Everyone goes through cycles of peace and trauma. If a value you have held for years no longer increases your peace, if it keeps you stuck in some unhelpful place or mind-set, it may be time to release it.
Values prop up your sense of self, your ego. It can be strengthening to think:
I have good values.
My values tell the world who I am.
I adhere to my values.
I am consistent in my beliefs.
My beliefs are moral and elevate me above others.
As values are things you hold in high esteem, if you commit yourself to them, by extension, you hold yourself in high esteem.
The threat inherent in change, especially when it concerns your cherished, deeply held beliefs, is that you will lose a part of yourself, and your connection to the cadre of others who share them. But over-identification with your values can stunt your personal growth.
Values give you a template for living; however, circumstances change requiring a shift in your world-view. Perhaps, it is better to value openness to life, even though it is a far riskier place to dwell. Allowing for change means you will feel raw, exposed and vulnerable as things flow and morph into something new.
Luckily, you are much more than your values. The fullness and complexity of your true self dwarfs the handful of ideas you clutch so desperately. As if there could be a hard and fast guide to life. Be the witness. Watch your life unfold. Allow the mystery. Cultivate curiosity. Embrace change. Emerson was right when he said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In other words, sticking to your guns may afford you a sense of security but ultimately redound to your detriment by limiting your experiences.
Holding on to a value or belief that has outlived its usefulness stands in the way of your own development. Even worse, you inflict psychic pain on yourself by perpetuating a deep, inner conflict between an unhelpful ideal and what is real. In the past, that belief was probably very useful, both pragmatically and in bolstering your identity. Now, as you find yourself in a new stage of life, some beliefs may impede your becoming the person you want to be. For example: If you believe divorce is to be avoided at all costs, you may live out the rest of your life in an unhappy union.
The desire for a black and white world is a relic from your childhood. Intellectually, you know things are all shades of gray, but that old habit of thinking dichotomously loves rules for living. The clear cut parameters of how to behave are comforting to the little child inside. The adult you is capable of much more. You can discern all the colors in the spectrum, which allows for a greater appreciation of differences, including the difference between your thinking at age ten, or twenty, or thirty, etc. Your mind is large enough to contemplate many ways to think and live, not just the ones you have experienced, so far.
To be alive is to change. Let go of useless beliefs. They only stunt your growth. As you progress through life different things will be more or less meaningful. For example: Most people think killing is bad; however, in a war, or to protect yourself, killing is allowable. Different circumstances demand tweaking, or radically shifting, your beliefs.
Ideally, when you took your marriage vows you believed it would be until death. But, life intruded. The question to ask yourself when contemplating a change in values is: “What will this shift in my thinking say about me?” If you believe it makes you a bad, or less worthy, person, it will. If you believe it is part of your maturation process, you will mature. Superseding the ego isn’t easy. It does not like being eclipsed by anything, including new ideas it has propped itself up on for years. You are in charge. You can make the ego take a time-out while you explore other ways of looking at the world.
If sticking to your values means you die inside (and martyrs have done that since time immemorial) you’re choosing from fear and rigidity. Francois de la Rochefoucauld said, “The only thing constant in life is change.” Defy it and you will wither.
Sometimes, perfectionistic thinking bars the way to greater emotional freedom and peace. Sticking to your guns can be a rigid, absolutistic approach to life. By thinking things like: “I must adhere to my values or my life will fall apart. I won’t be safe without these rules for living. People will think less of me. I will have no moral compass.” You perpetuate the ideas that keep you mired in old ways of acting and reacting to new life circumstances.
People will always think what they want. You have no control over them. You can control what you think about yourself and, luckily, that’s the most important thing. There may not be a visible path through this journey, but if you trust your intuition, the melding of your heart and mind, you will find your way. It is scary, there are demons along the way, but every great quest is fraught with challenges. You can do it. Trust the universe, trust yourself, trust the process; and, when you can’t—just breathe.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang