Partner's Workshop: Stage Three; Lesson Four
Strengthening Your Value System
Until this point in the workshop, we have discussed values in terms of how they have naturally developed over the course of your life. And while this natural development is important, today's lesson introduces you to the critical skill of strengthening your values to achieve long-term balance and stability.
From many different sources and from all previous life experiences, you have developed a subconscious value system that has naturally guided the majority of your decisions, perceptions and emotional reactions. Some may argue that EVERY decision, perception and reaction you have ever had is a result of your subconscious values, but that is too deep a subject for here — though not totally irrelevant for an understanding of sexual addiction. More on this in the Advanced Topics section. Here, we will limit the discussion to understanding the differences between conscious values and subconscious values...and the healthy roles that each can play in helping to manage your life. Additionally, we will look at what is required to strengthen your conscious values so that they may be used as an effective tool for emotional stability.
Conscious versus Subconscious Values
If you're like most, you live your life by reacting to your interpretations of what has happened, is happening and may happen in the future. Often, with these interpretations (i.e. perceptions) comes significant emotional conflict, and a requirement on your part to act in a way that will settle that conflict. The discovery of hidden porn on your families' computer is an excellent example of such a conflict. Your reaction to this discovery might range from mild concern to moral outrage. From seeking understanding to the immediate removal of the offender from your life. What determines the intensity of your reaction is your subconscious values. And what determines your subconscious values? Your conscious values, combined with further interpretations of your life experiences.
Your subconscious values (another closely related term for these values would be your 'core identity') are the values that are at the very core of who you are. They may have started out as basic instincts (like survival), or as conscious values (like your parent's teaching you to "be honest" or that "sex is bad")...but in all cases, they continue to develop based on the unique life events and role modeling of others. As these conscious values develop, there comes a time when the learning process for a particular value is internalized...at which time that conscious value become subconscious. Once this happens, most values no longer require an active developmental focus...and so they are removed from your day-to-day consciousness. They become part of your 'core identity'...to be accessed quite naturally on an "as needed' basis. This is a good thing, as it frees you to continue actively pursuing growth and development in other areas.
But much too often, as we transition from childhood to adulthood, our lives become habituated...and a complacency sets in in terms of continued value development. In our minds, we have already learned all that we need to know in terms of values, morals, etc. We are, after all, adults. And we couldn't be more wrong. Each new stage in life brings with it new perceptions, events and situations that you could not have adequately prepared for as a child. Or as a teen. Or even as a young adult. Can these earlier stages help prepare you for such events? Absolutely, as each life stage is intended to be the moral building block for the next...but all life stages will require further growth and development. And that growth is accomplished by a regular examination and expansion of your subconscious values.
To help clarify the role that strengthened values play in your day-to-day life, please review the following graphic:
"But if they are subconscious values, how am I suppose to identify them?"
A fair question. Rather than taking a literal interpretation of the subconscious, try thinking of subconscious and conscious values in relative terms. The subconscious values are those which 'feel natural' to you. They are ingrained in your consciousness so that you do not need to actively think about them in order for them to guide you. It is your subconscious values that define the core of who you are. They are directly connected to your perceptions and your emotions.
Conscious values, on the other hand, are those values that you must intellectually examine in order to gain benefit. Most often, these conscious values are the same subconscious values that have not yet been developed to maturity. One only needs to think of different moral situations that they might find themselves in...then think of their immediate reactions to those situations to identify the differences between their subconscious and conscious values. Their immediate reaction will be determined by what has already been ingrained through past experience and instinct (subconscious). Most often, this will be inadequate to navigate life's more complex events, and so a conscious effort to examine ones values ensues.
For the purpose of this lesson, it might be helpful to understand values in terms of a computer. The computer is your life. Since the installation of your computer (e.g. since you were born), you have mastered the use of thousands of programs, links, shortcuts, etc. (e.g. you have learned many different values). While you were actively learning each skill, they were in your consciousness (e.g. they were conscious values that you were developing). For instance, you had to actively learn how to click a mouse, save a document, open a program — these skills did not come with the computer. But, with experience, each of these tasks then became ingrained, they were added to the 'core' of your computer knowledge (your 'core identity' or subconscious values). Because you had mastered them (at least to the level of working with more basic activities (e.g. earlier life stages), you no longer needed to put forth the conscious effort to continue developing such computer skills. However, let's say that a rather simple virus (e.g. a traumatic life event) was introduced to your computer and it affected the way that you had to navigate. Instead of two clicks to open a program, it now required six clicks.
If you had become complacent with your personal development...you would be left with the belief that you already knew how to click a mouse, and that it needed to be clicked two times in order to open a program. That is what you have learned and that is the way it should morally be. No further changes or development should be necessary on your part. Yet, reality dictates that only when you learn to click the mouse six times will you be able to open the program, and so your computer knowledge has proven insufficient to cope with this virus (e.g. this new life event).
