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  • Writer's pictureConnie Leach

Stop "Shoulding" on Yourself

As a child and teenager, I heard the word "should" a lot at home. You "should" keep your room neat, your hair "should" look better, or you "should" get higher grades, often leaving me feeling inadequate; that I could never be enough.


It wasn't until I was in college and learned about Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), that I began to see that my feelings of inadequacy were at least in part due to the words directed at me during my childhood.


Ellis believed that there are significant psychological hazards associated with the use of words like "should" and "must." He argued that such language often leads individuals to establish rigid and unrealistic standards for themselves and others, ultimately contributing to emotional distress, anxiety, and even depression. When his patients would demand that something must or should happen in a certain way, Dr. Ellis would tell them that they were musterbating or shoulding on themselves.

It's important to watch when we use "should" and "must" with others, such as a spouse, a friend, or a child. It comes across as trying to control them as if life should and must be on our terms, which is generally unrealistic and limiting. For example, telling your child that you "must" always make your bed before you leave the house, can feel rigid and controlling leaving the child to feel shame if the task is unmet.


By replacing rigid "should" and "must" statements with more flexible and rational language, individuals can develop a more adaptive mindset. For example, using the word "could" as a replacement is much more encouraging and less demeaning, thus allowing for more freedom of choice. Instead of "I must always get A's at school," can be replaced with "I could do my best in school." The word "could" takes away the shame.


Ellis believed that replacing such absolutist language with more flexible and rational thinking is essential for mental well-being. By doing so, individuals can better cope with life's challenges, accept their imperfections, and foster healthier relationships.





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