Author: Justine Rickard M.A.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), values are defined as guiding principles that can help influence and direct our actions and beliefs. As opposed to goals that can be accomplished or checked off a list, values are more like compasses that point us toward the directions that are most important to us. For individuals in recovery, it becomes very clear how much the eating disorder pulls them away from their personal values and toward paths and directions that do not align with what is most important to them. After some time, it can become difficult to even remember or relate to values outside of the eating disorder.
Reconnecting to and strengthening personal values is not only a strategy to separate and create distance from the eating disorder, but also to strengthen individuals’ sense of self and identity as they work toward reclaiming a life without the eating disorder. Your values are a reflection of who you are as an individual and help you to identify with or relate to others. Getting to know the difference between yours and the ED’s values can give you insight into what actions or goals would most align with your - as opposed to the ED’s - values, and offer some direction for strengthening your identity outside of the ED.
If this is new for you, try making a list of values and guiding principles the eating disorder aligns with, followed by a list of values you align with or that feel most important to you. Common ED values include things like control, certainty, discipline, rigidity, isolation, etc. What would be included on your personal values list? Examples may include things like connection, flexibility, self-discovery, family, learning, creativity, humour, independence, etc. Notice the differences between what the ED values and what you value. Next, try making a list of value-based activities or goals that would align with the values that are most important for you. For example, if connection is important to you, goals or actions that could align with this value may include things like setting up a coffee date with your friend, calling a support person, going for a walk in nature, asking for a hug from someone you trust.
Strengthening your recovery is not only about challenging the eating disorder, but also about reengaging in your life in meaningful ways. Getting clear on what is most important to you, as well as tangible goals and actions that align with each of your values, can give you some great examples of ways to engage in value-based activities as part of your day-to-day recovery goals.