What’s pulling our strings?

Have you ever felt compelled to do or say something that doesn’t feel quite right or induces a feeling of conflict within you? Do you sometimes feel driven by something you can’t identify that leads to you saying or doing something that you regret & this is becoming or is a pattern?

Maybe you are starting to notice that you are feeling triggered into anger or frustration by something someone does or says & it’s the same person or the same subject that seems to bring that anger out in you?

Chances are that both the above are down to a clash of personal values. Although we can often share wider, cultural or national values like ‘we don’t kill or rape or steal or deliberately harm others’, we also carry a long list of personal values that we have absorbed during our lives. These will vary from firstly family to family & then person to person.

What are these values? They are the codes by which we have chosen – (consciously or unconsciously) – to live our lives by. For example I am the child of a UK post-war couple who were both actively involved in the services, albeit the last years of actual conflict. They then lived in a period of food shortages, rationing & re-building. So a huge part of their value system, which under pinned my formative years, was about frugality, mending & making do, repairing, making things last & not taking more than your fair share. Even today I might wince at what I would perceive as ‘wasted food’, throwing away leftovers, discarding something without at least attempting to repair it or even worse because it’s old fashioned or looking battered but it still works. I am now fully conscious of this value around not creating unnecessary waste & mending & repairing first. I mostly believe it serves me well. It does so because it actually partners another value of mine – (this time of my own choosing not my parents) – which is to do whatever I can to be environmentally friendly & be kind to the Earth we depend on.

There was a time when I wasn’t so aware, when I almost reached hoarding status with electrical goods/broken toys/smashed china that I refused to replace because ‘someone would know how to fix them’ or I would fix them, someday……. ! In addition, it took my son to point out the ridiculousness of saving a dessert spoon of food instead of binning it, in case it might be part of a possible future meal! Things had got out of hand, out of balance and this value of frugality/make do & mend had to stop. Ultimately at the root was a fear of lack & this had taken far too large & significant a place at my family table! Once I became conscious of this value AND the fact that ultimately it wasn’t my value, I could start to take control of it’s influence on my own behaviour. The very real fear that my parents had experienced, that had put that value firmly in place in their lives, wasn’t my fear & it wasn’t appropriate in my life. Once I understood that, then I could regain control over it & relegate it to a more appropriate place in my Values pecking order.

As I stated now, I have it as part of my Values around caring for our Earth rather than being driven by a fear of not having enough  – this works for me.

When we feel constantly in conflict with others – in close intimate relationships or even online, it’s worth remembering that it almost always comes down to a conflict of values. If I value medical Freedom – the right to choose what I put in or on my body or that of my dependents  – extremely highly & I clash with someone who doesn’t value that as highly as I do, unless we are both conscious humans who have reached a place where we understand that neither is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ – it’s just different, we will be in conflict. If I am married to someone who does not value cleanliness or order as much as I do that can be a source of conflict. If I value talking through problems & finding a solution together & I am friends with someone who values self-reliance, not burdening others with their problems then that can create conflict. I should add that in all these scenarios the conflict is far less likely to arise once we are conscious of these different values & able to understand that they are just Values, & do not have to stand in the way of a mature, tolerant relationship.

When I work with couples or even parents & children or adolescents, doing some Values work & finding ways to ‘re-shuffle’ values as well as identify shared values, is a big part of reaching a successful outcome. For example, as a parent, one of my Values might be to keep a tidy, clean house, for laundry to be done on time & dirty clothes be put in the laundry not the floor. My 14 year old son has completely different values – keeping up with his social life, playing the latest video game, training for sports, getting a girlfriend or keeping up with homework – socks on the floor are not part of any of that value system!! He isn’t doing it to deliberately piss you off, it’s just not important to him. I’m not saying that some compromise may need to be found or starting to make him aware of your values (as well as his), & why you may get triggered by an apparent flouting of them wouldn’t be constructive. But once we start to become aware of these Values, it often dials the resulting unconsciously driven behaviour, down several notches – we understand that it’s not personal. The emotion disappears & it gets easier to explain both to yourself & to your teen or partner or friend what you value & why & how some kind of compromise may be found.

As I said in the example above, once we are aware of our Values & where they come from, we can understand how they drive certain behaviours of ours, then we can actively choose to continue them, adjust their importance or even let them go. Mostly, I have found in others & myself that it’s a question of balance – each Value is like a coin. It has 2 sides – one will really help us if used appropriately and the other may hinder our growth or keep us stuck in some way. The fantastic thing is we can & do choose our Values, they are not inherently part of our DNA, they are not imprinted through us like a stick of rock. So we can re-shuffle or re-choose or discard any time we want if they no longer help us to evolve & grow & do the things we want to do or if they are underpinning behaviour that is repetitive, angry, fearful, rude or full of conflict. We can do this no matter how old we are or how long we have been carrying a Value and I promise you, it is so liberating once we know this & can act on it.

I find a useful exercise to go through to help you start to understand your own Values is to start with a particular aspect of your life eg your Intimate relationships or your business/job or your Home or your Life in general & do the following:-

  1. Make a list in no particular order of your top 6 Values around this area of your life
  2. Identify how often each value is actively present in your life – daily/weekly/monthly/less often?
  3. Identify how each Value may help you in some circumstances AND keep you stuck or stop you in other circumstances.
  4. What behavior may come out of each value?
  5. Can you arrange these Values in order of importance for you?
  6. Ask yourself where each Value may have come from – did you consciously choose it or did you absorb it sub-consciously from someone with influence on your life?
  7. Ask does this value help me more than it hinders me?
  8. Ask yourself do I want to keep this Value & if so am I happy with it’s place in my order of importance to me?

Alternatively you could apply all the above to the Values that you can identify around your Country/Nationality either adopted or birth or both, then your family of origin & then You personally – how do they filter down & have an effect on you now?

If you need some help or would like to share how you get on, please leave a comment below or if you prefer to do this work with a guide or within a safe space, get in touch with me to book a one to one coaching session. You can also book a free ‘Q&A’ call if you want to have a chat first.


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