A destructive core value can have a harmful or detrimental impact on an individual’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships with others. It can contribute to negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and self-sabotaging behaviors, as well as foster attitudes of hostility, intolerance, or apathy towards others.
Negative core values may be deeply ingrained and difficult to identify or change, but becoming aware of them and working to replace them with positive, empowering values can lead to greater happiness, success, and fulfillment.
Why do people have destructive core values?
People may have destructive core values for a variety of reasons, including past experiences, upbringing, cultural or societal influences, and individual personality traits. For example, a person who grew up in a highly competitive environment may develop a core value of superiority or the need to control others in order to succeed. Alternatively, a person who has experienced trauma or abuse may develop a core value of victimhood or approval-seeking as a way to cope with feelings of powerlessness or insecurity.
Additionally, negative core values may also be reinforced by societal or cultural messages that promote certain attitudes or beliefs. For instance, a society that values material success above all else may foster a core value of perfectionism or approval-seeking in individuals who feel pressure to meet those standards.
Overall, destructive core values can arise from a variety of factors and can be deeply ingrained in an individual’s psyche. However, with self-awareness, education, and support, individuals can work to identify and challenge negative core values and develop more positive, empowering beliefs that align with their personal values and goals.
How do I know if I have a destructive core value?
This takes some reflection. First, ask yourself, what is causing me distress or preventing me from reaching my full potential? People will often identify a few habits that they would like to change.
Remember that habits are a reflection of what we value, even if they are negative.
Example of how someone identified a destructive core value
Sarah lived a life that felt unfulfilling and lacked direction. She worked a high-pressure job that paid well but required long hours and left her feeling exhausted. She often found herself wondering what her purpose in life was and what would truly make her happy. Being buried in emails and the constant demand from co-workers and clients caused her to develop an ‘always on’ mentality.
Sarah’s only relief from the intensity of the work week was through the consumption of alcohol and cannabis. She valued the relief and sedation that the combination of the two substances delivered. At first, her use was moderate, but gradually she increased the quantity of both substances. Eventually, she noticed short-term memory loss and a general sense of malaise. When she tried to reduce consumption, she found she would wake up in the night and start overthinking — a pattern of hypervigilance — about her work and life problems.
One day, Sarah decided to take a step back and reflect on her values. Her current situation reflected two core values: financial stability and relief — or release — from overthinking. She decided to explore what she really valued and asked herself the question: at the end of my life, what will I look back on as being important to me? She wrote her ideas down in a journal and realized that they included things like spending time with family, helping others, and pursuing creative interests. With these values in mind, she decided to make some changes in her life.
She started by setting boundaries at work and leaving on time to spend more quality time with her loved ones. She also began volunteering at a local charity, which gave her a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Additionally, she began pursuing her creative passions, taking art classes and starting a side business selling her artwork.
As Sarah made these changes, she noticed that her overall wellbeing began to improve. She felt more energized and content, and her relationships with her family and friends grew stronger. She also found that her job felt more manageable and less overwhelming because she had other fulfilling activities to balance it out. While she still enjoyed the occasional red wine she no longer needed relief from suffering. She wasn’t suffering at all!
Over time, Sarah realized that by defining her values and making changes in her life to align with them, she had found a sense of purpose and fulfillment that she had been missing. She felt more connected to herself and her community, and her life felt more meaningful overall.
In the end, Sarah felt grateful for the journey she had been on and looked forward to continuing to live a life that was aligned with her values.
What are some example of destructive core values?
There are many potentially negative core values. Here are a few examples:
- Superiority: A belief that one is inherently better or superior to others can lead to arrogance, condescension, and mistreatment of those who are perceived as inferior.
- Control: A belief that one must have complete control over oneself and others can lead to manipulative and coercive behaviors, and can damage relationships.
- Intoxication: Many people value the feeling — or lack of it — when they are drunk or high. While intoxication may temporarily relieve suffering, it can lead to addiction if positive life changes are not made.
- Perfectionism: A belief that one must be perfect or flawless can lead to unrealistic expectations, self-criticism, and anxiety.
