By OKSANA TASHAKOVA (SELF-HELP GUIDE) 13 May 2011
Our list of must-dos limit our own potential, damage our relationships with others, and cause us to unfairly judge and condemn
You should smile. You should lose weight. You should be more productive. You should be married by now. How do you feel when someone tells you that you should do something? Don’t you feel resentful? Doesn’t something shut down within you?
That’s because “shoulds” reflect objective values. They’re based on stereotypes or expectations about behaviour and qualities that come from parents, schools, religions, or society. They’re about what is considered desirable and about how far you fall from that mark.
What most of us don’t recognise is how much we beat ourselves up with unconscious “shoulds”. We’ve incorporated these other views through general exposure without ever questioning whether we truly want or believe in those values and priorities.
“Shoulds” imply that you are wrong, that you’re not enough, that you’re failing — and that kind of anxiety, frustration and self-hate lead to procrastination and hopelessness.
Psychotherapist Karen Horney named this process “the tyranny of the should.” She believed that we create a vision of the ideal self that isn’t based on our true selves or potentialities and then spend our lives trying to reach this level of perfection with a series of should and should-nots.
“Always” and “never” are also words that signify such black and white thinking. These words are signs of absolute and inflexible thinking that can have disastrous results.
Not only do such beliefs limit your own potential, they damage your relationships with others, causing you to unfairly judge and condemn.
“Shoulds” are rigid rules with no room for error and they’re often introjected rather than owned. When you own a rule it is because you have evaluated it and decided whether it makes sense for you and your life. You consciously decide to live your life by the value or judgment inherent in the “should.” An introjected rule is one you’ve passively absorbed without reviewing its merit.
“Shoulds” are often perfectionistic, unrealistic and unhealthy; “shoulds” diminish your life rather than enhance it.
The next time you feel anxious, frustrated, upset or depressed; question what’s really going on. With a little work, you’ll uncover the “should” or inflexible belief that has led to the feeling. Then you can begin to change it.
One technique that can be used to free you from a prison of “shoulds” is to change “I should” or “I must” to “I would prefer” or “I want to” or “I could.” This gives you choice and flexibility and removes condemnation and that reflexive resistance. Think about the effect and potential in changing “I should lose weight” to “I could exercise more” or “I would like to weigh less.”
Another technique involves questioning the rule and its value to you and your life. Does this “should” reflect who you might really want to become or does it limit your ability and self-esteem instead?
“Shoulds” are often difficult to displace because we’ve operated according to them for so long.
A mantra that contradicts the “should” whenever it arises can help you to slowly undo that automatic kind of thinking.
Helpful mantras include a reminder of what need was served by the “should” and why it doesn’t work.
For example: “I should never make mistakes” is a common tyrannical “should.” Every time you begin to berate yourself for a mistake, try and replace that train of thinking with something to the effect of: “My mother made me feel bad for making mistakes but mistakes lead to learning and they don’t make me a bad person.”
Identifying our “shoulds” often requires the help of a coach or therapist when they’re deeply ingrained and unconscious.
We often can’t see out of the rut of that worn way of thinking and it helps for someone else to point out when we’re inflicting absolute and inflexible rules upon ourselves. This can help you learn to recognise these “shoulds” more readily on your own and combat them in order to reach your real potential.
(Oksana is a life coach based in Dubai who helps people work out their life purpose and plan. She’s also an expert in stress management, addictions & phobias, relationships, communication skills and emotional pain management. Visit her website for more details: www.design lifecoach.com)