by Andrea M. Darcy
Values and beliefs are two things you will find yourself talking about should you attend sessions with a coach, counsellor, or psychotherapist.
Why beliefs and values are so important in therapy
They are both invaluable tools for:
- understanding who you are
- deciphering why you have made the decisions you have in life
- learning how to make choices that suit you better
- moving forward in life in ways that feel good.
So how are beliefs and values different, and why does it matter?
What are beliefs?
Beliefs, often called ‘core beliefs‘ in therapy, are the assumptions you have made about yourself and the world at large.
Beliefs are formed from our past experiences. As a child your brain registered your experiences as the way things must always work – a sort of personal doctrine.
[Want a more detailed explanation? Read our post on Core Beliefs in CBT Therapy.]
Unless you embark on personal development, it’s easy to live life unaware that the thoughts that run your life and dictate your decisions can be questioned and changed. Instead, you will mistake these core beliefs as ‘facts’ and ‘truth’.
For example, you might have had a parent who loved you but also constantly criticised you. You will have a belief that ‘love hurts’. This belief will see you gravitate toward difficult relationships that confirm that this belief is true.
What are Values?
Values, often called ‘personal values’ in therapy, are universal ideas about what is important in life. They include things like kindness, compassion, and loyalty, as well as things like dishonesty and decadence.
Values could be said to be in part formed by our personalities – siblings with the same upbringing can end up with different values.
Values, too, can be influenced by our experiences, and are definitely influenced by the people around us as we grow up as well as the society and culture we live in.
[Read about how important values are in our article, the Power of Personal Values].
How are beliefs and values connected?
Beliefs and values inform each other. For example, if you have a difficult childhood where love is not offered freely and you develop a core belief that ‘love must be earned’, then it’s possible you’ll develop a very strong value of trust to compensate for your anxiety that nobody loves you as is.
How are beliefs and values different?
Beliefs are more about our personal past, whereas values are more about how we filter our experiences through our personality to then commit to universal ideas of right and wrong.
Whereas our set of beliefs might be unique, we will share values with many others (although sometimes we might not share the same values as those who are close to us).
Beliefs often work against us, whereas values work for us. Beliefs are often formed as protective reactions and from a limited childhood perspective, meaning as adults these same beliefs no longer serve us. Our deep personal values, on the other hand, are the best way for us to align ourselves with a life that leaves us peaceful and purposeful.
Beliefs can be changed while values rarely do. Beliefs are assumptions, and assumptions can be challenged. Values are more an integral part of who we are.
Values can, however, be ‘changed’ in the sense that many of us lead our lives from values that aren’t even ours. Instead they are ‘borrowed’ from people around us – parents, peers, or partners. So we can identify this problem and ‘change’ to our own values that suit us better.
And values can definitely evolve as we do. For example, if you have the value of success, that might look like ambition when you are young. When you are older, that same value might attach to a sense of learned compassion and become justice – success not just for yourself, but for others.
Why do we need to know the difference between values and beliefs?
Mistaking a value for a belief can mean you are trying to change something that probably won’t change, and vice versa – deciding a belief is a value can mean you don’t attempt to change something it could benefit you to transform.
For example, if you have a core belief that the world is a dangerous place, you can trick yourself into thinking you have a personal value of security that can’t change . When really it’s a belief ,and learning to feel safe in the world could be a life changer for you.
Are you ready to take charge of your beliefs and values?
After years of living from core beliefs we have mistaken as truth, or values we have convinced ourselves are ours because they help us fit in with those we love, it can be tricky or even overwhelming to recognise what beliefs and values we need to let go of and what ones we need to embrace.
If you feel at a loss of where to begin when considering your own beliefs and values, or worry that really looking at them honestly might cause more change than you know how to handle alone, do consider the support of a counsellor or psychotherapist. Trained at helping you understand yourself and work through your fears, they can help you make new decisions that are positive and manageable.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert, who has done some training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and advises people on how to plan their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy