Five types of resistance and how to break through

James and the Giant Peach

Introduction:  Paint a picture of the possibility

What made James in ‘James and the Giant Peach’ climb inside a giant peach, befriend life size bugs and steer across an ocean to go to New York? What made Cinderella get out of the ashes and off to the Prince’s ball? What made the frog turn into a prince?

The answer to all these questions is the same: they believed that it was possible. OF course, none of them started out believing it, they all needed someone to paint them a picture of the possibility. James lost hope when his cruel aunts destroyed the picture his deceased father had given him showing the big vibrant city of New York.  This dream needed reviving by the peculiar little man with the shiny green things. Cinderella was shattered and crying in the ashes when the Fairy Godmother found her. As for the frog: it was the arrival of the princess that sparked his hope.

Before the dream was planted, there was no resistance to change, only stuckness and possibly despair, or maybe just ignorance of what is possible. Yet, once a dream is planted, one type of resistance after another pops up to frustrate both the dreamer and the dream giver, the hero of the story and the story weaver, both you and your client.

Do you have a dream for your people?

Any dream will inspire some people immediately, but as they try to realise it, they will hit obstacles. Some of these obstacles are personal, some are relational, practical or social. Others are just nasty interruptions from outside.

On the other hand, some of the people you want to influence may be skeptical from the outset, seeing all the problems that might occur and anticipating (or inventing) problems that may never happen.

Either way, there are 5 types of resistance. In stories these five types often follow a similar sequence in which they occur. Here they are in the most common sequence.

1. Personal Resistance – Why me? How is this relevant to me?

2. Relational Resistance – Why you? Why would you know how to help me?

3. Social Resistance – Who is in this with me? Do I belong with them and they with me?

4.  Practical Resistance – How is this going to work? What is the process and the strategy?

5. Cosmic Resistance – What happens when things don’t work out as planned? If it or I fail?

Each type of resistance corresponds with a certain kind of information that your people need in order for them to come with you. Over the next few posts I will share these with you one by one and give suggestions on how you can overcome them. I will offer practical tools that you can try out or adapt as you like.

What makes break through possible?

Without a proper dream, you may not even encounter resistance because your invitation is not different enough from the status quo. Too often that French proverb comes true that says: The more things change, the more they stay the same. That is because no true shift was made and true break through never occurred.

The term ‘break through’ only makes sense in the context of resistance. Without resistance, there is no break through needed and no real change occurs. What makes break through possible is the fact of resistance itself – resistance that arises because the Call to Adventure that you issue is so different from the Current Reality that people experience.

What does a proper dream look like?

It takes the form of a Visionary Goal, not a SMART goal.

A Visionary Goal is one that paints a picture of a possibility that seems unrealistic and that no-one in the room really knows how it can be reached. This is in contrast to so called ‘SMART’ goals which are Specific, measurable, actionable, Realistic and Time oriented. A visionary goal can be specific and measurable and it may even have a target date for completion, but it is not realistic and few people can see how to make it happen.

An example of such a dream is the Volkswagen (VW) visionary goal of 1, 10, 100 by 2010. They wanted to be first in the country on customer service, among the top ten in terms of local quality and make a turnover of 100 million (I am going on memory here, let me know if I have it wrong). In her talk at the Knowledge Resources Organisational Development Conference earlier in 2014, Joan Peters, Leadership Development Manager at Volksvagen explained how few people in the organisation thought reaching this dream was possible, and yet they were mobilised into action and managed to achieve it.

Even though visionary goals do not seem realistic or actionable, they inspire action by releasing positive energy in the brain. The brain loves to dream and follow visionary goals..

Why does the brain like to dream?

The brain loves to dream because of the effect expectation of reward has on its chemistry. Dreaming inspires hope. Hope is an expectation of something positive being fulfilled in the future. This expectation of reward releases dopamine into your brain, the same stuff that gets released when you laugh and exercise.

What is extra interesting here, says Dr. Ward Plunet, is that studies show people with higher status is more prone to hope in relation to people in lower status positions. This is because they have more hope of getting the pick of the crop in terms of food, shelter and sexual partners. A sense that you have power to choose adds to the feeling of autonomy and certainty that you will not go hungry, cold or deprived.

This means that the more people think they have control, the more they are likely to take action on your invitation, but the more they feel dis-empowered, the more they will block your enthusiasm. This ‘blocking’ of ideas can be termed a ‘yes, but’ energy. It stands in stark contrast to a ‘yes, and’ energy that accepts new ideas and builds on them.