If you examine your current situation, you will find that the same thing has occurred. All of your experiences, all of your knowledge, all of your skills in managing your life have left you incapable of "opening the program" that is required to deal with a partner who has infected your life with a virus. You have been faced with a unique life event that will require that you adjust. And while adjust does not necessarily mean that you must sacrifice your values, it does require that you re-evaluate, re-prioritize and re-develop them so that they may provide benefit to you now. You have heard of the saying, "That which does not kill us only makes us stronger." Well, that is not necessarily true. What makes it true is when people learn and adjust to 'that which does not kill us'. Making this adjustment requires a return to the development of your values through conscious effort.
Strengthening Your Values
To strengthen your value system, you must first identify your existing ingrained values — which most of you have already done. Again, these are the values that form the core of how you currently identify with yourself. Second, you must set out to strengthen each value that forms your core identity — which very few of you have done. That you have not yet done this is by no fault of your own (upcoming irony intended), as taking responsibility for our reactions to life's shortcomings is not something that we teach as a society. Instead, we teach that when we are faced with a situation that we have little or no control over, that we are helpless. That, when life doesn't go the way that we have expected it to go, that it is unfair. That, rather than focusing on a healthy personal reaction to whatever situation we face, our attentions should be focused on doling out consequences to those who are responsible for this situation. All natural, but ultimately unhealthy responses to life's 'viruses'.
So, what values should you strengthen and how do you strengthen them? That is not for this workshop to answer. Only you can decide which values need strengthening and in which manner you will strengthen them. Some of you, especially those who are long removed from the discovery of your partner's behavior, may have already examined your own values and have grown stronger in the process. That is what we are talking about here. And whether that development is through books, planned life experiences, watching similar values being modeled by others or through some other method of learning does not matter. All that matters is that you place yourself in the role of becoming a student again — allowing yourself to reconnect with your own uniqueness and individuality. Such an awareness will help you to recognize that what is most important as an individual is not what happens to you in your life, but how you respond to what happens — with your unique set of skills, values, morals, etc. Your recognition that you control your reactions to each element in your life is a key to achieving long-term stability over not only what you are going through now, but all future life events as well. Even if that reaction is to admit that you were not prepared to deal with it through your existing value system, and set out to strengthen that system.
The Roles of a Strengthened Value System
With each effort you make to strengthen your values, the roles that these values play in areas such as decision-making, boundary-setting and goal-setting expand. When you have a limited command of a value like, say, "honesty"...the value that honesty can play in helping you to manage your life is likewise limited.
Examining this in a real life situation, let's take a woman with a rather immature development of the value 'honesty'. She was raised to be honest, cherished honesty in others, and believed that all people should be honest at all times. Because in most situations such a limited view of honesty was sufficient, honesty became a core value for her and any additional development of this value would only come as a result of necessity or situational 'trial and error'.
As a teen, this value was used to allow her to effortlessly manage many situations in her romantic relationships. A boyfriend was found to have openly lied to her, her values kicked in, and the decision was made to end the relationship. She knew that she must be with someone that she trusted, and because she could no longer trust this boyfriend, the decision was made to end the relationship. And she felt great about strength and moral commitment.
As a married adult with two children, this same woman discovers that her husband has been lying to her about a relationship with a co-worker, and that he has lied to her about several hundred dollars that went unaccounted for in their budget. And while she cannot prove infidelity, she is faced with a separate value conflict: the lies that she has discovered. And she is unprepared as to how to deal with them. Because her core values dictate that lying is "unacceptable" and something she won't tolerate, she is now faced with either ending the relationship or sacrificing her values. As a teen, ending the relationship was the answer; as an adult, it is not. She must now balance her husband's violation with many more values that she has continued to develop and reprioritize over her adult years. Values such as her family's stability, her reputation, her self-respect, her financial security, etc. Suddenly, her stable, concrete reliance on 'absolute honesty' is not sufficient to manage this event in her life, and so she must strengthen her awareness of 'honesty'. She must expand her understanding of it to provide a more effective means for understanding it in the context of her current life. This strengthening of values is something that is best done when it is not necessary to do.
What this means for you...
Remember, the purpose of this lesson is not to teach you about values, or to tell you which values are more or less important. Its purpose is to open your eyes to the fact that you are in control of how strong your values become. That, if they are not yet adequately developed to manage your current life events, that you are capable of developing them further. That, your life will continue to change in ways that you cannot yet imagine...and with those changes will come the need for further development. For further adjustment, expansion and strengthening of your value system.
A) In Stage Two; Lesson One, you created proactive action plans for three values to help you begin the process of stabilizing your life. You now need to expand this to the remaining values listed in Exercise Sixteen.
B) For each, think about the meaning and fulfillment you are getting compared to the potential meaning and fulfillment available.
C) Develop a specific plan that will allow you to maximize the potential in each of those remaining values.
D) List the 'next two or three steps' you will take to begin strengthening each value. Note: you will not be expected to begin taking all of these steps. The goal here is to gain clarity in what steps to take and to have a plan of action ready for times when you have either lost focus or have some extra energy.