Recovery Workshop: Lesson Three

The Role of Values

NOTE: The first few lessons required more energy, concentration and time than you would likely be able to invest on a daily basis for the next three months. Bear with this initial push for a few more lessons; it is intended to help you lay a solid foundation for permanent change. These next few lessons will be focused on the single most important aspect of your recovery: your values. More specifically, your ability to recognize, develop and use your values in practical ways.

Values: What are They?

Your values are those principles in your life that you use to derive meaning and fulfillment. They form the foundation of your identity. If those values are consistent, your identity will reflect consistency. If your values are in conflict with one another, your identity will reflect conflict. For many though, values are perceived as idealistic concepts without any real practical value in helping them to manage their day-to-day life. This mindset needs to change. By the end of this workshop, you will be constructing a foundation of practical values from which you will manage the most important aspects of your life. Without this foundation in place, more complex life skills such as prioritization, decision-making, urge control, goal management, emotional management and others simply cannot be mastered. And addiction cannot be overcome.


What an engine is to your car, values are to your life. Can a person still drive a car without an engine? Yes, but not efficiently. The engine performs a particular role for that car (to generate energy), and unless that role is fulfilled by some other means, the car will not run. What other options are available to generate this motion? The use of a tow truck, or the assurance that all of the trips made in that car will be downhill. Yes, that is sarcasm. But nonetheless, the car can still function as a mode of transportation — albeit in a much less efficient manner. Can a person live without values? Yes, but not efficiently. Values perform a particular role in life (to generate energy), and unless that role is fulfilled by some other means, that life will not run. What options are available in a life not stimulated by one's values? Well, addiction for one.

In a healthy person, values provide the motivation that drives their behavior. They are the impetus for decision-making and provide a stable foundation for feelings and emotions. Without a foundation of values, our lives would lack even the most basic sense of significance or meaning. People would be reduced to nothing more than animals guided by whatever made them feel good in a given moment, regardless of the consequences. Which is why, as the progressive nature of addiction begins to take root, the values of the emerging addict diminish. And as that behavior continues to progress, the connection with their values can be lost altogether. Is it any wonder then, that people who have struggled with addictions over long periods end up living lives that produces little (if any) meaning?

The values that drive our behavior can be divided into two groups: practical  and universal. Practical values include those which can be measured through daily interaction with other people, places and/or events. Values such as being a good father, a faithful wife, being healthy enough to complete a marathon, or persistent enough to write a book, financially responsible enough to buy a home...these are practical values that involve the inclusion of other things to determine their success or failure. Intimately intertwined with practical values are the more universal values that serve to produce the foundation of a person's identity.

Universal Values

The following Universal values are by no means comprehensive; rather, they are a list of some of the more common values that people derive genuine fulfillment and emotional comfort from. It is not necessary that you develop each and every one...though historically you will find your life to be stable and fulfilling when your foundation is based on anywhere between 5-8 active values (practical and/or universal). Any less than five and you will find your foundation vulnerable to collapse. Any more than eight and you will likely struggle to achieve the depth required from any single value.

Examples of Universal Values:

Self-respect: Taking pride in who you are, the decisions that you make and the life that you are living

Safety/Survival: Maintaining patterns that promote life and avoid death/debilitation

Social Acceptance: Having the ability to initiate and maintain healthy relationships with others

Meaning: Pursuing a reason for your existence (e.g. spirituality, progeny, self-awareness, etc.)

Security: Securing the resources (e.g. food, shelter, transportation) needed to maintain specific values (e.g. good role model, peer acceptance, travel)

Intimacy: Sharing a special trust and vulnerability with another human being

Health: Maintaining optimum physical and mental health

Love: Experiencing the three types of vital love: self-love, parental love and social love

Identity: Feeling that you are a unique, special and valuable person in the world

Integrity: Being proud of who you are, both in the eyes of others and from your own perspective

Autonomy: Being in control over the direction of your life

Order: Having an organized plan for your life, even if that plan includes spontaneity

Practical Values

Whereas universal values anchor the stability of your identity, practical values make up the movement. Practical values are what you use on a day-to-day basis to affect change in your life. To derive ongoing fulfillment. All universal values have the potential to be practical values — if you develop them as such. For instance, valuing self-respect as a concept is a universal value; actually using that concept to assist you in decision-making makes it practical. Practical values are what promote change; practical values are what you will be most actively developing.

Take a look at the following and see if you can identify the differences between the practical values and the universal:

  • I believe in God (U)
  • I pray to God each day for strength (P)
  • Family is important to me (U)
  • I am improving the way that I communicate with my wife (P)
  • I want to be a role model for my kids (U)
  • I want to role model patience, compassion and forgiveness to my kids (P)
  • Family is important to me (U)
  • I want to strengthen the role that I play in my brother's life (P)
  • I value freedom (U)
  • I take three hours each week to enjoy my freedom (P)
  • I want to reach my potential. (U)
  • I will spend no more than sixty minutes a day in front of the TV and/or computer — unless it is directly related to my pursuing my personal goals. (P)

Note that practical values are more specific than universal. That many practical values may fall under a single universal value. Note also that practical values can usually be measured and/or assessed in quantifiable terms. This is not always the case; sometimes that assessment can only take place subjectively, but there must be some way of determining whether progress or regression is taking place for each value.

Why that last aspect of practical values is so important is because you will soon be developing a Daily Monitoring process, based on the practical values that you will have deemed the highest priority in your life. As you progress through the workshop, you will then evolve that monitoring (based on your practical values) and you will continue to evolve your practical values. The success of this development will be predicated on your ability to identify an initial set of values that is CONGRUENT with the life that you want to live. This, as opposed to developing a set of ideal values that define a life that you want other people to think you are living.

There is no more room for appearances. If you are to end your addiction, the changes that you are making now must be real...and they must be sincere.

Lesson 3 Exercises:

A. Note: In the previous lesson, you were asked to write out your vision for the life that you want to live. If you have not yet completed this task, do so now, before beginning this exercise.

B. On your computer, extract the values from the vision you have created and list them.  Your goal for this lesson is to create a single, comprehensive list that involves all of the primary ways that you derive stimulation from your life. Or, those areas that you want to derive stimulation from. Most lists will contain between 50-100 items.  When you are done, post this list in your recovery thread.

If you feel you need some guidance as to what you are looking for, or for examples of how to list each item, see this example values list.

C. When you have extracted every possible value that you can think of from your vision, do the following:

1) Review this example values list for any additional values that you may want to add to your own list. List them.

2) Consider the 'dark side' of your decision-making. The compulsive behavior. The sexual behavior. Take some time to extract the values that went into those behaviors, and list them as well.

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