As we explore the five types of resistance and how to overcome them, both neuro-science and the ‘yes and’ principle will be our conversation partners.

What do I need to do?

As guide and mentor the first step in breaking through resistance is to paint a picture of the possibility so that they can ‘feel the pain’ of not being there yet and begin to yearn for change. Your first job is to ask ‘What if…” What if a neglected orphan  could go to New York in a giant peach What if a lowly Cinderella could dance with the royal heir?  What if a frog could be a prince?

What if you understood the five types of resistance and get Cinderellas and frogs to change their own fates?

The next instalment will look at the first type of resistance, Personal Resistance, and how you can increase your people’s sense of autonomy and move them to say ‘yes and’.

Watch this space for the next instalment of using SNE (Strategic Narrative Embodiment) to break through five tyes of resistence…

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Professional Facilitator, Coach  and Story Strategist

How to use stories to make learning stick

Over and over you may have heard or experienced how a story can really make an idea stay with you. You have heard someone relate something that had happened to them and you retell it struck by what the story says about your world and its people.

What about stories that you remember from childhood or from literature? They create metaphors and symbols that we use in everyday life to refer to some kind of truth that we learned through them. The proverbial goose who lays the golden egg, or the black sheep in the family. What about Afrikaans people saying “ek is nie die vark in hierdie verhaal nie” (I am not the pig in this story).

Stories make learning stick because they involve the left and the right brain, they excite the emotions and they connect concepts with one another in surprising but memorable ways. They make what is abstract suddenly concrete and doing so creates aha-moments that stay with you over time. Stories even give you practical solutions and show you things you can do to make your life different.

There is another untapped but extremely powerful way in which stories can make learning stick – not through their content, but through their structure.

If you have read the Bible, or studied Greek mythology, or heard fairy tales from your grandmother, studied some Shakespeare at school, or just seen a few Hollywood films, you would recognize this structure right away. It is the dramatic structure underlying almost all stories and serves the purpose of taking the main character in the story on a journey of self discovery and personal growth.

Stories take the hero on a journey of learning – a kind of learning that not only sticks with him/her the hero, but impacts their entire community and often the land itself: they lived happily ever after,  their people prospered, and their land was fruitful.

A story is designed to teach the hero lessons that will stick – can the same structure do the same for you and your team, client or audience?

There are three levels on which this story structure works: the fictional, the personal, and the communal.

1. The fictional level

When you read or listen to a story you can distinguish the elements of the structure quite easily. Knowing the elements can then help you understand the story and use it to make your own stories.

2. Your own life journey.

Whenever you experience change, uncertainty, or heightened emotion, Once you understand stories, you can apply their meaning to your own life. your story is moving through one of the stages of story structure.

3. The growth of a group, company or community

Entire communities may go through change and again the same pattern is recognizable. You can therefore use story structure to understand and shape the growth of a group, company or community.

If you understand how the story structure of the hero’s journey works, you can use it in the lives of other people to play an important role in their growth. You can

  • shape information to fit into a story so that people are inspired to change;
  • use it to design presentations and proposals
  • design and organize workshops  and events that will help people open up to new ideas and change.

The three levels of the story’s function is very hard to separate from one another. The hero’s personal journey is woven into the journey of her own community.  In your own life too, the stories you read influence and mirror your life and your life influences and mirrors the lives of those around you. If you understand how this works, you may be able to use stories to manage your own growth and play a great role in shaping the stories of those of others.

Playing Mantis offers a one day workshop on Story Strategies for Facilitators where we explore how to use the structure of story as tool for designing learning experiences that will make the learning stick.

When and how to use a microphone…

How many times have you seen a speaker fumbling with a microphone at the beginning of a talk?

They seem uncomfortable with the alien object and then look hopefully at their audience: “Do I really need to use this?”

Here’s the thing: An audience will always say ‘yes, use the microphone’ because they have been in too many presentations where they could not hear the speaker. Especially at the beginning of a talk, they have not yet adapted to the speaker’s voice and personality.

The microphone, however, has nothing to do with hearing and everything to do with the speaker’s ability to enclose the audience in their own presence. The power of a speaker’s voice is simply a function of the power of his/her presence. By assessing vocal ability, one really assesses a speaker’s ability to invite an audience into their way of seeing things and to embrace the entire audience with their presence.

