Stop Should-ing Yourself
“I should be happier” “things should be easier” “he shouldn’t do that”- How many times have you thought that the way things are, whether it’s you or someone else is, isn’t right?
This internal dialogue plays a huge role in how we see ourselves, how we interact with others and how we view the future. This cognitive triad, developed by Aaron Beck, one of the founders of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) shows just how much our thoughts and our belief systems impact our emotional well-being. Our negative thought patterns, or cognitive distortions are often so automatic that we don’t stop to question, ‘is that true?’ or ‘why is that what I think?’
Language plays a crucial part of the cognitive equation. Have you ever listened to a friend or yourself, and noticed how many times you hear ‘should’, ‘must’, or any other of the ways in which we use demanding language.
“The should-ing we do is so automatic, that when in session, I will ask clients to rephrase a sentence without the should and initially many get stuck” says Mariam Hager, LMSW at Gateway to Solutions. “This inclination to use demanding language is a part of inflexible thinking that can impact our mental health from depressive thinking, anxiety, panic attacks, excessive guilt, anger and disappointment in our relationships.”
If this is so unhealthy for us, why do we do it? Often, as we’ve seen we don’t even know it’s happening. We learn from a young age that there are rights and wrongs, and with that comes rules about how things should be. The should’s in our life can seem like motivators. For example, I should go to the gym. But what really happens when we say this? We feel pressured, perhaps even resentful towards ourselves, sometimes enough to rebel against that very should. That can leave us with guilt that reinforces negative thinking about the self. Even if we follow through with the should, we are often still left with a feeling of obligation rather than joy.
And what about the should’s we use with others? They can create disappointment and resentment when others don’t live up to our rules, and cause conflict with those we care about.
The should’s mask themselves as a way to control and alleviate the discomfort of uncertainty. In reality, they create a reactionary internal environment that judges the self and others for failings that don’t exist.
If it feels like this applies to you, you might be asking, what should can I do? Here’s a few helpful tips.
- Take notice of how you feel when you use demanding thinking/language. Does this make me feel good? Does it bring me joy? Do I feel more connected to those around me? If the answer is no, you’ll want to start to recognize how these statements make you feel and be more aware of when it comes up for you.
- Question if that should-statement is true. Who says that I should (blank)? Get curious about when these rules started, what are the pros and cons of these rules and ask yourself if this is fact or opinion.
- The use of reframing can help change a should-statement, filled with guilt and pressure, to a more productive statement. For example “I should make more money” can be reframed to “I would like to make more money, and here is what I can do…” Reframing creates the space for self compassion, potential action steps and alleviates the guilt associated with things not fitting into a predetermined set of rules.
If you’d like to learn more, a therapist can help you in your journey to identify this and other cognitive distortions. Contact Gateway to Solutions to discuss more.