Personal Values and Beliefs

Introduction

Personal Values

Definition

Personal Values are “broad desirable goals that motivate people’s actions and serve as guiding principles in their lives” [1]

Personal values are desirable to an individual and represent what is important to someone. The same value in different people can elicit different behaviours, eg if someone values success one person may work very hard to gain success in their career whereas someone else may take advantage of others to climb the career ladder.

A person can have many values with an individual assigning more importance to some values over others. It has been shown that the values that are most important to you often guide your decision making in all aspects of your life such as career, religion, social circles, self-identity etc[1].

A personal value is a broad concept and one particular value can be applied to various situations [1]. For example, if an important value to you is loyalty this could be applied to your family, friends or work environment.

Schwartz in 1992 presented 10 motivationally distinct types of values as listed below[1]. These values have been researched in many countries and have been found to be universal in cross-cultural applications. [2]

Schwartz Theory of Basic Values
  1. Self-direction eg freedom, creativity
  2. Stimulation e.g. exciting life, daring
  3. Hedonism e.g. pleasure, self-indulgent
  4. Achievement e.g. ambitious, successful
  5. Power e.g. wealth, authority
  6. Security e.g. social order, family security, cleanliness
  7. Conformity e.g. politeness, self-discipline, respect
  8. Tradition e.g. respect for traditions, modest, humble, devout
  9. Benevolence e.g. loyal, responsible, helpful, forgiving
  10. Universalism e.g. equality, wisdom, world of peace, social justice, protecting the environment

Lists of personal values can be indefinite but research has shown a value will generally fit into one of those 10 types. There is no set of ideal values and everyone will have their own list of values with unique importance assigned to each one.[2]

Personal values may and may not correlate with a person’s behaviour. Some values may be practised by an individual and executed in daily life. A personal value may be important to someone, but they are not implementing it in their daily life, and they would like to implement it. And an individual may have a set of personal values that is not in line with their behaviour. [3]

Personal Beliefs

Definition

“Core beliefs are defined as fundamental, inflexible, absolute, and generalised beliefs that people hold about themselves, others, the world, and/or the future”[4]. We use beliefs to help us understand the world around us. A person’s beliefs will guide them in their decision making and response to situations. Beliefs are usually formed in childhood or any other significant formative experience.[5].

Sources of Beliefs[3]

  • Evidence - logical and rational formation of belief based on evidence that proves causation
  • Tradition - family and societal traditions
  • Authority - normally developed from a parent but could also be a religious leader, teacher or any other person in authority
  • Association - beliefs can be formed through people or groups we associate with
  • Revelation - beliefs that are formed through ‘divine intervention” a hunch, inkling or sixth sense

Types of Beliefs – Enabling and Limiting

Beliefs can be seen as enabling (positive) or limiting (negative).

Enabling beliefs are ones that are optimistic and show good self-efficacy or the belief in yourself that you can achieve something.

Examples of enabling/ positive beliefs

  • I am intelligent
  • I am worthy
  • I always try my best
  • I am hardworking

Negative beliefs are thought as limiting and they often hold one back in life. Limiting beliefs are often seen in absolutes and are often inaccurate and unhelpful. People with limiting beliefs can often be judgmental of oneself or of others. [5]

Examples of limiting/ negative beliefs

  • I am weak
  • I am boring
  • I am stupid
  • I always fail
  • I am worthless

Beliefs, positive or negative, are not always true and this can lead a person to make poor decisions based on inaccurate beliefs. Research shows that people with inaccurate negative beliefs about themselves can present with symptoms of anxiety and depression[6].

Categories of Beliefs[3]

Beliefs can be categorised into beliefs about one’s self, about others, about the world and the future. These beliefs can either be positive (enabling) or negative (limiting).

  1. Self
    • “I am worthy of love and happiness”
    • “I am flawed and unlovable”
  2. Others 
    • “Others like me and value my opinion”
    • “People are generally hurtful and disloyal”
  3. The World 
    • “The world is my oyster!” 
    • “The world is a dangerous place”
  4. The Future
    • “The future is bright, and opportunity awaits”
    • “There is no hope – things will never get better”

Identification of Beliefs

It is not always an easy task to identify one’s core beliefs. It can require a great amount of introspection and some people may need the facilitation from a therapist to unlock their core beliefs[5]

Modification of Core Beliefs

Once limiting beliefs have been identified modification of these beliefs will help to reframe them into enabling beliefs. Reframing beliefs is not a simple task as negative beliefs are often deeply rooted. Again, the need for psychological therapy may be necessary for deeply ingrained beliefs. Wenzel, 2012 [5] describes various strategies that can be applied to modify core beliefs.

  1. Define the core belief
    • Explore how the belief fits into every aspect of your life
  2. Examine the evidence
    • Critical examination of the evidence that led you to develop the initial belief. 
  3. Advantages – Disadvantages analysis
    • Review the advantages and disadvantages of a belief to help see the usefulness of the belief in one’s life
  4. Behavioural experiments
    • Beliefs result in particular behaviour eg if you believe “people don’t care what I think” you may not contribute when asked about a project at work. By changing your behaviour e.g. contributing to a discussion, you may change your belief by discovering that people do care about what you think. 
    • Behavioural experiments are used in Pain management programmes where you would use graded exposure in someone with fear avoidance to show them that their belief that movement will make them worse may not be true. 
  5. Acting “as if”
    • Similar to a behavioural experiment, you would act in opposition to your negative belief.
  6. Cognitive continuum
    • Critical analysis of reframing all or nothing beliefs by using a comparative scale with regards to other people
  7. Historical tests
    • Examine past incidents where one has implemented a negative core belief and re-evaluate what actually happened. for example, if a belief was “I am unimportant” you may look back at a time when your parents prioritised your sibling over yourself, but on critical evaluation, you realise that at that stage in life your sibling needed more help from your parent rather than you are less important to them. 
  8. Restructuring early memories
    • Psychologists can be helpful in restructuring early memories to reframe beliefs
  9. Defining the “new self”
    • Identify who they would like to be
  10. Soliciting social support and consensus
    • Use social support to help them 
  11. Time Projection
    • Imagine what life will be like if with their “new” beliefs

Additional Resources

Book Chapter by Amy Wenzel- Modification of core beliefs in cognitive therapy

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Sagiv L, Roccas S, Cieciuch J, Schwartz SH. Personal values in human life. Nature Human Behaviour. 2017 Sep;1(9):630
  2. 2.0 2.1 Parks-Leduc L, Feldman G, Bardi A. Personality traits and personal values: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2015 Feb;19(1):3-29.   
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jason Giesbrecht. Personal Values and Beliefs Course slides. Physioplus 2019
  4. Beck JS. Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond. Guilford press; 2011
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Wenzel A. Modification of core beliefs in cognitive therapy. Instandard and innovative strategies in cognitive behavior therapy 2012.
  6. Osmo F, Duran V, Wenzel A, de Oliveira IR, Nepomuceno S, Madeira M, Menezes I. The Negative Core Beliefs Inventory: Development and Psychometric Properties. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. 2018 Apr 1;32(1):67-84.