do.
Sadly, the emotional void ought not have been created. That was just some one else's influence and you no longer have to accept it.
As ACT teaches, who you ARE is not what you think, nor even feel about yourself...you are simply a whole, wonderful being - like the sky, and these thoughts and feelings come and go like clouds...and indeed this is, in part, what I work on with clients.
However, practically, as you begin the process of healing, it is helpful to start to make little changes to your behaviours that may serve you, your time and energy better. Tweaking your values is a good start.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt