If a person has been a victim of abuse, neglect or other forms of relational trauma, she has been taught that she does not matter. Her value lies solely in what she can provide for someone else, and she is not free to pay attention to herself. A survivor often has what some call an ‘external locus of control,’ meaning that she views other people and situations as the arbiters of what matters. Part of the healing process includes beginning to see herself as someone who gets to decide what she values and needs, rather than expecting that she must always defer to the values and needs of others.
When I work with an abuse survivor, I love getting to explore what she cares about. Many times she has trouble even identifying what she enjoys and needs. As the process goes along, though, she begins to see herself as someone who matters. She works to forsake the influence of an abuser, who treated her as less-than-human. She realizes that others do not get to decide who she is.
As I hear her expressions of these sentiments, I begin asking about her values. I have a list of values that she can look at, and she circles the five most important to her. Then I want to know why she circled those particular values. Again, these questions can be difficult for her to answer because she is not accustomed to exploring what she cares about. So I’m moving slowly with her, giving her space to be curious.
For example, a client may circle the value of ‘justice.’ When I ask her about this value, she shares that no one ever stood up for her when she was treated unjustly, so she wants to be a person who always stands up for others. Her trauma has motivated her toward something good, which we should celebrate. At the same time, there’s a chance this value could lead her into unhealthy territory if we don’t think well about it. She could be tempted to forsake her own deep need for healing because fighting for justice seems more powerful and meaningful to her. She needs a holistic view of her values.
I ask questions about how the value of justice affects her daily choices and relationships. She may say something like, “I watch the news a lot and have strong thoughts and feelings about what the justice system should be doing to help people who are marginalized.” This gives me an in-road to a conversation about whether watching the news brings flourishing. Does she feel more empowered to help and pray for others, or is it discouraging and disillusioning? How much time does she spend thinking about what she’s seen on the news, and what does she do with the feelings of frustration and anxiety that come as a result?
Hopefully you can see how talking about a person’s values allows her to explore the motivations, thoughts, feelings and behaviors that spring from these values. Then we have the opportunity to think about how these values align with her faith. If she is a Christian, we can discuss how God views justice. We get to study Scripture and learn the ways our desires for justice reflect the heart of the Lord and point us toward our heavenly home. We also get to pay attention to the fact that justice cannot be completely fulfilled in a fallen world, which can cause frustration and even resentment. Every step in this process points us toward being more fully formed into the image of our Savior. What He values becomes what we value.
If you’d like to utilize the tool I’ve created for understanding values, you can click HERE to become a member of Christian Trauma Healing Network. It’s only $15 per month, and you’ll receive new content every month to utilize in your care for others. In addition, our members are invited to a monthly online networking meeting to collaborate and encourage one another, AND you receive a 20% discount on all webinars we offer. We hope you’ll consider joining our community!