Be A “Should Buster!”

Are you ‘shoulding’ others and yourself? Do you realize how inappropriate and hurtful that usually is? That is because the word ‘should’ implies that if you do, or do not act, think, feel, or say something, you are not okay. That message hurts everyone’s self-esteem. It also hooks the rebellious part of us, and we are likely to react in a passive or active aggressive way.

For example, Stan and Beverly were having relationship problems. They knew that they were unhappy and frustrated, but did not understand why. As I listened to them speak to each other, I noticed how much they used the word ‘should’. I asked them to close their eyes and pay attention to their bodies as I said, “You should always be in time”. Stan and Beverly both realized that their bodies became tense because they felt criticized. Then I said, “I would appreciate it if you could be on time.” They were amazed how much better and more relaxed they felt.

To further help them to change their negative communication patterns I suggested that they take turns telling each other, “You should listen to me.” Then I encouraged them to respond with the first thing that came to them. Stan and Beverly were aware that they felt a demand and their rebellious inner child wanted to say, “No, I won’t.” However, when they verbalized, “I would like you to listen to me”, they felt open to the idea and said, “Okay”.

The couple also realized that they often heard the ‘should’ word from their parents when they were growing-up, and it did not feel good. However, they were unconsciously programmed, and expressing to others what they did not like being said to them.

I told Stan and Beverly that they were unique but their problem was not. I had to focus on changing my patterns too. When I learned about the ‘should’ word, I said to my young daughters, “I don’t want to say that word anymore. I will give you a quarter every time you hear me say ‘should’. It worked!

In another example, Sheila found out, in her counseling sessions, that by avoiding the ‘should’ word, her teen-ager was more likely to listen to her suggestions. This problem is so common that I wanted to help more people by writing this article.

Our communications are usually patterned after our parents, or whoever else parented us. Of course, they learned how to express themselves from their families and so on down through the generations. It is important to be conscious of what you are saying to others and yourself, so that you send a positive instead of a negative message. The latter hurts our self-esteem. The problem is often not what you are saying, but how you express yourself.

Of course, the tone of voice has to be congruent with the words. People would rather hear in a kind voice, “I would appreciate it if you would wash the dishes now.” They would probably not want to fulfill your desire if you said, “You should wash the dishes now.”

Notice that I am starting with the magical word, “I.” For example, instead of saying, “You should read this article,” say, “I think you may benefit from this article.”

I suggest that you help others and yourself by being a “should buster.” Ask the people around you to remind you when you are using that word. Develop the habit of making “I” statements and you are likely to be pleased with the results. You may want to also share what you have learned with others, so that they can also speak in a more loving, constructive way.