How to Grapple with the “Shoulds” and Win

In order to understand how to initiate the emancipation process in your life, you must first identify the rules that were set in place for you while you were growing up. Then you have to decide which rules are good for you and which aren’t. If you don’t carefully examine them, the rules that don’t work for you from your childhood are much more likely to continue to have negative affects on your life. Especially if you struggle with domestic abuse/violence.

Sometimes, these rules are characterized as the “shoulds.” They are made up of the rules that are laid down as imperatives to live by and are seldom questioned. For example, “You should clean your plate because there are starving children in Africa.” The problem with this rule is that it has nothing to do with your hunger and it may be partially responsible for keeping you uncomforable in your body. This particular rule, like so many of the other rules that come from the “shoulds,” causes tension at that very moment when you have the opportunity to makoice that is good for you versus following what you are expected to do based on a decision about what is right or wrong which had nothing to do with you.

In my example about cleaning your plate, your attempt to be conscientious about stepping away from the table when you are full comes into direct conflict with the guilt associated with wasting food. In this example and every other time that a “should” is activated for you, you find yourself in a double-bind that as a child you resolved by complying with the edict demanded by the “should.” However, by simply taking time to evaluate your experience at the very moment in time when you feel the inner tension caused by conflicting demands, you can find telltale signs that the “shoulds” are at work. By paying close attention to your feelings you will usually find yourself feeling that you will be “in trouble” if you break the rule. At any moment in time when you feel the tension between what you want to do and what you feel compelled to do, if you ask yourself: “How old am I right now?” there may be two different answers.

Chronologically, you may be forty years old, but inside you probably feel much younger. It is not unusual to feel like you are six or seven or even younger when you examine your feelings at the moment the “shoulds” pop up and start causing conflict between things you were taught during childhood and what actually works for you in the present time. By paying close attention to your “inner voice,” you can differentiate between worn out “shoulds” and make decisions about how to move forward based on your values and current needs.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

In cooperation with 2bsisters, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors.

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