We all have values. You know, those standards we try to live according to. They are the areas we give importance to. There are tons of them: independence, health, creativity, self-acceptance, God's will, growth, knowledge, strength, stability, adventure, kindness, world peace, reliability and so on.   Have you thought about what your values are? Here are a few things to consider. 

Where to Start? 

It can be hard to think off the top of your head what it is that you value. Luckily, thanks to the internet, there are lists and lists of values already laid out. The Personal Value Care Sort exercise (W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D.B. Matthews, P.L. Wilbourne, University of New Mexico, 2001) is great for helping sort through your values by putting them in one of the following three categories: very important to me, important to me or not important to me. What l like about this exercise is that it demonstrates how not all values are ranked the same in terms of importance. This knowledge can help in times when values compete.  More on that in a bit. I always find it interesting that everyone's columns are filled differently. After completing the exercise, was there anything that surprised you? Were there some values of importance to you that you have been neglecting? Was there a time in your life when you were more aligned? If yes, what was different? 

Our emotions are important sources of information. They are trying to communicate something to us. Next time, when you’re feeling guilty, unsettled or angry, stop and think if there is a value that’s been breached. This can help to identify what it is that’s of importance to you. Do you feel unsettled when running late? It could mean you value punctuality or reliability. Angry when someone keeps doing things for you that you think is reasonable to do for yourself? Maybe you value independence. 

Sometimes They Compete and/or Contradict.

Humans hold many different values, and sometimes, two values that are both important, compete. For example, one may value health (sleep) as well as reliability. For many, sleep is often sacrificed in order to get an assignment or presentation done on time. Some may find ways to honour both (working ahead, delegating, etc). While others may take the hit grade wise in order to stay rested.

It is also possible to hold contradictory values, which can lead to cognitive dissonance (mental discomfort by holding two contradictory values). This is where DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) does a great job in advocating that two opposing things can be equally true.  Just because your values are contradictory does not mean they (or you) are wrong. It is completely possible to value being social while also valuing solitude. When cognitive dissonance is present, try practicing radical acceptance, reminding yourself that "you are doing the best you can” and "it is what it is". 

What’s Getting in the Way of Living According to Your Values?

Sometimes acting according to one’s values is hard! There are many influences and factors that play into why one does or doesn’t do this. Having a sense of awareness to the barriers present is an important step as it then allows you the opportunity to come up with a different approach or plan. 

It can be helpful to think about how someone who is living according to value “X” would act, behave, think, carry themselves, engage, etc. Then, attempt to do the same. “Act as if” or “mimic” these behaviours until it becomes more natural or normal. If you value self-acceptance, people are likely showing themselves compassion and kindness (in words and actions). Start doing the same. It can also be helpful to have your values written down or typed out for you to see throughout the day. 

Sometimes They Aren't the Same as Other’s.

Relationships can be difficult when the players within it hold different values. Of course, us humans, like snowflakes, are made up of differing values and beliefs. This doesn't mean we can't be in relationship with someone who doesn't value what we value, however, it does mean we will need to learn how to navigate these differences. Usually, we can learn a lot from these differences. Other times, the differences are too great and can be deal breakers within the relationship (such as if one person values monogamy whereas another person is wanting an open relationship). Having a third party, such as a therapist, can be helpful when trying to navigate these differences. 

They Can Act as Anchors Admits Change/Uncertainty.

Life can feel pretty uncertain at times. There are many seasons of change that occur, some that leave us feeling untethered. The neat thing about values is that they go with you wherever you go. Yes, values can change over the course of time or experiences, however they are pretty constant pieces of ourselves. You typically don’t wake up one morning, all of a sudden, hating the value of fairness or creativity. Learn to trust this part of you and do your best to act according to them, especially in times of uncertainty. 

We Feel Better When We Live According to Them.

Think about the times you acted in a way that was consistent with your values. Now recall a time when you didn’t. How did you feel? Likely, there’s a difference. If honesty is of high importance to you, it makes sense that you would feel unsettled after we told a lie. Keep this in mind, especially when it's tough to do so. Play the tape/situation forward and imagine how you'd react/feel by following or not following your values.   


Trees, Lakes, Leaves and Dirt - Symbolism in Nature to Recovery and Wellness

Having grown up surrounded by vast forests on the shores of Lake Superior, the beauty and power of nature has always been a part of my life. Admittedly, one I took for granted. I often feel land locked since moving to Guelph, although make do by enjoying the rivers that run through it and/or by visiting various trails that surround it.  

In between my undergraduate degree and my masters, I took some courses in horticultural therapy*, taught by Guelph’s own, Mitchel Hewson. Having had a taste of horticultural therapy years before, knowing I was going to become a psychotherapist after my masters and my love of nature, it seemed like a good fit. I love, regardless of whatever the season, there are things we can take away from nature, applying them to recovery and/or health and wellness. 

Sometimes, we have to go through trauma in order to grow. There are some trees, such as the Jack Pine or Aspen, that require fire in order for the resin on its pinecones to melt and open. Only after this can its seeds emerge. Now, I’m not saying, we should go out and burn down all the forests for this to happen.  What I am saying, through the process of something initially thought as devastating, there can be benefits. Life teaches us lessons through various means. They don’t all occur after trauma, but some do. I often wonder if I would have learned about boundaries and assertiveness or the benefits of challenging distorted thinking at the age that I did without having gotten sick. Of course these skills can be taught/learned without trauma, but for some, it acts as a catalyst for growth.

