Yes, you should stop doing that.
Years ago a friend of mine was trying to reduce stress and heard that telling yourself that you should or should not only creates more stress.
She vowed to stop using that word.
Yes and no. Let’s take a deeper look.
The word should comes from a value imperative. Your individual values determine what you believe is right and wrong.
If you value a friendship, then certain value imperatives will inevitably follow. You will feel it is wrong to intentionally harm your friends.
In this case, telling yourself, “I should not harm my friends,” is not only valid, but an important part of the friendship.
If you value your health, then you will feel it is wrong to deliberately damage it. A series of shoulds and should nots will follow, according to what you know about health.
Value imperatives are not a choice. You cannot rid yourself of them. Otherwise, your values would no longer be values. They would lose all power in your psyche, which would be disastrous. Your moral compass would vanish.
In fact, you cannot violate your own values without coming up with an excuse. If you smoke and know it is damaging your health, you will be compelled to justify yourself.
Everybody at work smokes.
I can quit anytime.
I know, I know, but life is stressful.
These justifications are an attempt to excuse the wrong. If you didn’t really believe what you are doing is wrong – according to your own values – then you would not have a need to defend your actions.
Should becomes problematic when we confuse our own values with the values of others or have an inner critic on autopilot.
You may be confusing your own values with someone else.
I should go to medical school like my father wants.
I should play sports.
I should fit in.
Maybe you don’t really value being a medical doctor, playing sports, or fitting in. Maybe your individual personality takes you in a different direction. Yet, you hold onto the expectations of others as if they were your own. This might lead to beating yourself up with a bunch of shoulds that don’t come from your own values, but those of others.
Should is one of the favorite words of the formidable inner critic. In this case, shoulds don’t necessarily come from your heartfelt values, but from your inner critic’s tendency to find fault with you no matter what.
Even perfection is not good enough for the inner critic. An active inner critic will hit you with a barrage of shoulds and should nots for the sole purpose of making you feel bad. This is what inner critics do.
Discover the source of the should. Does it come from your own individual sense of what is right and wrong – your heartfelt values?
If so, then feel the importance of those values and do the right thing.
Does the should come from other people or your inner critic?
If so, then stop shoulding on yourself and discover what is really important to you – just you. Then address your inner critic, with full consciousness of where you stand.
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Last reviewed: 16 Jul 2013