Stop Should-ing on Yourself

Whatever your specific shoulds are they all add up to the same message however you currently are, youre not good enough.

By Dr. Corey Allan

How often do you should on yourself?

You will know what Im talking about if you ever get the feeling that youre living a life you never really wanted.

You wind up simply existing, doing what you think other people think you should do.

If youre like most people, you have forgotten what you even want and simply live according to how you should:

  • You should be grateful to be alive.
  • You should forgive.
  • You should be compassionate.
  • You should meditate.
  • You should give back.
  • You should be able to do nothing.
  • You should be productive.
  • You should de-clutter.
  • You should take more trips.
  • You should appreciate what you have.
  • You should spend more time with your kids.
  • You should want to spend more time with your kids.
  • You should have more fun.
  • You should spend less time on technology.
  • You should have more sex.
  • You should want to have more sex.
  • You should laugh more.
  • You should lose weight.
  • You should exercise more.
  • You should drink less.
  • You should be happier.

Should-ing yourself can come in two forms:

  1. Doing what you think others expect you to do, or the right thing despite what your hopes, your conscience, and your gut may be telling you. This is often rooted in a sense of guilt or in a hope of gaining approval from others.
  2. You relive past mistakes over and over again, saying, I should have done this or I should have done that.

Whatever your specific shoulds are they all add up to the same message however you currently are, youre not good enough.

It makes sense really, when youre a child, your life is pretty much laid out for you. You have a bit of autonomy, but mostly you simply do what youre told to do. And you know what? Theres comfort and security that comes along with this. Doing what you should do relieves you of the burden of making your own choices and being held accountable for those choices.

Being an adult means taking control of your life and being responsible for yourself. An adult does as they choose, while a child does as they should.

However, some people never make this leap; they struggle with carving out their own path in life.So they flounder. Largely because theyve never actually figured out what they really want in life, so windend up picking life goals they think they should have simply because everyone around them society/television/family/religion tells them they should have those goals. In short, they should on themselves.

Whenever you do things simply to please others or gain their approval, or when you act purely from a sense of guilt, you give up someof your personal power. And this is apath that invariably leads to feelings of resentment, anger, and depression.

What exactly are we afraid will happen if we stop shoulding on ourselves?

Many of us have been taught, mistakenly, that if we dont should ourselves into action, we will become selfish slobs unable to move.

Even worse, we may believe that if we dont should ourselves into being good, we wont be good! This is basically saying that without external control, we would be unkind, ungrateful, un-generous, unproductive, unloving and any other un you can add.

Thats quite a vision of ourselves!

Shoulding all over ourselves actually strengthens our belief that left to our own devices we cannot be trusted.

Should vs Want

Because so much of our behavior is often driven by should, we can lose our ability to distinguish what we really want.

Instead, we live according to what we thing we should want, but no longer know what we actually want. With this foundation it can be easy to confuse the two.

To put this another way: We often know who we are supposed to be, but not who we are.

So how do you change this and stop shoulding on yourself?

It starts by asking yourself throughout the day Am I doing this because I want to or because I think I should? If its because you should, then ask, Why do I believe I should? What do I fear will happen if I dont do it? See what happens when you take a moment and simply ask yourself.

Finally, notice if recognizing your choice as a should changes the choice itself or the way it feels to carry out.

Even if your actions are unchanged, by simply identifying your choice as a should or want youve created a meaningful step forward. It will help you begin to know your true motivations and intentions, thereby, knowing yourself better.

Another idea to stop shoulding so much set aside a period of time as a should-free zone, a time when you only attend to that which you want.

If something shows up as a should, set it aside for later or let it go altogether. If no want shows up, no worries as it may take some time for a want to actually form inside you. Keep in mind that your want can become atrophied, like an under-used muscle. Plus, sometimes a want is just to do nothing, so keep an ear out for that as well.

Through these practices we often discover that we are not what we assumed, or better stated, as we were taught to believe.

When we stop telling ourselves that we should be good, it turns out that much to our surprise, we are good.

For most people, our natural instinct is to be compassionate and kind; being good simply feels good.

When we stop forcing ourselves to be good (in order to check it off our should-do list), and instead, allow our inherent goodness to lead us into action, we feel nourished and full, simultaneously receiving the goodness that we offer.

Goodness that emanates from want feels radically different (and better) than goodness that comes from should.

When we are aware of the forces that are driving our actions, we can decide how we want to live and break free from the tyranny of should.

We have been trained to believe in should and fear want, but this conditioning, with a little practice, can also be undone and re-trained. Start offering your should police a day off here and there and get ready to meet someone you may have yet to really know.

*Adapted from Psychology Today and Art of Manliness

**This post originally appeared on

Aboutthe Author: Corey is the main voice behind Simple Marriage and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a Licensed Professional Counselor. He has a Ph.D. in Family Therapy and maintains a private practice working with individuals and couples in McKinney, TX.

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