“Should-ing” Ourselves

When we “should” ourselves, we are basically telling ourselves that who we are in this moment is not ok. This is a type of self-abandonment.

“I shouldn’t be angry,” is a statement that both makes my anger wrong and, more fundamentally, makes me wrong for having my anger. I am communicating to myself that how and who I currently am is unacceptable.

Similarly, “I should be happier,” is a statement that both invalidates my present-moment experience (whatever it may be) and invalidates myself (for having that experience).

Statements such as these are a type of self-abandonment because they involve saying “no” to who we are in the moment. They turn us away from ourselves and our experiencing with an attitude of frustration, exasperation, lack of kindness and impatience.

We leave the truth of our experiencing (i.e. we don’t participate in what is currently happening) and we make the truth wrong. But how could the truth be wrong? The truth is what’s true. A refusal to acknowledge and participate in what’s true is an example of avoidance behavior. And avoidance behavior comes with a price tag, sooner or later.

Our refusal to participate in the truth of our experience is equivalent to the claim that the truth is somehow unbearable. Too much. That it would destroy us to feel. That it is problematic. But how can we be certain that this claim is accurate and legitimate if we don’t actually give it a shot? If we don’t participate in it? If we just run away from it?

The antidote is to participate fully with what is most true right now. To experience the sensation of anger in a raw, embodied way. To experience the sadness or anxiety or lethargy that is there, even though we wish it weren’t.

What experience am I currently having that I am claiming to be unworkable/problematic and that I need to escape from?

The line of inquiry brings me in touch with myself. A sense of empowerment, workability and confidence arises from the commitment to remain in relationship with myself, regardless of my current experience.

Putting “shoulds” on myself undermines that confidence and reinforces the conviction that it is not ok for me to be who I am.

But, a word to the wise, we don’t want to be too critical of our “shoulds”. They are an out-of-date strategy for taking the best care of ourselves possible. As such, they are worth being kind to. Their childhood origin sounds something like this, “Apparently, I am not going to be loved and accepted for simply being who I am, so the best way to get the acceptance and love I desperately need is to figure out who I should be and to mold myself accordingly and continually.”

So, we notice the “should”, offer an attitude of kindness towards the “should”, and then investigate whether the “should” is still accurate. For example, is it killing me/ruining my life/rendering me forever unworthy of love if I am unhappy in this moment? If I am angry in this moment?

Hopefully, the answer to these questions is “no”. Assuming it is, we can then take on the risk of participating in the truth of our experiencing. The set of behaviors and actions that arise from this – as opposed to those that arise from an attitude of avoidance – are likely to be much more skillful and effective. We are engaging with life based on current reality, as opposed to out-dated beliefs.

If anything, when we say “yes” to ourselves instead of abandoning ourselves, the resulting sense of empowerment and confidence is a powerful form of healing in and of itself.

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