Tackling the "Should" Monster (How to Stop Letting "Should" Run Your Life)
Do you have a list of shoulds for yourself? Ideas of how you are supposed to be, dress, and act?
I did. I will share my shoulds from a while back in all their glory- in no particular order of insanity.
+I should Be perfect. Perfect mother, wife, housekeeper, and lover.
+I should Be pretty. Wear makeup and dress to impress every single day.
+I should Be an amazing hostess. Have a theme party with gourmet food and a sparkling house.
+I should Say the ‘right’ things. If someone asks me any question at all, have a poised and articulate answer.
+I should Follow the rules. Don’t cut in line. Don’t ask why. Do as the authorities ask. Keep the correct decorum in all situations. DMV, grocery store, doctor’s office.
+I should Be the life of the party. Be funny- even at your expense. Keep them laughing, and they will like you.
+I should Be Strong. Do not bow to anyone. Stand up for yourself and always be assertive and independent. You don’t need any help.
+I should Be Right. Defend your beliefs to the end. Whatever means necessary. Fight, yell, scream, bite. (It is especially important that your husband is never right).
+I should Smile all the time. Don’t make others uncomfortable. Agree with them and then talk about it later, without them, if you disagree. Smile, laugh, even when you are hurting or angry.
+I should Act like I have it all together. Never, ever tell anyone you don’t have all of the above in order. Appear impervious to struggle. Act cool and collected.
If this is all done correctly, then I should be happy. That is what I believed, and that is how many women feel.
'In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.'- Ram Dass
On the outside, I had my mask on straight, but what I began to realize was that I felt like a fraud. I was struggling to keep up with all the shoulds. I had created this shell of a person that I had impossible expectations for and she was struggling to keep up with all of the shoulds. That is what ultimately kept me from being my authentic self.
Even though these shoulds created who I thought I was supposed to be, and what I thought would make me happy, I could never get it right. I would beat myself up when I didn’t meet my expectations. If I spoke up and told someone that I didn’t agree with them, I would beat myself up for days, “Why did I have to be so rude?” If I ran into someone at the store and I didn’t have my makeup on perfectly, I would worry about what they thought of me. God forbid someone came over to my house unannounced, and they saw how we really lived, I would be mortified and take all my anger out on my family and clean the house in a frenzy all the while telling myself what a terrible person I was. Here is the kicker, no one (save my immediate family whom I lived with) could know any of this. I would die. I would fall apart. They would know I was a fraud and I would have to distance myself from them because I couldn’t keep them in my life once they knew the real me. They would tell everyone the jig was up, right?
These shoulds are a product of our egos: an unconscious collection of our thoughts and beliefs, experiences, and patterns from our past. Our egos serve to protect us. To keep us separate and safe. The ego does a great job of putting up walls and defense systems. While the ego itself is not bad, our identification with the ego as our true and authentic selves is a problem. By identifying with the shoulds of the ego, we keep ourselves in a state of perpetual fear. Fear that someone will find out that we are not really who we are trying to project to the world. This means that our actions are motivated by fear. We can all understand that living out of fear is the opposite of living a life full of happiness.
So how do we tackle the should monster?
I love this exercise inspired by Louise Hay.
Make a list of the top 5 shoulds in your life.
Next to each one write the why.
I should have smaller thighs. Why? Large thighs are unattractive.
Get curious about your why.
If I look at this example, I might ask myself, “Who says large thighs are unattractive?” I would ask myself is this true for me? I might discover that I believe this “should” because someone told me it was true. Maybe I realize that large thighs are attractive to me. Maybe I feel strong and sexy with larger thighs. Maybe I can reject this “should.” I am not in agreement with the should, and I can let it go.
I might find that I agree with my should.
I should save money. Why? I can have a safety net in case of an emergency.
When I get curious about this, I might find that it is true. I feel good with knowing I have a safety net. I am in agreement with this “should,” so I keep it.
Re-frame your should to a could.
The shoulds you want to keep, rewrite in this format: If I really wanted to ________ I could.
If I really wanted to save money for emergency funds I could.
Why is tackling the should monster so powerful?
By bringing our awareness to our unconscious shoulds, we get to decide if we agree with them. We have a conscious choice to make instead of being led by automatic patterns. We can ditch the old should agreements or re-frame them in a way that gives us the power. If we really want a should, we can make it happen. The should monster loses it’s power over us, and we get to decide what is important and what to prioritize.
The power and the choice are ours.
I went from prioritizing my appearance and my clean house to prioritizing ease, authenticity, and connection.
Do you have shoulds that are keeping you running ragged? Take 10 minutes tonight and get curious about your shoulds. Are there some you can release? I promise you will free up so much energy and space in your life.