Have you ever given thought to how particular words can trigger a mood or a reaction. The word ‘should’ is one of these words and usually triggers feelings of anger, guilt and resentment.
Watch out for the word ‘should’!
When I am counselling couples with marital problems, I watch out for how often the word ‘should’ comes up in the conversation. In a relationship full of anger, it comes up frequently! When the effects of the ‘should’ word are understood and banned from the conversation there is often a turnabout in the relationship. Worth looking into!!
- He should know what I want by now! After all we’ve been married for over 10 years.
- You should have just told the boss you weren’t happy about what happened.
The problem with the should word is the implication that a different reality would have been better. But actually that reality doesn’t exist. Yes, it might be better to have done a particular thing differently, but you only know this with hindsight. We know that hindsight is best sight. Surely we all do thing the way we think is best at the time?
‘Should’ is the problem word of the perfectionist, unable to accept an imperfect situation, wanting a different reality. Actually wanting one that doesn’t exist.
‘Should’ is the problem word of the person who wants to be in control. I’m sure you know the feeling when you share a problem with a friend and are told what you should have done. How does this make you feel? The common feeling is one of anger and resentment because the implication is that they know better how to live your life. Live your life according to their instructions and all will be well. Grrh!! And all you really wanted was a listening ear!
Telling people what they ‘should’ do can also make them dig in their heels. They’re really reacting to your insinuation that they don’t know how to lead their lives.
Telling yourself what you ‘should’ have done often leads to a feeling of guilt. Guilt for not having done things perfectly, criticizing yourself from the advantage of hindsight.
My ‘Should’ Student
A few years back I was lecturing and a student came to me very upset. Her gran had died and she wasn’t with her at the time. The student felt guilty. Whenever I hear anger, guilt or resentment, I look out for the word ‘should’ because it’s usually lurking there somewhere. I was right!
- “I should have been with my gran when she died,” said Patricia. – The truth is that Patricia wasn’t there because how could she foresee that gran was going to die that night. It would be better and less emotionally charged to accept the facts. “I wish I had been with my gran when she died” is far more accepting of reality.
- “My friends shouldn’t have invited me to the movies. If they hadn’t I would have been with my gran”, was her next comment. That thought led to anger towards her friends. Think of a less emotive statement for this one, rather than a blaming one.
Should directed to others results in resentment and anger.
Should directed to yourself leads to guilt. Constantly telling yourself what you should do is a bit like whipping yourself to get yourself moving.
Replace the word ‘should’, with the phrase ‘it would have been nice if … ‘ The word ‘nice’ might sound corny but it really works. Using my example above saying ‘it would have nice if I had been with my gran when she died’ is certainly far less guilt provoking than ‘I should have…. ‘
For myself, as soon as I feel a sense of anger rising up in me, I look out for that ‘should’ word. If someone is telling me what I ‘should’ be doing and I start feeling angry, I immediately reword what they have said in my mind. I treat it as a suggestion rather than an instruction. I am then able to thank them for the ‘suggestion’ and tell them that I’ll give it some thought. I am then in control of deciding what I want to do rather than feeling controlled by the other person.
Watch out for the ‘should’ word, let it go and accept yourself and others for exactly who you are. See what a difference it makes.