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What Bothers You May Be Connected To Your Values

January 11, 2022

Your problems are important, but what can be harder to see and equally as important, are the values underlying your emotional discomfort.

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I'm Diana!

Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion


If you were a new client, one of the first questions I would ask you is, “What is it that you care about that brought you here?” Your problems and symptoms are important (and often are quickly listed off), but what can be harder to get at, and is equally as important, are the values underlying your emotional discomfort.

When you dig under what bothers you and get to your values, it can be freeing, because it gives you a new focus. Instead of trying to get rid of your annoyance, social anxiety, or depression, you can use it as a cue to point you toward where you want to direct your energy. You may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your responses.

Let’s explore this in the context of what’s bothering you right now.

How to Turn “Bothers” Into Values

  1. Name the bother. Choose something that really bugs you right now. A problem, a person, a situation. Make contact with the problem, but before you get too entangled in your story about it, see if you can distill it into one sentence. “What is bothering me right now is…”
  2. Describe the pain. Once you have labeled the bother, take a moment to describe what is painful to you about it. How does it make you feel? Does it make you feel sad, scared, or disappointed? Labeling and describing your emotion helps you get a little distance from it and prevents you from getting underwater in the story. This type of emotional defusion is a core process in effective emotion regulation.
  3. Resist the urge to numb it. Our first instinct is to run away or numb out when we hit a pain spot. This works when you are pulling your hand away from a hot flame, but not as well when it comes to the pain related to feelings like sadness about a family member getting sick or irritation that your spouse isn’t helping at home. The Stanford addiction psychiatrist Dr. Anna Lembke told me recently that there are so many quick and easy ways to numb our pain these days (many of which are located in your pocket). But when you numb pain, your biology tends to respond by making the pain worse. When you numb your pain, you also miss out on seeing the values that underlie your discomfort.
  4. Look for values where it hurts most. Anger, regret, sadness, envy, and embarrassment are some of our least favorite emotions. Yet these feelings often point to what you care most about. Often you are angry because there is something you want to protect. You feel regret because you may have missed out on something important. Or you envy someone because they embody qualities that you wish you embody, too. Spend some time with your hurt to look for the values that are driving it. That care will be your motivation for action (see the next step).
  5. Flip your bothers into behaviors. What is exciting about values is that you can act on them at any point in time, no matter where you are. As Dr. Zurita Ona shared with me recently, you can live out one value in many different ways. Like pointing yourself north on a compass, your values are inner directions to head. Once you have labeled your bothers, your feelings, and the values that are driving those feelings, you can act on your values with your behavior. Your situation and your feelings about it do not need to change for you to live out your values. You can turn them into the motivation to act on what is important to you right here and now.

In the end, living a valued-rich life is not a pain-free one. Your pain points to your values, and your values will not protect you from pain. But you are always free to choose. Run from what bothers you… or use your bothers to guide you toward a richer and more meaningful life.

To learn more, listen to my new podcast, Your Life in Process.

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