I wish I had an extra 5 minutes sleep each night for every time I heard someone say Should. My dark circles and gray hairs would slow their advance considerably! This word has led to more anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hopelessness, guilt and shame for my clients than any other single word I can think of. It’s messy. It’s ubiquitous. It’s pervasive. It is EVERYWHERE!!!
Now you may be wondering what’s so bad about this S* word? Aren’t there other S* words out there that are supposed to be worse? Words that will raise the maturity rating on an album or movie? Well, I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.
What makes “Should” worse than other S* words?
What I’ve learned is that if someone tells me they’ve had a Shitty day, that their boss is a piece of Shit, their food tastes like Shit, their spouse made them feel like Shit, etc., that’s generally an expression of either disappointment or anger. Both of these feelings are unpleasant, but they can typically be resolved through a series of conversations with the offending person, forgiving the other person, or perhaps just eating at a different restaurant.
Should, on the other hand, carries a much different kind of burden. When we say “I should have said…” or “I should have known…” or “I should have been able to…” we are committing the cardinal sin of putting on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and wishing things could have gone differently, punishing ourselves for things that we cannot change, and generally putting ourselves in a hopeless position.
Personal costs of “Shoulds”
When we say, “I should always know the right thing to say/do,” or “It should never come to this,” or “I should be able to handle…” we are putting ourselves in a position where expectations may become unrealistic (see this post for more on how expectations can mess with your psychological well-being). This can only be resolved by confronting ourselves.
However it is used, I treat Should much more harshly than Shit in therapy. I couldn’t care less what curse words people use to express their feelings. If they’re being honest and respectful with me, I’m just glad to be having the conversation. But if they start using Should to talk about them or me, that’s something we need to discuss.
What can you do about your “Shoulds”?
I refuse to have my options limited by Shoulds. And it would probably be a good idea for you to start eliminating this toxic word from your vocabulary. You can get rid of Shoulds, but whether you do is entirely up to you. You have choices. To borrow a phrase I heard years ago in my training as a therapist, stop taking away your own options by “Shoulding on yourself.”
If you find youself using far too many Shoulds in your life and have a difficult time using more positive, life-giving, freedom-inspiring language feel free to get in touch with me. I’d be happy to set up a time we can meet to discuss ways you can think and speak differently to have the kind of life you want.
Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in Orange County, California. If you’d like to set up a consultation at the Orange County office call 657-200-8080 or visit www.californiaalturavista.org.