By Mary Olivia Verhulst
Have you found yourself thinking, “I should have a job already, I can’t believe it’s taking this long,” or “Everyone else around me has a partner. I should have found someone by now” or “I should be able to get on a plane without being afraid.”?
In the world of psychology and counseling, ‘should-statements’ are considered negative self-talk. They are a type of negative thinking pattern that contributes to fear and worry. This type of faulty thinking typically surfaces in phrases that include the words “should,” “ought,” or “must.” Using this negative self-talk often shuts individuals down and creates a world of isolation and disappointment. Ultimately, shoulds take away our autonomy to listen to ourselves and create a life without feeling societal pressure to live up to certain ideals.
There is also a societal pressure that by certain ages in our lives, we ‘should’ have accomplished certain life goals. For instance, the distorted misrepresentation that by age 22 we ‘should’ have graduated from college, created a five year plan, picked a career choice and should be finding/have found the ideal mate.
Allowing others to create an image of what we should be doing is a perfectionist ideal, and also contributes to countless self-defeating patterns and behaviors. It cripples our wellbeing one ‘should’ at a time. However, there are ways to decrease the shoulds in your life.
Eliminating the “Should”
1.) Pay attention to yourself. Start writing down every should statement that you can catch during the day.
2.) Identify your triggers. Jot down where you were when that thought occurred, and later make associations between the statement and the cue that allowed for it.
3.) Break down these statements. At its root, should statements are cognitive distortions. Ask yourself – is this realistic for my own individual circumstances? Am I being kind, and patient toward myself as I would a friend?
4.) Now, make them into more kind statements toward yourself- more realistic and positive. Repeat these as a mantra. Suddenly, our ‘should’s’ become simple possibilities, instead of failed expectations
5.) Prioritize your life. Try to stop asking yourself what you should be doing, and start asking yourself what is more important to you right now. Which one aligns with your values more? Specific context is important.
It’s time to stop should-ing all over yourself. The language you use to speak to others, and yourself, matters. By using more positive, accepting language towards yourself, you can elevate your self-awareness as well as signal to you and those around you that YOU are in charge of your own life.
If you’re struggling with should statements, we are here to help. Contact us today for individual or couples therapy. If our clinicians are not the right fit for you, we can help refer you to someone that will be a good fit.