Shoulds and Musts – Part II

Note: Resent as the post contained some really large icons last time. :(

Well? How did you do last week? I know, I know … it takes time. But at least now, maybe, we are more aware of the things that we say yes to and all those Shoulds. And hopefully, you had time for some musts. My week was busy and because of deadlines looming, I had a lot of Shoulds. Luckily, quite a few of those Shoulds merged with Musts to create enjoyable moments. So yes, in my view, it is possible to have Shoulds that feel like Musts.

Continuing where we left off last week, we explore the origins of Shoulds, which are put on us from the moment we are born, as we have to grow up under some else’s wing. A normal and healthy process – get Shoulds from parents for children to respond to. Eventually, as we grow up, we get to decide how we feel about them – the Shoulds from parents and an inherited worldview from the community, culture and the specific time in which we were born. We become our own person, find our voice, convictions and challenge and shed the Shoulds that no longer serve our evolving beliefs.

Elle Luna talks about “prison – about it not having to be a physical place – it can be anything your mind creates. If you want to live the fullness of your life and be free, first you must understand what keeps you from being free. Socialization requires that we be influenced by Shoulds in order to function as part of society. However, as we grow up, it is healthy to be self-aware of the shoulds we inherited – value and keep some Shoulds, but discard others that do not serve your purpose anymore”.

If you want to know Must, get to know Should. It is really really hard work. We choose Should because choosing Must is terrifying. “Our prison is constructed from a lifetime of Shoulds, the world of choices we’ve unwittingly agreed to, the walls that alienate us from our truest, most authentic selves. Should is the doorkeeper to Must. And just as you create your prison, you can set yourself free”.

You should never ____________________
You should always ___________________
You should know better than _____________
You should not _______________ ______

Elle tells us to remove Shoulds from our lives by getting to know them. A time-consuming exercise, because we need to understand and know each Should’s origins. How often do we place blame on a person, when the pain is within us? If we leave Should unexamined, the pattern repeats.

One way to get to know your Shoulds: Grab a piece of paper and make a list of the Shoulds you hold on to by completing the sentences above. You can add more and repeat them. Listen to what comes up first and write it down without thinking too much. It may not make sense right now, but it contains a grain of truth worth capturing.

Look at your list and ask the following:

  • Where did you come from?
  • Are you true for me?
  • Do I want to keep holding on to you?
pencil and notebook

When we examine the Shoulds of our life, we are consciously choosing to get to know our prison, the expectations from other people’s agendas, belief systems we inhabit but don’t truly embrace and all the things we agreed to without realizing it. Shining a light on our Shoulds may involve facing fears and finding support is wise.

I had help examining my Shoulds. Going to therapy was a no-no – it implied that there was something wrong. Our cultural lack of encouragement for psychological health is one of the primary sources of our own unhappiness, and inner suffering. I had help examining my Shoulds. For a long time I went to see a psychologist, sometimes 2 or 3 times a week. I would sit and talk about my inner struggles: the Shoulds when raising children and keeping a family together. The Shoulds that society demands. The Shoulds that nobody talks about because we all pretend we live perfect lives. It took me years, and a lot of tears, to understand that those Shoulds were not mine – I’d inherited them and needed permission to get rid of them and let them go, together with some that I had constructed.

Two years ago, I found myself in need of help once again. At a difficult time, I found a wonderful person who helped me navigate through what was going on in my life. If there’s one thing I knew is that I couldn’t do it alone. I was too close to it – all those “I should haves” hitting me from every direction – weighing me down. We see things from our own perspective so it is healthy to ask for help and listen to someone else’s viewpoint and find a balance. We learn to “see” in a different manner. By better understanding ourselves, we awaken to the patterns that we unconsciously repeat in life. It is not easy exploring our Shoulds. It’s scary and we are vulnerable. But in the end, it pays off and we are transformed.

Eleanor Roosevelt said: “It’s your life, but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, false, what is important and what is trivial”.

Come back next week as we change direction and talk about our Musts. Now, I must go and do some enjoyable work to keep my Shoulds covered. Thanks for reading. Until I write again …


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  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your writings. This one in particular really hit home for me and I’m going to print it out and work on myself.

    1. I’m sorry I missed your comment until today :( I am so glad you enjoy the posts. these are close to my heart too so I really appreciate you writing to say that it touched you too. Keep reading!

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