I almost titles this “WE SHOULD STOP SHOULDING OURSELVES,” but irony aside, it seems to be something we all do.  I should do this; I should do that.  I should be thinner or prettier or richer.  I should be further along in my career; I should workout more or meditate or journal.  I should go to college or I should drop out.  I should work fewer hours or I should work more.  I should change jobs or I should just plain quit my job and become a lady/gentleman of leisure.  Should, should, should!  With all this shoulding going on, it’s no wonder we feel such discontent, like we aren’t living up to our potential.

The dictionary on my iMac defines SHOULD as:

1 used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions: he should have been careful | I think we should trust our people more | you shouldn’t have gone.   2 used to indicate what is probable:  $348 million should be enough to buy him out | the bus should arrive in a few minutes.  3 formal expressing the conditional mood.  –(in the first person) indicating the consequence of an imagined event:  if I were to obey my first impulse, I should spend my days writing letters.  –referring to a possible event or situation: if you should change your mind, I’ll be at the hotel | should anyone arrive late, admission is likely to be refused.  4 used in a clause with “that” after a main clause describing feelings: it is astonishing that we should find violence here.  5 used in a clause with “that” expressing purpose: in order that training should be effective it must be planned systematically.  6 (in the first person) expressing a polite request or acceptance: we should be grateful for your advice.  7 (in the first person) expressing a conjecture of hope: he’ll have a sore head, I should imagine | “It won’t happen again.” “I should hope not.”  8 used to emphasize to a listener how striking an event is or was: you should have seen Marge’s face.  

According to Dictionary.com: should is the simple past tense of SHALL.  And SHALL is defined as 1 plan to, intend to, or expect to: I shall go later.  2 will have to, is determined  to, or definitely will: You shall do it.  He shall do it.  3 (in laws, directives, etc.) must; is or are obliged to: The meeting of the council shall be public.  4 (used interrogatively in questions, often in invitations): Shall we go?

In the end, though, what it comes down to is how we talk to ourselves.  Reading through the definitions, it seems clear to me that SHALL is a much kinder, gentler way of expressing a desire or wish, especially if it is to ourselves.   No one likes to be told what to do, so why do we think it’s okay to should ourselves?  If someone is telling you that you should do this or that or you should go here or there, are you more likely to disregard, ignore or reject what they are saying because of how they are saying it?  My guess is a big fat YES.  It’s the same when we talk to ourselves, even if we aren’t aware of it.  What we say and how we say it to ourselves is just as important, if not even more so, than how we speak to others.  And while it is always a good idea to be kind to everyone, being kind to ourselves is crucial.

I think that for a long time self-love or self-care was seen as selfish.  This is the exact opposite of what is actually true.  If we don’t love, take care of and approve wholeheartedly of ourselves, we cannot do it for others, not really.  I am the most important person in my life, just as you are the most important person in your life.  It cannot be any other way.  This is true whether you are single or married, have children or not.  If you are not happy in and with yourself, you will have nothing to give another.  This is not selfish.  I’m sure you’ve heard the expression about not being able to give what you don’t have.  This is the same idea.  It is all well and good to want to accomplish your intentions, dreams and goals, so why not do it in a kinder way?  Kinder to yourself.  Speak to yourself the way you would to a child.  You (hopefully) would never yell at or berate a baby because of what he or she was unable to do, so why would you treat yourself any differently?

To me, shoulding ourselves is a good place to start, and by that I mean,  STOP SHOULDING YOURSELF!  You are where you are because of the choices and decisions you made yesterday.  If you don’t like where you are, make different choices.  It’s all up to you.  When you use the word should, as the definition says, it typically is a criticism of what you did or didn’t do.  Who likes to be criticized?  As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.”  We now know better.  We know how powerful words are and the way in which they are said can either help or hurt.  Make sure the words you say, especially to yourself, are loving and kind.


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