The awkward fumbling with the alien object (microphone) and the pleading question as to whether or not to use it, just makes the audience feel certain you will not be able to accomplish this. They feel they must save you from embarrassment and themselves from battling to follow and so they answer ‘yes, use it’.
Whether or not the speaker can actually grow their presence to embrace them, the audience cannot know. Only the speaker knows if they can do that.

How do you know if your voice and presence will carry??

In a room the size of a double garage with about 50 people, most speakers can do it. It takes special speakers to do it in larger rooms with larger audiences. You need not worry about microphones ever again in that size room with that size audience and no other noise (coffee machines or lawnmowers in the back ground).

In a larger room, with a larger audience, or with background noise, you need to work your voice. If you don’t know how, use a mic. But PLEASE, COME EARLY AND TEST IT! When the audience arrives, you must be ready. No sound tests, no fumbling. You must feel comfortable with the extension and at ease with using it, so your audience will have confidence in your ability to invite them into your presence through it.

How do you establish vocal and personal presence effectively?

You have one of two choices:

1. Ease into it by making small talk for a sentence or two to let them get used to your voice, your accent and personality (even if they know you, people need this time to adjust). If you were unsure of anything that you could not test without the audience, like the effect of their bodies on the acoustics, this is your chance to find out and adjust.

2. Come in with immediate power and confidence.
That means you decide beforehand to use the mic or not. You capture them from the get go. You do that with an upright, open posture, deepened breathing, eye contact, a resonating voice and an empathetic energy. In short you use the Confident Speaker’s ABC.

Book now for our workshop on the Confident Speaker’s ABC. 11 November in Cape Town.

Like our  Facebook page and get R 150 discount on your workshop.

Also see our other November workshops:

09 Nov – Team Innovation Read more

10 Nov – Improvisation Skills for Coaches (NEW) Read more

17 Nov – Customer Interaction (NEW) Read more

18 Nov – Story Strategies for Facilitators (NEW) Read more

Are your workshops and courses really designed to change lives?

The transformational power of any learning experience relies on two main angles: structure and participation.

Structure: If a learning experience is structured so that a participant is provoked, acknowledged, trained, challenged, allowed to reflect and rewarded, s/he is more likely to accept and internalise the learning than when s/he is simply expected to accept information poured over him/her. This is true even if the information itself is of excellent quality and the speaker is exceptionally persuasive.

Participation: Most teachers/trainers know the Confucius saying: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand”. Participation and experience is more powerful than show and tell. However, participation can only occur when an atmosphere is created where participants can immerse themselves in the experience, feel safe to make mistakes, share control over their learning, see their contributions are incorporated, share the vision and are having fun at the same time.



  • A Show is when an experience is designed for change, but non participative – people may marvel at the incredible material and it’s potential, but are unable to apply it in their individual contexts.
  • A Game is not designed for transformation, yet very participative – everyone may have a lot of fun, but be left with a ‘so what’ feeling unable to grasp the significance of the experience.
  • A Lecture is when an experience is neither structured for transformation, nor participatory – it may leave the participants cold and the trainer feeling disillusioned and ineffective.
  • A Change Experience is both designed for change and participative – there is maximum potential for understanding the material as well as the ability to apply it in their own contexts.

At Playing Mantis we now have 7 elements of structure and 5 ingredients for participation that we look for in processes designed for sustainable impact. As we refine our work these numbers may change since we discover new depths to both these elements of structure and participation every day in our work.

What follows is a list of the elements of structure and participation along with questions to help you assess the transformational power of your own work. Alternatively, you can contact us and invite us to your next presentation. We will swap training for an assessment depending on the scale of your workshop/intervention.


Structured for transformation

These criteria come from the world of theatre and story. Through the ages, stories and their enactment for people have followed certain patterns and conventions. All the great theatre makers and story tellers across time have known what elements to weave into their stories to impact the lives of their listeners. Surely if you weave these same elements into the design of your process you can achieve the same result? Note that there is a certain chronology to these elements, but the order is not set in stone. Yet, if you want to break the sequence make sure you know why you are doing it. Also, depending on the specific function and length of your process, all elements may not be present. We maintain though, that even the shortest of presentations can make room for all these elements in one way or another.

