by Kevie Simon on Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
When I began meeting with my counselor years ago, I was plagued by feelings of anxiety, fear, and shame that took over my entire being. Messages would constantly run through my mind such as, “I should not feel angry about this” or “I should have known what to do in that meeting.” With my counselor, we began to label these messages the “shoulds” that I embrace as truths. I learned that these were shame messages running through my brain bringing turmoil into my internal self. Over time I realized these should messages were influencing me in ways I neither appreciated nor wanted.
In an American dictionary, “should” is defined as “a way to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.” How does this concept translate into your internal messages? There are times in your life when you need to do something that you don’t necessarily want to do – I do not want to negate this fact. On the other hand, should messages are evidence of distorted beliefs we hold inside of ourselves that have been influenced by others. A should message begins with a statement made by someone in your life that is internalized into a core truth about yourself. At the basic essence, a should message is the belief that you are not worthy.
Should messages in your mind convey that you are damaged at your core, evidence by the way that you feel, act, or understand. Sometimes you think that you should feel a certain way, but you don’t. Or you think you should have said something in a particular situation, but you didn’t. Should messages continue to bring guilt and shame even after the moment has passed.
For example, today I feel completely overwhelmed with the amount of projects on my plate. They are all good, exciting, worthy projects. My should message is telling me that I should not feel overwhelmed, but excited. But the truth is that I am not excited; I am overwhelmed. This should message creates a feeling that there is something wrong within me since I am not feeling excited. As I try to work on my projects, I continue to feel overwhelmed even more, resulting in more guilt. Can you see the downward spiral this can create?
As you read this blog, certain ideas and situations in your own life may come to you mind. What are the “shoulds” in your life that need addressing? If you don’t know what these messages are, take time this week to notice the thoughts running through your head when you are feeling overwhelmed or discouraged. When you notice these thoughts, keep a mental note or perhaps begin writing a list of the messages. This simple activity will help you develop awareness of the “shoulds” in your life. In the end, you may find some truths held within yourself that really are not true at all.