Understanding Values and Needs – Is it Time to Reassess?
When it comes to the midlife experience, something we don’t always consider is the changing spectrum of our values. We have been brought up with a preconditioned expectation of the values of our parents, our teachers and perhaps our first partners, but we need to remind ourselves that what we considered important in our twenties may longer apply in our midlife years.
Our needs, values and goals change during the course of the lifecycle and they need to remain current and related to who we are and who we aspire to be, not who we used to be and what we used to want. Needs and values are closely linked. Whilst values refer to what we find meaningful and important in life, guiding our sense of right and wrong, needs tend to drive our action and behaviour and are a set of requirements we deem necessary for your life.
Often, we don’t tend to actively reassess our values in adulthood (except in therapy perhaps) and how they might have changed from early years – when they would have been different. Perhaps in your twenties you valued a sense of adventure, working in a challenging environment and finding a space for your own spontaneity and self-expression. You thrived under pressure, letting off steam by partying the night away on the weekends.
How about now? You have since been married for fifteen years and have two teenage kids and are perpetually exhausted. You no longer want to spend the weekends hiking or working to that deadline and a night out now consists of a quiet dinner with friends planned weeks in advance. You now value finding a peaceful space to self-reflect, precious moments with your family knowing that you will soon have an empty nest and quiet but rare moments to focus on self-care. The looming deadlines only cause anxiety and you find yourself brittle and snapping back at those you value most. It might be time to reassess and make some changes to acknowledge your evolving values and find the opportunity to move and grow with them.
Aligning your life with your values will give you a deeper understanding of what you consider the most important and will help you consider if your life has become misaligned from your values somewhere along the way.
It is important to also acknowledge that as our values change, our needs may be changing too. In midlife, we might find that our environment still meets the needs of an earlier version of ourselves but fails to address and satisfy the needs of the person we are now. Your motivation, outlook or personal needs may have changed and you may no longer feel like you fit into your environment.
So, what are your needs now? A need is something we deem to be an essential requirement in our life that contributes to our wellbeing and survival, unlike a want, which is more of a ‘nice to have’. It is useful to have an understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, shaped like a pyramid according to the importance of certain needs for survival and growth as human beings. Maslow placed our basic physiological needs such as food and shelter at the bottom and, once these needs are covered, we move to satisfy the needs on the next tier of the triangle: our need for safety and security. Once achieved we can move onto fulfilling our more psychological and social needs, with love, intimacy and a sense of belonging being next on our agenda.
After that, we prioritise our esteem needs such as self-worth and being respected by others. At the top of the triangle, we ‘self-actualise’ – we become all we can be. A midlife crisis can only really be embraced when the lower-level tiers have been fulfilled. In a war-torn country for example, there will be fewer people suffering with a midlife crisis as all energy will be channelled into ensuring that the lower-level tiers for survival and shelter are met. You could argue that a midlife crisis is a first-world problem – but this attitude could unhelpfully belittle and trivialise the depth of angst of those experiencing a crisis. It could also feed the idea that we should be concentrating on problems of greater social significance and ethics – but try telling that to someone who feels lost in the world when their relationships and sense of solidity are crumbling.
So if you are feeling like you are heading to what feels like a midlife crisis, it might be time to ask yourself some important questions. Make a list of how your values and needs looked in the past. What is still important to you? What has changed? These questions will help start your journey into adapting your lifestyle towards finding your authentic self.
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