  1. The Call to Adventure – Provoke and inspire dreams. Do you understand the context of your participants well enough so that you know what they desire? Do you provoke and inspire their interest and invite them to dream?
  2. Debate – Acknowledging doubts. Do you allow participants to express their doubts and reservations about your content? Do you acknowledge possible resistance or anxiety? Do you have structures that defuse these without oppressing them?
  3. Meeting the mentor – Training knowledge and skill. Do you give them good information and skills to master that which you are teaching? Do you realise that this part of the cycle is just one among 7, or do you content dump for 90% of the time you have with your audience?
  4. Tests and trials – Challenging knowledge and skill. Do you give well prepared challenges that help sharpen their ability to understand and use what you are teaching? Do you challenge them in teams and individually to ensure holistic integration of knowledge and skill?
  5. Pause and intimacy – Reflecting on the bigger picture. Do you allow moments of quiet reflection to help participants internalise the learning? Do you use both individual reflection and small group reflection strategies for maximum internalisation?
  6. Reward – Rewarding commitment. Do you reward people for stretching themselves? Do you appreciate their efforts?
  7. The return Supporting implementation. Do you provide follow-up support for participants trying to apply their learning in their ordinary lives?


Designed for participation

Improvisation actors do not wait for someone to give them a script before they act. They do not look to each other to take the first step. Improvisation actors act and make up the words as they go along. They participate as soon as they understand what is needed. They respect each other’s contributions, use all the offers they can, make each other look good and cause the audience to like what they see. Clearly these guys know how to inspire each others’ participation and they know how to participate so that the product is of good value. What are their secrets?

  1. Presence and awareness: Are you present and aware of your own thoughts and feelings as you facilitate? Are you also listening and paying attention to those of your participants, or are you mainly thinking of the content you are presenting? Do you structure activities so that participants need to listen to each other?
  2. Safety and acceptance: Are you able to create the feeling of safety so that participants feel able to take part? Do you accept their mistakes as well as your own? How do you create trust so that participants feel they can take creative risks?
  3. Giving and taking control: Do you allow interaction? Do you give some of the responsibilities of facilitation away to others? Are you able to check your ego at the door and accept your audience as equals even when they are younger than you or from a different class/race or gender? Do your activities help them to connect with each other as equals?
  4. Accepting contributions: Do you structure your facilitation so that people can contribute their ideas? Do you then use and incorporate these ideas? How do you ensure that all voices are heard and acknowledged? Do you appreciate the gifts of contribution in whatever form they appear?
  5. Intent and simplicity: Are you clear about your intentions for every part of the workshop? Are you able to maintain that focus in spite of all the contributions and idea sharing? Are you good at reincorporating ideas to follow the shared vision?

Our offer stands: invite us to attend your presentation or workshop for free and we will give you an assessment as to the transformational power of your work using the criteria discussed here. Contact Petro at or Burgert at .


How to Communicate Confidently

Grow your voice book cover

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech. Powerlessness and silence go together.” – Margaret Atwood, Writer

I learned the secret of confident speaking when I was 16. I was performing before a judges’ panel at the Stellenbosch Eisteddfod. The category I was performing in? Poetry. The poem? ‘Die Dag op Nuweland’ – a satire by Jeanne Goosen about a typical South African rugby match, a day at Cape Town’s Newlands rugby stadium.

The judges had already heard me perform, but they had called me back to do it again. As I stood there I had no idea why.

Since I was 11 I had taken part in speech and drama classes and competitions. This was the first time I saw the judges requesting a repeat and, believe me, I had been at many of these competitions.

Were they thinking it had been so great that it must have been a fluke and they wanted to see whether I could do it again? Did they not like my performance? Had I failed so miserably that they wanted to give me a second chance?

I remember deciding to forget why, and to give it my best shot.

I also remember doing two very specific things during my second performance.

First, I looked straight in their direction, fixing my gaze on them and unveiling my eyes so that they could see into my soul. Fearlessly, I allowed them to see what I saw in the words.

Second, I remember matching that unveiling of my intention with my voice.

I took the first words: “Hoera Boland en Haak Vrystaat!”

It was as if I had the ball tucked in the crook of my arm, was aiming at the goal line and pumping my legs, running free, fast and furious.

My voice was controlled by my breath, supported by a rock hard diaphragm, allowing it to resonate in a completely relaxed chest cavity, while the muscles in and around my mouth clearly and carefully shaped each word as I followed the rhythm and melody of the poem.

