March 29, 2016

Don’t “Should” on Me: 3 Tips to Get the Shoulds out of Our Lives.

could did should

I really want to ________, but I shouldn’t. I really should be more ________.

I tried ________, but I should have known better. I shouldn’t let ________ get to me.

We could enter any number of things into these blank spaces. Should is a dangerous word. We use it to measure our perceived shortcomings.

I work as a counselor and the word should often rears its ugly head in conversations with clients. When should is used, the client is often expressing a feeling of inadequacy. They are feeling inadequate because the choices that they have made go against what society or their parent or their best friend agrees with. They are feeling inadequate because they perceive that others are judging them or disappointed by them.

When I think of the times that I use the word should, my experience mirrors what I have observed in conversations with my clients. The word should reflects an expectation, obligation or duty that I do not feel like I am meeting. I use should when I am being critical of myself, and not in a pick me up by my bootstraps motivational kind of way, but in a look at how inadequate I am kind of way.

It is a word that I catch myself and others saying all too frequently. We could all benefit from making a conscious effort to notice what those “shoulds” are doing, what effect should statements are having on our lives and what emotional baggage these statements carry.

The things that we attach a should to are often things that we aren’t internally motivated to achieve and as a result they are things that we don’t really put our hearts into. This means that the unaccomplished shoulds can build up and that can have a negative impact on our self-esteem.

Let’s make an effort to eliminate the word should from our vocabulary. We can begin with ourselves and the people closest to us.

1. I’m not going to should myself.

The next time that we catch ourselves using the word should, let’s check in to see if we could replace should with want or need. If we can’t, then let’s take a moment to think about why this thing that we don’t want or need is something that we have declared that we should.

2. I’m not going to should others.

Should is often offered in the form of advice; sometimes well intentioned, sometimes manipulative. However good the intention, though, it places the values and perspective of the advice giver on the advice recipient. As a better alternative, let’s listen to what our loved ones are saying and ask questions to help them realize their own path. Let’s offer personal experiences with things that worked for us. Let’s offer a few potential solutions and let our loved ones determine what would work best for their individual situation.

3. Listen for shoulds from others.

As I have become more conscious of the word should, I notice it all the time. Sometimes advice is being offered and someone is telling me what I should do or say or feel. Sometimes I am just hearing the other person express what they themselves feel that they should do or say or feel. Let’s make an effort to catch those shoulds and, when appropriate, bring attention to them. When the should is directed at us, let’s evaluate whether that particular piece of advice actually meets our needs. When it’s not, let’s ask our loved ones if what they are saying that they should do is something that they need or want to do and if not let’s have a conversation about why they feel they should.


Author: Corrin Rockwell

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: Jennifer/Flickr

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Corrin Rockwell