Values are one of my favourite aspects of the ACT model and one that distinguishes it from other forms of CBT. When we say values it’s too easy to think in terms of what we should want for ourselves and other people’s expectations of us. It’s also too easy to stop at the basics. the basics that many people might include are perhaps health and wellbeing, family, education, career, friends. For me, creativity, compassion, social justice and authenticity are also important.
When I had my first miscarriage, the value uppermost in my mind was family, and wanting to become a mother. Within that I wanted to be a nurturing one. I’d wanted a child since my late teens but due to the combination of needing to meet the right person, establish my career and financial security first and plan and enjoy a wedding and honeymoon it waited until the honeymoon – because that was my first legitimate opportunity and I was willing to wait no longer. As such I was delighted but surprised to conceive immediately. Initially it all seemed to align perfectly, until it didn’t. It’s important to separate out values from goals at this point – values are more of a compass or guiding light in the dark. Goals can be achieved or not, but you can’t complete a value. And I’d still have valued family and motherhood even if I’d never carried a child to term. I’d have been a mother to those who didn’t make it still, and I’d have needed to look more creatively at ways I could follow my value of pursuing motherhood – maybe nurturing others in my family more, focussing on my marriage, adoption, work with children in need or caring for pets. Or maybe I’d have needed to follow my reverse compass for a while – to take a break from trying to mother and put my energy into an area of my life I also valued but had more control – like my career or my education perhaps. There are many areas of my life I value where I struggle with how little control I have – perhaps never more than with my first miscarriage because having a baby was all I wanted but I couldn’t stop losing the pregnancy. One comfort for me there was the idea that whenever you hurt most emotionally there is often a value underneath. Values and distress can often be two sides of the same coin. So useful questions for me at that point were – am I willing to tolerate this pain and the risk of going through this again to try to have a baby again someday, following my values? For me, the answer was yes.