I did not allow tension or fear to show, and not once did I let nerves and uncertainty interfere with my voice.

As I drew the performance to a close, I held the attention in silence for a moment and then broke off my gaze. The audience was quiet for moment and then one of the judges stood up and began to clap. The rest of the audience followed with thunderous applause (well, thunderous for the twenty-odd people who were there for their own children’s performances). It was the first time I received 100% for a performance. I had cracked the secret of pulling an audience into the performance as opposed to bombarding them with it.

Here is the thing: I could only guess at where the judges sat and whether I was looking them in the eyes or not.

You see, I am partially sighted, I cannot look anyone in the eye without faking it. I have no central vision (I call it doughnut vision because all the good stuff is on the sides with just a hole in the middle). If I look straight at anyone, I cannot see them. This can either cause me to look blank and unreceptive, or I can choose to look straight at them and not see them, but unveil my eyes and let them see into my soul.

This is a trick I had learned long before, so that the cute, cruel boys in grade 5 would not call me Crossed Eyes. Unmasked authenticity is disarming, intriguing, rare and memorable.

But once the audience is inside, they must find something there that is worthwhile and meaningful, something that is powerful and promising, especially if they are to be part of it. This is where your voice and your message come into the picture.

At my poetry performance of ‘Die Dag op Nuweland’, I learned to match that pull of the unveiled soul with a voice that did the same, but this time with something worthwhile to offer in return. Drawing the audience into how you see things invites them into a world set apart from their own.

If that world is inviting and engaging, they are moved by the confidence you have in your message and material. This is the opposite of what most people think communication is about. Most people think it is about getting the message across the big divide between you and someone else. They think it is about throwing it out there and hoping it will hit the mark.

It is not about throwing the message out, but about drawing the audience in.

A speaker’s voice must invite confidence and instil trust, while at the same time it commands attention and motivates the audience.

A voice that is both inviting and influential possesses certain physical qualities. Most voices do not have these qualities naturally. Yet, with knowledge and practice you too can cultivate this kind of voice.

As with training for the Comrades marathon (89 km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg), your body needs to unlearn bad habits and relearn new ones. When you train for a marathon, you need to teach your muscles to persist working under strain. You have to condition them so that adjusting to the road and the conditions becomes automatic and you can keep your mind on your goal.

“If you don’t ever stop singing, your voice stays in shape. It’s like the marathon runner. You’ve got to run, run, run to stay in shape.” – Sammy Hagar, Musician

Similarly, speaking invitingly and confidently with a trained voice can become automatic so that you can keep your mind on the message and the audience.

To replace unwanted habits with new ones takes at least six weeks of dedicated hard work. This course is designed to lead you through such a six-week training programme so that the vocal habits you need for confident, inviting communication becomes automatic.

Grow your voice is a six-week course designed to help you automatically

• find a good posture that helps you relax and communicate confidence

• use breath to control your voice and your nerves

• produce a rich, warm voice that invites attention and instils trust

• shape sounds skilfully so that every word is heard without strain

• create emotional engagement by enticing the listener to keep on listening.

“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain

You have just read the introduction to my book: Grow your voice to Speak with Confidence. The book is a 6 week course and includes a training CD with exercises.

Click here if you would like to buy the book.

Come to one of our workshops or courses.

Or contact me for individual coaching options.

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Values Clarification Exercise using Image Theatre

How do you clarify which values need interrogation for your group?

This values clarification exercise can draw out the critical values for a group and give you a strong basis for building self esteem. If you are wondering how a values clarification exercise can build self esteem, read this article on Values Clarification: a crucial step in building self esteem.

The exercise has two steps: a discussion as preparation and the main values clarification exercise which I will call talking stills. Others have called the same exercise image theatre, drama codes, tableaux or statues. I like talking stills because the silent frozen images can tell you more about your group than a whole hour’s discussion can, It can also teach your group more about themselves than you can in an entire lecture.

Step One of values clarification exercise:

Group discussion

Choose any of the following questions to spark the discussion Some suggestions are subtle and other rather straight forward.

1. Unsubtly, ask the group what values they think are missing in society. I recently used this upfront approach with a group of teachers and community workers in a training workshop. I let them discuss the ideas in groups of about 5 to 7 before moving straight into the talking stills. The question immediately puts the group in an authoritative position from where they can comment on society. It works like a charm especially with young people.

