We know our likes and our dislikes.
We know our habits and our patterns.
We know what labels we ascribe to. What they mean to us and, to the world.
We know our story, or at least some good chunks of it.
We know a lot about ourselves. But if you sat a group of people down and asked about their core values and core beliefs - suddenly the answers wouldn't be so clear.
It's fascinating, really. How so many of us know everything about ourselves, except the foundation of who we really are.
The Sense of Self: A Concept
At the core of our sense of self is a self-concept. Our ability to maintain a balanced, realistic, and healthy one as we grow and evolve is pretty important in mental health.
There are a bunch of fancy definitions of this, but it's basically what we think of ourselves. We're shooting for a fair and compassionate, take.
What other people think of you may matter. But the most important judge of who you are? You.
Well, there's this sort of trick to life. We tend to only show up in action as who we believe ourselves to be.
And knowing your values and your core beliefs tell you a lot about that. Who you believe yourself to be. Even subconsciously. Automatic. Without thinking. Like muscle memory.
These answers give you the foundation of who you are. And they give you the material to work with if you want to reshape what you think of yourself.
Want a primer?
Where Your Heart Lives: Core Values
You could say values are a type of belief. Beliefs about what's important or critical to uphold for you as an individual.
Core Values are our deepest-held values, often tied (very tightly) to our identity.
Other values may grow & evolve over time with us. They may come and go. We may develop a value of financial security over time early in life. Then, a value of "hard work" may lessen over time as we settle into things like rest, play, and retirement.
But our core values? They can move around a bit, but overall they tend to stick.
Not only that but we don't usually have to work at these. They show up in our behavior even when we aren't thinking about it. They carry our go-to set of "higher self" behaviors.
Whenever we're knocked out of them, it's painful. Almost like we're not ourselves when we don't abide by these things.
We always seem to find our way back home to them though. Even if it takes a while.
Our biggest regrets in life happen when we abandon our core values. We call it stepping "out of character". It freaks us out. Genuinely painful stuff, even if it is human stuff.
But of course the question is..
If They're Already So Engrained, Why Do We Care?
Because without becoming consciously aware of them and embracing them, outside influences can lead us to question them.
This is what causes a lot of those regrets to happen in the first place.
The truth is, other people may not value this thing the way we do. And without a strong sense of Self we may question if something's wrong with us for not being more like them. Is it some cause for moralistic judgment? Some reason to doubt ourselves? Are we on the wrong side of this thing?
There are plenty of opportunities for me to laugh at someone's pain and be "right" to. The villain in the story? Yeah, people laugh at that person the first chance they get. Publicly, too.
And I don't mean petty pain. I mean real pain. People do that all the time. So why can't I? I totally could. I'd fit right in.
But I don't.
And no, it's not because the villain doesn't deserve it. Karmic retribution comes in many forms, and this is one of them. I try not to argue with karma fr.
So I get why people do it. I may catch myself laughing at their jokes. Sometimes they're funny.
It just won't be me making the jokes because it's not within my character to do so. It's just not who I am. One of my deepest core values is compassion. Therefore, it feels bad for me to join the party in this way.
When I wish ill upon others or laugh at someone's pain, I feel the pain I'm causing myself stepping outside of my character this way.
It's not just about "right" vs. "wrong" for me. Some stuff is deeper than that.
Some stuff is simply about the human experience, and what that feels like to us.
And the thing about the human experience is that it doesn't fit into "right" and "wrong" the way we like to think it does.
I wasn't always like this though. I used to try to keep up. I used to make the jokes. Play the part. I felt uncomfortable, but I wasn't really aware of myself or how I felt back then. I was an unhappy human back then. I probably couldn't even tell how much of my pain was self-inflicted.
The moment I realized it and accepted it, though, things changed. I stopped wondering if something was wrong with me when I didn't feel the urge to wish others pain, or laugh at them, the way our peers so often do.
I'm happier here. Not keeping up. Not questioning it.
But of course it's not that simple. There's more to this.
The Dictators of Character: Core Beliefs
Values might be a type of belief, but beliefs don't stop at values.
We also have beliefs about people, the world, and our place in it.
Much like values, we have beliefs and then we have core beliefs. Core beliefs live in our bones.
They can grow and evolve with us, but overall, they're pretty rigid. And strong. Unless we do some serious and intentional work, they really don't budge much.
Some of these beliefs are "positive", others are "negative" or "limiting".
And all that really means is some beliefs support us in living our values, and others prevent us from doing so.
Let's say I have a core belief of "I'm not good enough" that I'm carrying from some traumatic event in childhood.
Let's say I haven't worked to heal it. To transfrom it into a more positive, supportive belief, which is hard, heavy work over time.
If that's true, that core belief would be just as strong and my core value of compassion.
They would cross paths from time to time. The angel and devil shoulder moment. And the thing about our core values meeting our core limiting beliefs is that the core values don't always win.
Core Beliefs are a hell of a thing to beat. It might be painful to step out of character, but core beliefs can make it more painful or terrifying to avoid them. Not only that, but they come with coping skills that help us numb the pain from abandoning our values.
To illustrate: remember when I said "I used to try to keep up. I used to play the part. I was an unhappy human back then."
Yeah, that was the work of a core limiting belief pulling me out of my core values. The validation & catharsis I got from fitting in numbed and distracted me from the pain of stepping out of my character and values the way I did.
I'm not alone. As a species, we do this a lot. Kind of like breathing, for some of us.
And what's really interesting is that we'll also use whatever defense mechanism fits in the moment to avoid having to face it. We do this unconsciously, without even considering it. Because how could we know?
Like, I imagine a lot of people who say "they deserve it" might be doing just that.
Stepping out of their own core values of compassion and empathy, and being too unaware to really see why. "They deserve it" fits really nicely there. A much more comfortable response than "what I really feel about this isn't good enough or 'right enough' to matter..."
So, we just... don't let it matter. We let it matter more that we fit in with what everyone else is doing. That they tell us we're right for thinking how they do instead of owning how we actually think and feel about the situation.
But hey, core beliefs aren't all bad.
Like I sad, they can be supportive of our core values, too.
i.e. you realize you're good enough. Always have been. You realize your needs and feelings and opinions do matter, just as much as anyone else's.
So you stand by them, calmly, with a steady demeanor, even when others don't.
Your core values are for you. Other peoples' core values are for them. There are going to be differences. Levels, and layers, just like anything else.
But you know your lane is tailor fit for you. And when you stay in it with supportive core beliefs, suddenly there's no devil and angel on each shoulder. There might be some uncomfortable disagreements, but there's no pain to numb.
So you stay in your lane, even in stormy weather. Because here you can finally see. And that shit is precious.
That's a strong sense of Self we're looking at, when that happens. When core values and beliefs aligns.
Moving Into Alignment
The move here is to:
- Become consciously aware of your key values. Make a list, write it down.
- Become consciously aware of the core beliefs that support you, and the ones that trip you up.
- See where the misalignments are. It answers a lot of questions.
- Do the work to remove the blocks, and restore alignment.
When that happens, the sense of Self thing gets easier.
And it gets easier to be you, while others are being them.
Rooting for You,
P.S. Paid subscribers are going to get a reflection prompt to help them unpack and identify their core values, and core beliefs. Subscribe here if you want to join the party.