We need to fertilize and water the soil in order for plants to thrive.  I have a few plants, mostly in my office, that are in desperate need of fertilizer and nutrients. The leaves are dry and droopy, and the green isn't as rich as it can or has been. Just like plants, we too need to feed and water ourselves if we want to grow. We can do this by literally nourishing our body’s physical needs with food and water.  We also have emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs tend to as well. Check out the post on self-care to learn more about meeting your 5 basic needs.

Bloom where you are planted… and when necessary relocate. The plants in my life are surviving… but they aren’t flourishing. The short winter hours and direction of sunlight are not optimal growth conditions. I know if I changed these conditions, it would thrive. I do think there is truth to trying to bloom where one is planted, and sometimes, you’ll do better if you relocate. I remember when I was in treatment, my friend sent me a quote: “Bloom where you are planted” (various sources cited). I get what she was trying to tell me: make the best of where you are right now, I know it’s tough, but it’s possible to flourish there.  She was right. I could have dug my heels in and resisted treatment, or I could use that opportunity to grow. And, I did. But, there came a point where if I wanted to keep growing, I needed to leave. 

Pruning required. Some trees require pruning for optimal fruit growth to occur. Otherwise, the tree will expend too much energy and nutrients in trying to feed all of its blooms and branches versus making a shorter distance to fewer branches. Sometimes it's fruit yield and quality suffers. We all do things that aren’t in our best growth interest. And, sometimes we do things that completely hinder growth. It's important, in the early stages of treatment, to focus on what solidifies recovery and builds a sturdy foundation. It's extremely difficult to prioritize this if there are 50 other demands requiring one's attention. There's only so much one can do before something gives. As your recovery/health/wellness strengthens, it's possible to take on more, however regardless of where you are in recovery, it's always good to take stock of where your resources are going and if its producing what you want. 

Plant near other trees.  As a kid, we had cherry trees growing in the back yard. The type of cherry tree we had required other cherry trees to be near by so they could pollinate each other. We too need one another for support and growth. We aren’t islands and don’t do well in isolation. Some need a lot of contact and stimulation from others to thrive, while others do better in smaller doses. One is not more right than the other. What's important is knowing and building the type of community that promotes and maintains growth.

*For more on horticultural therapy, check out: "Horticulture as Therapy" by Mitchel Hewson. 

Body-Image Exercise Through Art

Developing healthy body image is a bit of a concoction… 1 part acceptance, 2 parts forgiveness, 10 parts self-compassion and so on.

To date, I have not met anyone who has never had periods of poor body image. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I just think it’s a human thing to experience at some point in life. And, unfortunately, for many, this experience is more than just a “period” in their life, versus what they have always known or experience day to day.

Often, we get caught up in what our body looks like… or perhaps, what it doesn't look like. The negative voices that dominate our thoughts telling us: I’m too bald, I’m not bald enough. I’m too short, I’m too tall. I’m too fat, skinny, wrinkly, pimply, and so on and so on. It’s exhausting. So, for today, I want to shift away from what our bodies look like and focus on what they do for us. Thanks to Eve Tesluk, a professional art therapist in Guelph, for introducing me to this exercise to do with my clients. 

Thanks to my colleague Megan Callon for supplying me with the drawn figure you will see below to demonstrate an exercise I often do with my clients. As always, please note this drawing is just one of the many different shapes, sizes and forms bodies come in and is not meant to represent an 'ideal' (remember, health at every size!!). Also, the individual described below is fictitious.

Here’s a picture of what you will need.

I get clients to think about what they like to do and how their body experiences these things. Through colours and symbols, I get them to draw/colour where on/in their bodies they experience these activities. By doing so, we are moving away from appearance, and more on its function.

This individual below, appreciates their feet as it allows them to skate, their fingernails as they often get painted funky colours and their hair that allows them to express themselves in various colours and lengths. They enjoy watching movies, smelling nature and feeling the warmth of the sun on their shoulders and body. They appreciate their fingers and toes that help give them balance as well as to wear rings.They appreciate their ears and the ability to listen to sounds, especially laughing or the deep quiet the night can bring. When they feel empowered, they see it in orange, both in their mind and their heart. They enjoy their tongue/mouth as it enables them to eat ice cream.

They acknowledge the struggle they have with their thighs and stomach, however know without the strength that comes from these areas, they would be unable to do so much of what they love. They symbolized this to remind them these areas are their powerhouse that gets them through their day. 

Often, the drawer will neglect symbolizing or colouring certain areas of their figure. More times than not, it is these areas that they need help with reframing or finding its purpose. Everyone will have a different reason for why they struggle with a particular area. Some feel betrayed by their body. Sometimes it’s finding the little things, like the fact skin helps contain our bits, blood and guts, protecting us from the world, that helps start developing a different narrative. It’s function doesn’t have to be mind blowing. It just has to be something that helps reframe how they think or see their body. Perhaps, it’s being thankful that one of their two ears can hear, or one of their two eyes doesn’t cause them pain.

And as always, developing a healthier or more tolerable relationship with one's body is a process. This exercise is just another way of exploring a different aspect of what are bodies can do, and in turn, part of who we are. Give it a try and talk it over with your therapist or trusted support.  As always, practice compassion and think outside the box society likes to put us in! And, if you liked processing thoughts, emotions and issues through art, check out Eve Tesluk in Guelph, ON, or another professional art therapists in your area.