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Stress Values


Explanations > Values > Stress Values

Values under stress | Reconciling afterwards | So what?


When we are faced with a stressful situation our values may change. The problem comes when we have to reconcile these later, as we return to our normal values.

Values under stress

Under stress, our values may change. The state of arousal changes our brain chemistry and leads us to act in uncharacteristic ways.

Fight or flight

When we are affected by the Fight-or-Flight reaction, we unthinkingly may become aggressive, where values that normally would prevent us from hurting others are brushed aside by our fear and anger. The basic drive in the moment carries us away and we may seek to hurt others, either physically or psychologically.

Ethical dilemmas

Would you ever kill another person? What about if your life was threatened, or killing was the only way of protecting other people? Sometimes we consciously and deliberately act in ways we would not normally do, because to do otherwise would be to break an even more important value. Thus preserving life can be more important than taking life, particularly when numbers of people are involved or when we are preserving the lives of those we know and love.

We are also driven by other fundamental needs over which we may have more or less conscious control. Notably, we seem to have less control over our sex drive than we might think, as the number of illicit affairs indicates.

The force of emotion

Emotions, whether they are aggressive or passionate in other ways, act as powerful drives of behavior, and we can act out of character when we are jealous, greedy or driven to other 'deadly sins'.

Reconciling afterwards

After we have cooled down and returned to our state of considering normal values, we have to handle the cognitive dissonance of knowing that we have acted outside those values. This gives us two choices.

Regret and reparation

One thing that can happen when we are faced with having broken our normal values is to feel regret and shame. We thus seek to repair the damage we have caused and to atone for our sins. Reparation will typically include apology and possibly other compensatory actions.

Justification and explanation

A problem with reparation is that, in seeking to repair our esteem, we may also end up damaging it by placing ourselves lower than others and opening ourselves to further demands for apology. We thus seek ways of explaining and justifying what we have done.

There are a number of ways in which we handle discomfort about such things, for example by objectifying the other person, casting them as deserving the punishment we handed to them.

So what?

When you are stressed, be careful about the values you display in practice. And if you switch to stress values, watch out for justification afterwards.

If you provoke others into reacting and then guide them into reparation afterwards, you may be able to make demands that they would not normally fulfill.


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