- Riches: Financial well-being is essential but becoming rich for the sake of it often leads individuals to feel unfulfilled. A life spent focused entirely on acquisition of materials may lead to negative consequences in terms of relationships and other dimensions of well-being.
- Approval-seeking: A belief that one must constantly seek approval or validation from others can lead to people-pleasing behaviors and a lack of authentic self-expression.
- Victimhood: A belief that one is constantly being victimized or persecuted can lead to a victim mentality, a lack of personal responsibility, and a tendency to blame others for one’s problems.
There are many more destructive core values. Some are entirely personal to each of us. For example, relaxation may be an important and positive core value to someone who tends toward high intensity in work and physical fitness. However, too much relaxation can lead to apathy and anhedonia (lack of joy).
A story of prioritizing values and making lifestyle changes
Mary is tired of waking up feeling sluggish and with low energy. This is causing her distress. She starts to deconstruct why she is experiencing this fatigue. Mary discovers in an article that we need seven hours of sleep to feel refreshed. She realises that she goes to bed at 1am every night and wakes up at 6am, meaning she consistently only sleeps for 5 hours per night.
Now Mary considers why she is going to bed so late. It turns out that she has young kids who take a long time to settle down to sleep. Often they only fall asleep at 10pm. Mary values her quiet time (peace) when she watches Netflix while decompressing after a long day at work and evenings with the kids.
Great – Mary values peace. However, Mary also values alertness and energy. She no longer wants to wake up feeling groggy. What should she do? We often have conflicts regarding our values but to minimize distress and gain clarity we must prioritize. Mary decides that alertness is more important than watching Netflix for hours, even if it provides some peace. She commits to some small changes based on wanting to feel alert and energized in the morning:
- Organize kids earlier and set a boundary to ensure they are asleep by 9:30pm.
- Watch a maximum of two episodes of her favorite series (rather than four episodes).
- Try relaxing breathing for 5 minutes before bed.
- Be in bed by 11:30pm.
Mary starts to feel more alert when she manages 6.5 hours of sleep. She eventually brings her bedtime to 11pm and is a renewed version of herself. In fact, her extra energy helps her better engage with her kids so that she actually enjoys the busy evenings and tires them out with her focused attention.
Is it possible to change a destructive core value?
Changing a destructive core value can be a challenging and complex process, but it is possible with commitment, self-awareness, and support. Here are some steps that a person can take to change a destructive core value:
- Identify the core value: The first step is to become aware of the negative core value and how it affects one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This can involve self-reflection, journaling, or talking to a trusted friend or therapist.
- Challenge the core value: Once the negative core value has been identified, it is important to challenge it by questioning its validity and exploring alternative perspectives. This can involve examining evidence that contradicts the core value or seeking out examples of people who have successfully overcome similar beliefs.
- Replace the core value: After challenging the negative core value, it is important to replace it with a more positive and empowering belief. This can involve developing a new core value that aligns with personal values and goals, or adopting a growth mindset that emphasizes learning and development.
- Practice the new core value: Finally, it is important to practice the new core value consistently in daily life. This can involve setting goals and taking actions that reflect the new belief, as well as seeking out positive reinforcement from supportive friends, family members, or professionals.
Changing a destructive core value takes time and effort, and it may involve setbacks or challenges along the way. However, with patience, persistence, and the right support, individuals can transform negative beliefs into positive, empowering ones and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.
At the Values Institute, we believe that self-awareness is key to well-being. If you feel distressed, it is time to step back and reflect on your behavior and environment. Your habits are a clear reflection of what you prioritize. Write down what you do — or don’t do but should — each day. Now write down the value attached to each one of these habits. Don’t focus on the habit itself but rather the outcome of the habit — that is where the value lies.
Now, consider how you might shift to more positive values. Those that will contribute to your legacy. Keep it simple and flexible. You don’t have to change everything in a day, week or year. Start small and focus on quick wins. Celebrate being aligned with important values, even if you feel the loss of sacrificing habits attached to your destructive values. Quitting alcohol or sugar are examples of this.
Know that a life lived in alignment with what is important to you is a life well-lived. Be the change.