Beware the ‘Shoulds’ and ‘Shouldn’ts’
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Sharon Nicholson, MBACP Registered and Accredited Therapeutic Counsellor
31st August, 20140 Comments
How often do you use the phrases ‘I should…’ or ‘I shouldn't…’ in your everyday life?
‘I should be doing better’, ‘I should be able to cope’, ‘I shouldn't be so sensitive’, ‘I should be doing more’, ‘I shouldn't be so selfish’, ‘I should be over this by now’…
You may recognise some of these and you may also recognise many others. Often we are unaware that we are even thinking these ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ as they can be messages that we are listening to unconsciously. It is natural to have these kinds of thoughts at some point in our lives and it is important for us to become conscious of them because how much attention we pay to these messages can determine how we are impacted by them.
I wonder whose voice you are actually listening to when you hear a ’should’ or a ‘shouldn't’. What would happen if you were to turn around to this voice and ask: ’Who says I should?’
Would you discover a voice of someone else that you have internalised as your own? Maybe you would instantly recognise the voice of a parent or a teacher from childhood - ‘I sound just like my Mum!' - or maybe there would be no one particular person that would come to mind but more a sense of that is just how things ‘should’ be.
If we take the time to stop and really listen to the messages we are giving ourselves we may be surprised that we are in fact listening to the voice of someone else, and potentially living our lives by someone else’s values and beliefs.
Once you start to recognise and question these ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’, a whole new world of awareness and choice can open up to you. You may start to become aware of, and choose to listen to, a potentially different voice - your own.
Having a perceived sense of the person you ‘should’ be versus the person that you are can cause great stress and pressure - Who else can you be if not yourself?
This is especially difficult if you feel that you used to be a different person compared to the person that you are today. ‘I used to be able to manage so I ‘should’ be able to now…’, ‘There are people worse off than me so I ‘shouldn't’ be feeling this way…’
Believing that you ‘should’ be different in some way can result in you experiencing many difficult emotions including feeling 'stuck', ‘lost’, confused, and potentially angry with yourself. This can often lead to feelings of being a failure, of hopelessness and depression, with your focus on the past and how things used to be. Our experiences can change us and sometimes this can be difficult to accept.
Personal growth is borne out of the learning we gain from our experiences, often the biggest struggles afford us the richest growth.
Don’t become a prisoner to the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’. Learn how to stay mindful of them, challenge them, give yourself space to really hear your own voice and through self-compassion towards your current feelings and needs you can free up your present and create a better future for yourself.
Related articles from our experts
Amanda Perl MSc Psychotherapist Counsellor MBPsS BACP (Accred) CBT PractitionerNovember 19th, 2016
Katie Evans BA(hons), Dip., MBACP RegisteredNovember 21st, 2016
Kamila Kaminska Counselling for Individuals and CouplesDecember 1st, 2016
Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
Keeley Townsend BA (Hons), Ad.Dip.CP with Distinction, MNCS (Acc)December 14th, 2009
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.