Superhero Therapy: Mindfulness Skills to Help Teens and Young Adults Deal with Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma

Chapter 5

The Superhero Values

Shadow awakes from yet another nightmare. They are getting less frequent, but she still has them. This was one of the recurring ones. Lorion held her down and pushed himself on her. It hurt.

She had trusted him. She had also trusted herself to be able to keep herself safe, but she never thought she’d have to protect herself from him. When he was finished, he left, leaving her to feel broken. Her former optimism about the world was changed; instead she believed that the world was a dangerous place—that she was unable to protect herself and, by extension, others.

And if that is the case, she thinks, then what would be the point of doing this?

By “this,” she means hunting demons. She sleeps with her crossbow under her pillow, always within her reach. Never feeling safe. Her Depression and Shame monsters have grown exponentially since then, taunting her about being “weak,” “broken’” and “useless.”

The sexual assault she experienced clearly affected her in many areas of her life: social (she has withdrawn from the people in her life), emotional (she is developing PTSD and depression), professional (she stopped hunting), academic (her school grades suffered) and physical (she is experiencing a lot of pain and tightness in her shoulders and pelvic area). Perhaps the biggest way that this traumatic experience affected her is by making it more challenging to engage in her core values.

Our core values are the most meaningful activities, life paths and practices that we have. They might include being a great parent, being a supportive friend, being altruistic or heroic, being creative, being healthy and many others. Engaging in our core values can be extremely beneficial for our physical and psychological health, while avoiding them can make us feel unfulfilled, putting us at a higher risk of depression and heart disease.

Sometimes our values might conflict with one another. For example, Doctor Semper values time travel, helping others, conducting scientific experiments, and being a good friend. Occasionally when he is working on one of his scientific projects, he might not be able to spend as much time with his friends as he would like. This is completely normal and happens to most people. The trick is to observe which values we are able to engage in and which ones might need a bit more of our attention, and try to create a form of balance, while understanding that it may not always be possible to do so.

Values are sometimes confused with goals, yet they are two different ideas. This is an important distinction to make because goals are finite, meaning that we can accomplish them and check them off our list. On the other hand, values are a lifelong direction, where the path of working on the specific values is itself the destination. A goal can serve as a way to honor our values. For example, one of Neil’s values is learning, which may be a lifelong journey. In order to work on this value, one of his goals is to graduate from the Wizarding College.

Unfortunately, our ability to engage in our values can at times be affected by difficult experiences, as in the cases of all our heroes in this book. For instance, Neil’s biggest value is to be able to help others heal, physically or emotionally. In fact, he is hoping to become a healer after graduating. However, his social anxiety and his struggle with beliefs that he is “not good enough” to be studying at the College, or that he is “not important enough” to help anyone prevent Neil from even attempting to reach out to others.

Yesterday, when Neil saw Shadow sitting by herself and crying, he felt his heart warm with compassion towards her. He envisioned himself coming up to her but ended up walking away from her, believing that he had nothing to contribute to make her feel better. Because he avoided engaging in his core values, Neil’s Shame and Depression monsters began attacking him.

Do Neil’s and Shadow’s struggles to honor their values sound familiar? Most likely the answer is yes—because in fact, most of us have dealt with similar struggles. I find that one of the biggest obstacles that holds people back from following their values is the mistaken belief that they do not matter, that they cannot make a difference. But what if you can?

The truth is that many of us do not even know how much we affect other people’s lives. What if someone is alive today because of something kind you once said to them? What if there is someone out there who needs the very thing you have to offer? If anything were possible, what gift would you like to give to this world?

To think of it another way, I would like to ask these questions. Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and thought, I wish I had those powers? Whether it is superstrength, time-traveling abilities, teleportation, or magical skills? What if you actually got them somehow? What if you were able to use your superpowers any way you wished? How would you use them? If there was a book or a movie about you to honor you after your death, what story would you want it to tell?

See if you can write down answers to these questions and identify some specific qualities that you might be able to work on in order to become that kind of superhero. Perhaps some of these values might be related to being courageous, heroic, or compassionate. Perhaps they involve creativity, playfulness, or inspiring others. By identifying and following these values, we might be able to start taking steps toward becoming the very kind of superhero that we want to be.

For example, Neil wants to be a knowledgeable wizard; someone who is a guide or a role model to others; someone who is able to help, inspire, and heal others; and someone who would have the courage to ask Brian out on a date. His ideal life story is to be happily married one day, to be a supportive partner and a wonderful father. He wants to be a role model for equality and he wants to be remembered as someone who made a difference.

Taking a courageous step in his valued direction, Neil approached Shadow and sat down next to her.

“Hey, I know that you’ve been going through a hard time. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about what happened to you and I’m here if you want to talk,” he said to her.

He saw that Shadow’s eyes were full of tears. “It’s just so hard when the people that hurt you are the ones that were supposed to protect you,” she replied.

“I know. I’m so sorry. That’s terrible. You don’t have to go through it alone though,” Neil said, feeling his anxiety leaving him.

An important part about identifying our values is knowing where we fall in terms of our efforts to honor them. The picture on the left shows a number of different clocks, all of which represent values that many people have. If you don’t see a value that is important to you, please feel free to write it in and if there are any that do not apply to you, feel free to disregard them.

The clocks do not have arrows, nor do they have any numbers on them. Instead, each of them has indicators to allow you to select whether the specific value is pursued “too much,” “too little,” “not at all,” or “just right.” Your task is to draw an arrow indicating where the specific value currently falls for you. For example, if you feel that you’ve been spending too much time working or studying, then your arrow will point toward, or closer to, “too much.” On the other hand, if you feel that you have not been spending enough time and energy on your creative projects or your geeky interests, then your arrow would be pointing closer to “too little.”

Remember that these values are yours and yours alone. These are meant to be your meaningful life directions, not ones dictated by society or other people in your life. This means that there might be certain values that you don’t much care for and you are happy with the amount of time and effort you put into them. Then you can draw the arrow pointing toward “just right” even if you don’t engage in them much.

Take a look at the clocks altogether. What do you notice? If you are like me and the billions of other people out there, you might notice that many of your values are not where you would ideally like them to be. Some of your values might be completely neglected, while others are not met often enough and still others might be overdone.