• Sarah Lyall-Neal PsyD

Stop Saying the "S" Word: How the word SHOULD can be harmful to your mental health

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Should is just a small word, most people see it as being insignificant. It's not a bad word after all, or is it? Well, yes, I'm sad to say it is (trust me).

I'm guessing you are wondering why you were just subjected to a picture of a Pee Wee Herman doll, there's a reason, I promise!

During the very first counseling class in my master's program, my professor brought to the attention of the class the judgmental nature of the word should. In fact, she referred to anyone who used the word should as "shoulding on themselves" and further produced a Pee Wee Herman doll, much like the one above, for them to hold till the next sap messed up and said it. I don't know about you, but I found Pee Wee a touch creepy so I tried to wipe the word out of my vocabulary.

Why would a counseling professor take offense to the word SHOULD?

Think about it, can you think of a time when you have used should in a positive context?

Let's try:

I should lose weight (nope)

I should do more chores each night (nope)

I should have taken out the trash last night (nope)

I should be doing more with my life (sounds right, but nope)

Let's break it down

What kind of feelings do the words "I should lose weight" evoke? For me, if I'm having that thought, it's probably because I'm feeling a little chubbier than usual that day. Further, when I think about losing weight, I automatically feel a sense of deprivation. I should lose weight, so I better not eat any cake tonight. Stay with me...later in the evening, when I do inevitably eat the cake (let's be real here), I'm going to feel bad because I shouldn't have done that.

Let's pull out the two should statements from above: I should lose weight; I shouldn't have eaten the cake. Sounds judgy and self-defeating right?

Let's replace the pesky SHOULD

I would like to lose weight; therefore, I will eat a smaller portion of cake tonight.

I would like to feel healthier, therefore, I will pass on dessert a couple nights a week and savor it on days I do have it.

Don't these phrases sound so much better than the should statements? These statements are open minded, non-judgmental, and ultimately are much more actionable. The word should has a way of slowing us down (it's a heavy word).

Shoulding on others isn't nice either

Now that you are examining the use of the word should in your own life, it's time to start replacing it when addressing others.

To give an example from my own home:

I have been guilty of telling my husband he should take the trash out before it gets

dark. I do this because I don't want him out roaming around after dark (we live in a nice neighborhood, but still...)

I need to say what I am really thinking, "I get nervous when you take the trash out after dark, could you take it out earlier in the evening?"

In the second scenario, I'm not blindly giving him a chore. I am asking him to do something and explaining my reasoning.

Which do you think my husband responds best to?

Your Spiritual Life

The Shoulds come out to play here a lot (believe me). Have you ever had the following thoughts?

I should go to church more.

I should read my bible more.

I should spend more time in prayer.

Sure, you have, we all have. Do these thoughts make you want to jump into action or take a nap? Probably the latter. The reason for this is that should is a self-defeating word. It makes us believe that if we were a better, more pious, person we would be doing these things, but alas we aren't, so oh well.

Removing the Pesky Shoulds from our spiritual lives

I should go to church more.

When I go to church, I get to see my church family and be in fellowship with people who believe like me.

I should read my bible more.

When I read my bible, I get to truly experience the living word of God (and that's pretty amazing).

I should spend more time in prayer.

When I spend time in prayer, I get to talk to God who created me and cares about me more than anything in this world.

Today, lets rid our lives of shoulds and replace them with I cans, I wills, and I get tos.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. -psalm 9:1

30 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All