I came to the workshop to explore new ways of stimulating learners’ creativity,. I enjoyed the experience and got insight into ways in which drama can be used in discussions about values. – Teacher who attended workshop

2. A little more subtly, ask them what things people do that upset them the most. Apart from highlighting the things that are really important to them, the discussion forges a bond between the group members as they agree with each other about all the things that bother them.

3. Another great question to start your values clarification exercise is to ask the young people what messages they have for the world, or their parents, or their peers. This question forces them to articulate their needs and tell you exactly what values are important to them.
With a group of teenagers this question clearly brought out their need for acceptance and tolerance.

Let them chat in two’s and threes before feeding back, or just talk in the big group. Read the dynamics. The aim is to make sure everyone takes part.

4. Another way is to ask questions about a story or object you bring to class. Get them talking about a news paper clipping to stimulate them, or some other interesting story/object. Even ask them to bring their own stories ahead of time. If they come with their own stories the chances are better that you will not contaminate their views with your own value system.

Step Two of values clarification exercise:

Talking stills

As a second step to your values clarification exercise, get the group to make a tableau in answer to any of the questions discussed. E.g. make a tableau of your message to the world/ one of the stories that most touched you/ what you think our society needs most from us.

A little creative input

Sometimes a group needs a little more input from the facilitator to help them use the stills effectively to communicate their views.

I like to show them the different thins that can be communicated by placing people higher or lower than each other (vertical plane).

For example a person standing has more power than one sitting down. A sitting person has more power, or status, than one with his head down or one lying on the floor. The most status can be achieved by placing some one on a chair or standing on a table.

The horizontal plane communicates intimacy or closeness. Two people standing close together have a more intimate relationship than one standing further away. One person separated from the group to one side is clearly cut off and not included in the group relationship.

The values clarification exercise blow by blow

1. Divide into groups of 4-6 and shortly discuss your response to the chosen question.

2. Choose one director in each group.

3. In complete silence, the director uses the bodies of the others to shape an image of his/her answer to the question posed. He or she takes into account what the others have said during the discussion.

4. Ask the group members if they agree with the image. If they want to change something, the person suggesting the change takes over the role of the director while the first director takes his or her place in the picture. Continue until all are satisfied.

5. Show the images one by one to the whole group. Ask the onlookers to say what they see.

6. Dynamise the statues (give them a chance to express their meaning) by one of the following:

  • Touch each individual in the picture on their shoulder and ask them to say just one word, or make a sound to express what they are feeling.
  • Similarly ask them to unfreeze and show their next movement at your touch.
  • Let the whole group move together.
  • Play with the different options and let them speak and move together.
  • Discover your own ways to help them express their feeling and their meaning.
      7. Let the onlookers feed back what they saw and experienced. Focus on what they see and feel and hear. No deep interpretation needed, but do not shun it when it comes (obviously). 

      Discuss the solutions to the problems portrayed, these lead to the values. If you have time, also make statues of the ideal world where the problems are solved. Again, the values come to the fore. Michael Shank: Theatre of the Oppressed Training Manual

      The values clarification exercise is moreeffective, however, than talking: ask them to show you an image of what they can do themselves to address the problems, or to instil the values identified. Alternatively, let them act out their stories and use forum theatre to test out solutions. Here is a fantastic resource on Forum theatre if you want to know more:

      A real world example

      Recently with a group of about 70 Education students learning to be Life Orientation teachers, I asked them to show me the problems that are caused in society by a lack of values. This can be an effective exercise for character education training as well.

      After showing and talking about their stills, we discussed which values will remedy these problems. Here was the list of problems and corresponding values they came up with:

      No discipline
      Dysfunctional leadership
      Peer pressure

      Values lacking:
      Self Esteem

      We took these 10 values in a next class and used the same values clarification exercise to do stills of what they can do to instill these values in their future classes. I auctioned off the values to the groups to see who wanted which value to work with.

      Three values were fought over: self esteem, acceptance and trust.

      I had to allow them to leave out some values and double up on these. These three were the critical values for this particular group. Note here that these values are not the values important of critical for the learners they would work with, but their own critical values. How do I know this? Because these are the values they could talk about most. The group is motivated to think about and explore them. These are the values I would use as a central theme for building self esteem in this group.

      What if self esteem was not a value on their list?

      I would simply use what ever values are on the list. I was lucky that this group was able to identify and name it as a need for themselves. If they didn’t, I would simply continue the process with the values they did give me.

