The Toxic Tyranny of the “Shoulds”
I enjoy writing. Whenever I have the opportunity to generate ideas and the possibility of inspiring others to grow into the best version of themselves, I get psyched. At the same time, some subjects open the doorway to the toxic tyranny of the “shoulds.” A real buzz kill for my excitement. I first learned about the tyranny of the shoulds in a book by psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis. Frequently, the “shoulds” we impose on ourselves, he proposed is a primary cause of depression. Also used in substitute of the word should is the word must. Some examples include:
I must do this task perfectly, or I’m not good enough.
I should have what I want, or life is horrible, awful.
Yesterday I “should” all over myself
Perhaps in reading those sentences, you think “Why that’s absurd. I don’t think like that.” But the mean voices in your head do. Let me give you my real life example. Yesterday I wrote about my string of rejections in my search for meaningful work that matters. Generally, after having written, I have the same excited feeling that I have before I begin. Excited to see if it resonates with anyone, excited to hear about others experiences, etc. Yesterday was different. I was grumpy and a tad depressed. After an hour or so that yucky feeling, I decided to sit down with my journal and figure out what the heck was up. I asked myself where the feelings were coming from. Then I took the time to be still and see what insights came up. Here are the shoulds I discovered.
It’s been six months, you should have a job my now. Your experience must not be worth much
I shouldn’t have left my career. Now I have this six-year gap. No one will ever give me a decent look.
Perhaps your should is different. Your should might be “By now, I should be married. Something must be wrong with me”, “I should be more successful in my business by now, I’m a failure” or “I must not be doing something right because of…”. But there is a question that can turn the toxic tyranny of the shoulds into treasure.
I asked myself “What am I not seeing?”
As a result of asking myself “What am I not seeing?” I discovered that the last six-year journey had taught me a lot about myself, what I was capable of, even the great things I accomplished. Besides, I discovered even the sting of repeated rejection had strengthened my belief in myself, my abilities, and the value of my experience (even in the gap). I had a new found confidence in my worth. In the final analysis, I recognized the temporary nature of unemployment and discovered an extensive list of great things about it. Including writing in my PJs till noon if I wanted, having lunch with my husband any day of the week, meeting up with a new friend I met on Twitter, just to name a few.
Grab your journal; it’s your turn to grow
Now reflect on something you want at the moment that you don’t have. Or perhaps it’s the situation that keeps repeating itself that takes you from a happy attitude straight into a slump. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the shoulds and the musts my mind gravitates towards when this situation occurs?
- In the absence of this should or must in my life, what are the mean voices telling me I am? Is that true?
- What am I not seeing in this situation?