Harboring Junk Values: How Our Unhealthy Goals Maintain Depression

I’m pretty sure most of you are sick of my articles on distorted thinking/beliefs by now, and I think I’ve pretty much exhausted the topic, at least in terms of how much I know about it, and I hope that they were helpful to you guys in some way. However, garbage beliefs (about ourselves, others, and the world in general) aren’t the only internal factors that sustain depressive symptoms; our values do, too. Values are the abstract aspects, or ideals, of life that are important to us, such as quality family-time, achievement, recognition, generosity, and humility. When they’re healthy, our values are conducive to creating harmony, helping us form stable relationships with other members of our communities. When they aren’t, we become outcasts.

The term junk values originated in the work of researcher and author, Johann Hari; it essentially means – values that we believe we need for happiness, which actually cause us suffering. My conception differs slightly from his. In my understanding, values become junk values when our selfish desires supersede our willingness to consider how our actions affect others. All of us want recognition for our achievements, but at what cost? We want to attain popularity and wealth, but what are we willing to sacrifice to have them? At heart, our values exist as hierarchies, meaning that, while all of us want approval, some of us won’t sacrifice our integrity to get it. We often sacrifice some values in the service of others, as when we choose family over work. But what happens when we reject the wrong ones?

It’s said that fame is a sickness. Poet and rapper, Mutah Beale, noted that he struggled with a severe form of depression when he was famous, asserting that he wasn’t living up to his deeper values, as he had to sustain an image that faintly resembled him. In his case, he sacrificed his integrity for the spotlight of fame, believing that it was his only, or at least main, source of happiness; thus, making it a difficult value to simply discard.

And, one of my biggest struggles has been with people-pleasing, the need for others’ approval. In itself, needing others’ validation can be a good thing; it fosters affection between individuals via experiencing another’s constitutional goodness and mirroring it back to them, thus indicating one’s desire for connection. This system is bastardized when one attempts to attain validation through whatever means possible. Mutah spoke of compromising his morals for fame, as an addict would to get high. The high of validation became a psychologically all-encompassing goal for me, against which integrity couldn’t compete.

So, approval became my junk value. I didn’t care how my actions affected others because being liked and admired was all that mattered; to compensate for low self-esteem, I decided to abdicate control of myself (which was still my decision). Standing up for what’s right is difficult when you think you need everyone to like you to feel lovable, but, in reality, you don’t. In its extreme form, validation engenders servitude, and it’s often granted for all of the wrong reasons, and removed with the same ease with which it’s given.

The question, then,becomes, can we take our power back? Your values are yours because you’ve chosen them; an objective set simply doesn’t exist. Fame, fortune, pride, and wealth are important to you because you’ve allowed them to continue to define who you are, or want to become. Unquestionably, these values are passed down to us, particularly when we don’t yet have the ability to critically examine them (I can’t stop writing about how beliefs affect us, sorry), but we’re the ones who choose to sustain them, even if through ignorance alone.

Because no one can do it for us, and even if we need help, it’s our responsibility to examine our values and how they’re impacting our lives. If approval is so important to me that I’m willing to sacrifice my morals, how is that value influencing my health, my friendships, and my overall happiness? Do the people whose approval I yearn for actually like and care about me, or will they abandon me once I start saying, no? And, is it more important for me to be liked or be liked for who I am, with my own boundaries and needs?

Validation, when secondary to integrity, is a wonderful value, as it creates a sense of determination to gain others’ approval through ethical actions, meaning that we want to be liked for all of the right reasons (one of which could, and probably should, be being liked for having selfless intentions), but we use the reasons themselves for our own self-conceptions. When validation falls on our hierarchy, we choose to become the ones who define us, approval transforming into nothing more than exterior evidence of who we’ve chosen to be.

Healthy values are those we create through our own reasoning and which help us have meaningful and, equally, beneficial relationships with others. Unhealthy ones are the ones that place our power for developing self-esteem outside of ourselves. Junk values are junk because, in the long-run, they negate the feelings of joy we hope to sustain, degenerating, instead, into despair and prolonged isolation. In the end, I think that most of us realize that losing ourselves, who we want to be and see ourselves as, is never worth the price of admission. The ones who like us when we’re weak never accept us when we’re strong. So, they never care about our choices and who we truly are. Owning oneself is a difficult feat, but being owned by another is a spiritual death, which itself serves as evidence that we never existed. How can a shadow ever be loved?


  1. I love your breakdown at the end. It’s so unfortunate that we are hard wired emotionally to get gratified by the external and what a challenge this creates in constructing a life of sustainable joy.

    Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

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