Feeling Down? Examine The "Shoulds" in Your Life


By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

Guilt and shame are common feelings experienced by many people. Often these feelings when associated with an internal negative view of the self may suggest feelings of “I am bad.” Like a grinding gear working in the background of the psyche something is off and you just can’t seem to pinpoint it.  Sometimes in the course of interacting with other people suggestive language they use can induce these feelings. But does this make them true? Living a life that is full of other people’s expectations can be a tall order. At times impossible odds are seemingly stacked high and trying to overcome them leads to feelings of not being able to measure up. Other people’s expectations in reality are often veiled and buried in the use of the word “should.” When the word should is used inappropriately it can often induce feelings of false guilt.

False guilt is the result of a person subjecting themselves to another person’s will of what “should” be best for them or what they “should” or “should not” be doing. Other common words that go along with should are ought, must and need. All of these words are typically preceded by the word “you.” Another way of looking at this is seeing it as unsolicited advice. As an individual, you are giving away the power of the self and your autonomy by accepting ownership of other people’s expectations.

Examples of someone using this type of phrase sound something similar to “you know what you should (need, ought, must) do is… (insert personal scenario here).” The result is internal conflict for not following through on the demand, or following through when you really wanted to do something different. Sound dooming either way? It’s not. Countermeasures call to filter these comments by remaining objective about what is being said. Look at the comment and decide what is best for you. It is helpful to look at the comment as a suggestion and not something that must be done. A “must” perspective places an unrealistic demand on the self.

There are negative side effects from the result of false guilt and shame. Depression and anxiety may begin to creep in when a person chooses not to follow the advice (feeling guilty for not doing it) or wants to do something different. Over time an internal critical voice develops and starts dictating that you “should” be doing what others want from you. Over time this burden becomes heavy.

It is important to stay out of the weeds on this. This is about false guilt. The “should” words and phrases can sometimes cause confusion. Not every should, need, ought or must is a bad one, nor does it make people who use them bad people. There may be times when you feel they are legitimate statements and it is important to decide what applies to you. Sometimes other people see things about us that we cannot see about ourselves. A good friend with a genuine concern can offer really solid help in difficult times. It is helpful to look internally to find the truth and filter out what is not needed. Remember, the idea is to stay objective and do not allow other people’s comments to become truths about what you think is best for you. That is for you to decide for yourself.

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