Our values guide us through life, helping us decide what is right and wrong, and what we will and won’t do.

Examples of personal values

Identifying your most important values can help you recognise and respond more effectively when your values are being challenged.

Personal values can include things like:

  • Love
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Wealth
  • Integrity
  • Peace
  • Happiness
  • Authenticity
  • Wisdom
  • Freedom
  • Independence
  • Growth

but keep in mind that they are also very personal and unique to you.

My top values are:

  • Integrity / Honesty
  • Learning / Personal growth
  • Spirituality
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Empowerment
  • Family

How do you know your values are being challenged?

When your values are being challenged, you will generally feel dissatisfied, uncomfortable, and even distressed.

Something will seem wrong about the situation, even if you’re not entirely clear on what it is. You’ll be unwilling to act and may want to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.

If you are aware of your values, this will make it easier to see when they are being challenged, as you realise that something that’s very important to you is being questioned or compromised.

But even without specific awareness of your values, you may simply feel that this is “just not right” or “they shouldn’t do that” or “I don’t like what’s going on”.

Once you realise that your values are clashing with your current situation, you can use the following strategies to help you resolve it.

Embrace the experience

It’s easy to think that having our values challenged is a bad thing – and it certainly can be very uncomfortable – but it’s actually worthwhile to step back and welcome the experience if you can.


Because when you find yourself in a clash of values, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to get even clearer about what’s most important to you.

Become curious about what the situation is showing you about your values, and use that information to decide which of your values is being threatened, and what you will choose to do about it.

For example, perhaps you’re being asked to slightly modify some paperwork in order to save your business some money.

This may challenge your value of honesty, but at the same time, you also value having a job that you enjoy or you value minimising conflict.

This situation will help you decide which of these values is the most important to you, which will make it easier to respond to similar situations in the future.

Discuss the challenge with others

The person (or people) involved in creating this challenge to your values may not even be aware that you are struggling with their request, so if it all possible, have a discussion with them about it.

And it doesn’t have to be confrontational. You can simply express how the situation is making you feel, and why you are struggling.

One of my favourite ways to approach this is through non-violent communication, which is explained fully in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B Rosenberg.

As you have these conversations, look for ways in which your values overlap, and the things you are both trying to achieve.

You might find more in common than you think, and decreasing the perceived differences in your values will help increase cooperation and strengthen your relationship with the others involved.

Also make use of active listening, to make sure that you’re genuinely hearing the other point of view and taking it on board.

Reflect on your values

Once you understand the other point of view a little better, take some time to reflect on the values that are being challenged.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do they still seem valid to you?

Have you learned something that suggests that your values are invalid or might be based on incorrect information?

For example, if avoiding intimate relationships is important to you in order to avoid betrayal, would getting to know a happy couple who have been together for over 40 years suggest that other values might be possible and valid?

Does your current experience suggest that those values might need adjusting?

Is something happening around you that is incompatible with your values, or that does not measure up with what you would expect if they were 100% true?

For example, if telling the absolute truth in all situations is essential to you, would the observation of someone’s emotional suffering as a result of brutal honesty suggest a need for a modification of that value?

Are your values serving you?

Can you see any ways in which your current values are harming you instead of helping you?

For example, if absolute punctuality is very important to you, is it helpful or harmful for you to expect others to also be unfailingly punctual?

Or could it make your friendships a little easier if you were able to accept and allow for their varying approaches to being on time?

Are your values still relevant?

Has the world around you – or even just your world – changed enough that your values are no longer meaningful?

For example, you may feel that it is important to not get divorced no matter what, but when you look around and see the number of people leaving relationships that are unhealthy or downright dangerous, would you be willing to see that value as less relevant than it used to be?

Stand up for your values

Our Values are important to us, things that we feel passionately and that we’re not willing to change or compromise, our only option sometimes, is to stand up for them.

We can do this in a number of different ways, all of which require courage, strength and discipline.

Speak up and take action

We can speak up about our feelings, and explain why we don’t feel comfortable doing what is being asked or expected of us.

Or in the case where our values represent something that is being ignored or dismissed, we can take active steps to demonstrate how important this issue is to us.

We can also simply refuse to comply with a request, and do what feels right to us, regardless of what anyone else says.

For example, you might decide to attend a protest to express your opposition to a current injustice, or explain to your boss that you’re not comfortable lying to their spouse about where they are.

Or we can just refuse to steal that bracelet, no matter how much our friends encourage us to.

Consider changing your values

If you’ve taken a good hard look at your values, and realised that they’re outdated, unhelpful or simply invalid, then you always have the option to change them.

Changing values is not necessarily straightforward, but if you have information or an experience that is very clear, or a reason that is sufficiently compelling, then you will be able change what is most important to you.

A recent example of this in my own life was watching my 16-year-old son struggle emotionally with the pressures of high school. And not just a little, but to the point of regular breakdowns and abject misery.

I had always highly valued completing school and going on to university because this is what I learned growing up and had done myself.

But as I watched him struggle, day after day, and began to worry that we would lose him completely if things continued on this way, I had to challenge this cherished value of mine.

It was difficult and took some time for me to adjust, but in the end, it was more important to me that my son be happy and safe, than that he jumped through some arbitrary hoops in order to meet some idea of mine about what mattered.

I changed my view on the importance of higher education, and instead trust that my son will find his own unique way to his path in the world.

Compromise your values

One of the less attractive options we have when our values are being challenged is to compromise them.

This means going ahead and doing something that goes against our values, even when we don’t feel that it’s the right thing to do.

For example, your friends might ask you to sneak into a movie theatre with them, which goes against your value of honesty and integrity.

But you tell yourself things like “it’s only once” or “it’s not that much money” or “it makes up for the time I was overcharged” and you do it anyway.

And although it would be easy to condemn this option, I think it’s fair to say that we do it more than we would like, often in small ways, especially those of us who like to avoid conflict.

It’s true that it can feel easier and simpler just to do the thing that’s being asked of us, but there is always a price to pay when we compromise our values.

Either our values start to erode, until the point where we no longer recognise ourselves, or we struggle to look at ourselves in the mirror because we are ashamed of our actions.

At the end of the day, it’s a choice you have to make, whether to go against what is most important to you, or to stand up for what you believe in.