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"The dynamic relationships among values reveal conflicts between the pursuit of different values that can result in tension and complexity."

Shalom Schwartz

Social Psychologist

Conflicting Values and their Shadows

posted in Values

Exploring Schwartz's Theory of Values and the Shadows Within

Understanding our values can be a complex journey. Have you ever considered why certain decisions feel right while others leave you conflicted?

Enter Schwartz's Theory of Values, a comprehensive model that shines a light on these very conflicts. Developed by Shalom H. Schwartz, this theory identifies ten basic personal values that are recognized universally across cultures. But it's not just about identifying values; it's about understanding the tensions and conflicts between them. Let’s dive into how this model, combined with the idea of shadow values, can help us achieve a more integrated and authentic self.

A Brief History of Schwartz and His Model

Shalom H. Schwartz, a social psychologist, developed the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values in the early 1990s. Schwartz's work was groundbreaking because it provided a systematic method to study and compare values across different cultures. His work helps us understand our personal values in the context of our culture in a way similarl to the World Values Survey. He identified ten basic values, each with its own motivational goal, that people around the world recognize. These values are:

  1. Self-Direction: Independent thought and action
  2. Stimulation: Excitement, novelty, and challenge
  3. Hedonism: Pleasure and sensuous gratification
  4. Achievement: Personal success through demonstrating competence
  5. Power: Social status and control over resources
  6. Security: Safety and stability of society, relationships, and self
  7. Conformity: Restraint of actions likely to upset or harm others and violate social norms
  8. Tradition: Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one's culture or religion provide
  9. Benevolence: Preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact
  10. Universalism: Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and nature

Notice how the values opposite to one another on this wheel are in natural conflict

The Conflict of Values

Schwartz’s model doesn’t just stop at identifying these values. It also highlights the inherent conflicts between them. For instance, the pursuit of Self-Direction and Stimulation often clashes with Security and Conformity. Achievement and Power can conflict with Benevolence and Universalism. These tensions reflect our internal struggles and the compromises we must make in our daily lives.

Shadow Values: The Unseen Influencers

Now, let’s introduce a concept from Jungian psychology: shadow values. These are the darker, often hidden, aspects of our values that we might not readily acknowledge. They can manifest as traits we deny or project onto others. For example, someone who highly values Achievement will have a conflict with the values of Benevolence. If they have not done the work to acknowledge and integrate their driving self-protection, others will see this person as disingenuous when they try to give back to their community, company, or organization.

Our shadow values can create inner conflicts, making it difficult to achieve true alignment with our core values. By bringing these shadow values into the light, we can understand their influence on our behaviours and integrate them more authentically into our lives.

Values don't exist in isolation. Instead, they interact dynamically, and these interactions often lead to tensions and inner turbulence as we strive to balance competing values.

Integrating Shadow Values

How do we bring these shadow values into the light? Here are some steps:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take time to reflect on your actions and motivations. What values of self-protection are driving your decisions? Are there any recurring patterns or conflicts? What values conflicts do you notice?
  2. Identify Triggers: Notice situations where you feel particularly defensive, angry, or upset. These reactions can indicate shadow values at play.
  3. Embrace Vulnerability: Acknowledge that these shadow values are a part of you. Embracing them without judgment can lead to greater self-acceptance.
  4. Seek Balance: Understand that values exist in a dynamic balance. Recognizing and honouring both your light and shadow values can help you navigate conflicts more effectively.

Bringing It All Together

Understanding and integrating our values, including the shadow ones, is crucial for personal growth and authenticity. Schwartz’s Theory of Values provides a framework to identify and analyze these values, while the concept of shadow values helps us uncover and integrate the parts of ourselves that we might otherwise ignore.

As Schwartz once said, "Values guide the selection or evaluation of actions, policies, people, and events. Thus, value priorities influence all aspects of our lives." His quote underlines the pervasive influence of values in our daily decisions and interactions, showing that conflicts arise naturally as different values prioritize different actions and outcomes, making consistent decision-making a challenging task​

Your values journey is not just about personal insight; it’s about aligning your values with your actions, both in your personal life and professional endeavours. As you explore these aspects of yourself, you’ll find that living in alignment with your true values leads to greater fulfillment and a more meaningful life.

If you’re interested in further exploring how values shape our lives and the conflicts they create, check out these related blogs:

By bringing your values into the light, both the cherished and the shadowed, you can create a life of greater authenticity and purpose. So, let’s embrace the full spectrum of our values and let them guide us to a more integrated and fulfilling life.