      Understanding and interrogating these values will inevitably lead to raised self respect and self confidence.

      Know your values and you will know your value.

      To understand better why this is so, read the article on Values Clarification: a crucial step in building self esteem.

      Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Values Clarification: A crucial step in building self esteem

What is values clarification?

Values clarification is the attempt to expose the value systems that function in a person or a group. These value systems need clarification because they are hidden beneath the surface. On the surface are the opinions, actions and behavioural patterns of a person or group, but the values that motivate these opinions and actions are often buried in the unconscious. Clarifying your values then gives you the opportunity to discover your value and so build your self esteem. It is a crucial step for building self esteem.

A value system is the network of presuppositions you might have about perceived reality. I say perceived reality because these presuppositions determine how you interpret life. It is not how life really is, but rather how life is for you In this way values form a frame of standards through which you interpret events as being real/not real, true/false, good/bad, right/wrong.

Values are the presuppositions in the system that hangs together in a particular manner to colour the way in which any given person or group of people views reality. Together the values in the system provide a frame through which life is understood.

Framing is the act of selecting a relevant position from which you can analyse and understand events. The network of presuppositions that shape a person’s value system is not made up of one frame only, but rather a matrix of frames. The framing of reality is an unconscious action natural to the human brain. You do it without even knowing that you are doing it. It is the way people cope with the complexities of everyday life. Because you are yourself part of your own perceived reality, you also interpret your self through the framework of presuppositions.

How does values clarification build self esteem?

The meaning of life

Life becomes meaningful to us relative to the frame through which we are looking at it. Framing enables you to analyse your life from where you are now using the values that are present in your system now. Tomorrow you see things differently because events and circumstances may have changed or shifted your frame a little. The frame is always appropriate to a particular perspective and time. This means that the meaning of life is constantly evolving and changing according to our frames, our value systems.

Values clarification helps you to clarify the meaning of life for you

Knowing the meaning of life for you where you are now helps you take stock of your life so that you can deal with it. ‘Dealing with it’ will boost your self esteem.


Since your frames, or values, are the go-betweens between you and your world, and since your matrix of frames is unique, your frames tell you who you are. Through knowing your frames you get to know yourself and construct (consciously or unconsciously) your identity.

Values clarification helps you to clarify your identity

If you know who you are, chances are you will discover you like yourself. Then you can work on how to express yourself in ways that communicate who you are. This will build your self esteem.

Personal growth

Your frames can become oversimplified, inflexible, or inappropriate to your context – especially if your context has changed for some reason. In such cases it becomes important for you to re-evaluate and adapt your frames. If you do this well, two things can happen. Either you will redefine and strengthen your values becoming more of who you really are. Or you would adapt or adjust them to help you align yourself with the needs of your circumstances. This often means you become more flexible and open to change, but without compromising your self. Either way your self esteem is boosted.

But if you do it badly and make the wrong choices, you could be buying into value systems that pull you further and further away from who you are. You simply exchange your identity for a mask or a false set of beliefs that do not express your inner spirit. Though this could boost your confidence or your status short term, it could have dire consequences for your self esteem in the long run. You lose self respect and confidence in your ability to express who you are.

Values clarification helps you grow or regress

Furthermore, because frames are embedded in your culture, a re-evaluation of your values implies a re-evaluation and adaptation of your culture too. Again you can establish and refine your culture, or chose to disidentify with it and move against it. Again it can be done well or badly with matching consequences.

Refining and strengthening your values will build your self esteem. Denying who you are and going against your nature will weaken it.

Why use stories to help with values clarification?

Since you only perceive reality through your cultural frames you do not have the option of stepping outside the frame in order to see reality as it truly is. The only option is to compare frames to one another and choose different ones that may be more appropriate for you.

Stories enable you to create a fictional setting which allows you to step into a make believe frame and out of your reality. You step away from your matrix of frames so that you can evaluate it by comparing it to some make believe alternatives. This allows you to adapt the frame or choose a different, more context appropriate one. Even better, if you dramatise your alternative by acting it out or imagining it through writing, you can try it out safely without the danger of real consequences. Story acted out or imagined through creative writing is the ideal tool for making value systems conscious, evaluating and adapting them.

Stories help build your self esteem by clarifying your values and so allowing you to
– find the meaning of life for you where you are now
– clarify your current identity and
– strengthen who you are in the present moment

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren