What fears must I face to take value-based actions rather than coping behaviours?

Wooden scrabble blocks spelling out the word 'FEAR'

There are often legitimate fears that make it hard to act in line with our values. Afterall, we develop coping behaviours for a reason. It is usually because they were helpful to us at some time in the past. Perhaps we didn’t have control of a situation and withdrawal was a sensible solution in order to not get hurt. Maybe just going along with what the other person said was a way to avoid being criticised or humiliated. Whatever the reasons for developing these coping behaviours, they have often outgrown their usefulness and can escalate conflict or cause us to not get what we need in our relationships.

Today we are identifying the barriers to taking value-based actions. These often lie in the reasons we developed our coping behaviours in the first place. A few questions that you might want to ask yourself to work out what makes taking the actions in line with your values are:

What am I afraid might happen if I don’t use my coping behaviour?

What emotion do I feel when I think about using my coping behaviour?

How old is that pain?

Is it proportionate to the conflicts I have with my partner/s (or within myself)?

What uncomfortable feelings will I have to make room for if I take this value based action?

How can I be compassionate with myself while making space for those uncomfortable feelings?

For me, this was the most challenging part of working with my values in conflict. I am afraid that if I don’t infer intentions onto my partner in conflict then I will be hurt. It is scary to think about treating my assumptions about their intentions as a theory rather than fact because there was a time when I was hurt because I assumed the best rather than the worst about someone. It is a legitimate and old fear that I hold. Honestly, it is really hard to make space to have uncomfortable feelings about that fear on top of the vulnerability and scariness of conflict with intimate partners. But it also helps me to act more like who I’d like to be. It helps me to own my shit at the most difficult times.

This is a tough exercise to do. It will probably bring up some old stuff about the reasons that you developed the coping mechanisms that you did. Try to treat yourself with compassion and kindness – whatever that means to you. It is hard to face how our past has affected our present, but you can be sure that every single person has coping behaviours that are about their journey and the ‘stuff’ they have picked up along the way. Obviously, all trauma isn’t equal, and some of us experience an unfairly large burden, often because of our race, sexuality, gender identity, family of origin or disability (amongst many other things). For me working with values and conflict has been a way to feel freer in my response to conflict, and less tied to the old stuff I still hold. If this feels like it might be too difficult to do alone, consider working through it with a coach/therapist or even a friend doing similar work on themself.

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