Most of us operate from a value system that dictates how we should behave. But inevitably, we’re unable to live up to all of our “shoulds.” When that happens, do you view yourself as bad or weak, or do you torture yourself with guilt and self-blame?
Below you’ll find a list of “shoulds” taken from the “The Self Esteem Companion” by McKay, Fanning, Honeychurch and Sutker (MJF Books). Consider each one carefully and put a check by the “shoulds” that apply to you:
___ I should be generous and unselfish.
___ I should be the perfect lover/partner/spouse.
___ I should be the perfect worker.
___ I should be the perfect friend.
___ I should be the perfect parent.
___ I should be the perfect family member.
___ I should be able to endure hardships with composure and a sense of balance.
___ I should be able to find a quick solution to my problems.
___ I should never feel hurt.
___ I should feel happy and serene.
___ I should be completely competent.
___ I should know, foresee and understand things.
___ I should never feel certain emotions, such as anger or jealousy.
___ I should love my children equally.
___ I should never make mistakes.
___ My emotions should remain constant and reliable. Therefore, once I feel love, I should always feel love.
___ I should be totally self-reliant.
___ I should not be tired or sick.
___ I should never be afraid or anxious.
___ I should have achievements that bring me status, wealth or power.
___ I should always be busy; relaxing wastes my time and my life.
___ I should put others first; it is better to feel pain than to cause others pain.
___ I should be unfailingly kind.
___ I should never be sexually attracted to other men or women.
___ I should care for everyone who cares for me.
___ I should make more money.
___ I should be able to protect my children from pain.
___ I should not take time just for my own pleasure.
Sometimes you may find yourself acting on shoulds that no longer fit the value system you now believe in. When that happens, your shoulds can undermine your self-esteem and sense of worth.
The good news is that you can re-evaluate your shoulds and change them if they no longer fit—or are no longer appropriate for you. Healthy shoulds are flexible, meaning they allow for exceptions, while unhealthy shoulds are more unbending and universal. Flexible shoulds include a built-in awareness that a certain percentage of the time you will fail to live up to your ideal standard, say McKay, Fanning, Honeychurch and Sutker.
Healthy shoulds are those that you have actually examined and questioned, and you find that you still believe in them, and feel they’re wise for you. Healthy shoulds are positive and life enhancing. They will encourage you to do things that will result in your long-term happiness by assisting you in examining what is nurturing, supportive and life affirming, and they’ll take into account your basic needs as a human bein