Last week, we discussed using a compassion practice to be kind to ourselves in moments of struggle. This may be a lot harder than it sounds for many of us. One of the blocks, many of us have to being kind to ourselves in moments of struggle, are should thoughts. Should thoughts, are pervasive thoughts that can pop up in almost any situation. “I should be doing more with my child who is struggling in school.” “I should be exercising more.” “I should be kinder to my spouse.” “I should be doing better at work.” The list goes on and on. We are somehow always at a deficit, never feeling like we are whole and perfect just as we are today.
Stepping OFF the Treadmill
When we feel like we should be trying harder and doing better it is very difficult to have compassion for ourselves. Stuck in these thoughts, it can almost feel like we do not deserve compassion. It is a circle of thinking that can easily trap us causing us to feel worse and worse about ourselves. We react by trying harder and harder. It’s like being stuck on a treadmill thinking, if I just run faster I will finally get to rest but in reality, rest will only come if we step OFF the treadmill.
The very worst part about this treadmill, aside from being exhausting, is how we feel about ourselves. We blame ourselves for not feeling more at ease in life, more centered, and calmer. Instead of being able to step back and say, “Wow! This is exhausting. Look how hard I am working. Look how much I am doing.” Instead, we say to ourselves, “Try harder. Do more. Then and only then, you can rest because you will have earned it.”
Life without the “shoulds”
The should thoughts can become so heavy they feel like shackles weighing us down. What would it look and feel like to live life without shoulds? What would it feel like to wake up tomorrow and by some force of magic no longer feel the guilt, fear, and not enough feelings that accompany the should thoughts? Imagine you wake up tomorrow and everything is just as it should be. You are just right the way you are. You do not need to make any changes to be a different or better person. You are loved and accepted just as you are. Can you imagine? Does the idea of imagining this alternative universe make you laugh, cry, or get angry? Of course, there is not magical force or alternative universe that would remove all of our feelings of being at a deficit but we could start to notice these beliefs and begin to call them into question.
Begin by making a list of all your shoulds in each area of your life.
In parenting I feel like I should…
In my marriage/relationship I feel like I should …
At work I feel like I should…
With my body I feel like I should …
Choose one or two shoulds, that weigh on you the heaviest, and consider how you feel about yourself when these come up. What does this should say about you? For example, I am not measuring up. I am failing. I will not be good enough until …
What are the accompanying feelings that go along with these thoughts?
Possibly: guilt, sadness, not enough, deficient
Often, when we are in a good place, things are going well, and there is low stress in our lives, we feel a lot better about ourselves. If a should thought comes up we can easily let it go and get on with our day. When we lose our sense of well-being, stress is high, and our mood drops we can begin to think the should thoughts and what they say about us are true.
Stepping out of the shoulds
Imagine for a moment a close friend or your wisest, kindest self, overheard your negative inner dialogue about you as a parent, partner, employee, etc. Would they be shocked or sad to hear you had such harsh thoughts about yourself? How would they describe you as a parent, partner, or person? What would they have to say about your beautiful qualities as parent, partner, or person? What amazing and beautiful things would they reflect they see you do for the people you love in your life?
Next time you catch yourself thinking I should …. Pause. Say to yourself, “I am getting caught in the should thoughts.” Ask yourself, are these thoughts louder and more difficult to ignore today because I am over stressed, overwhelmed, tired, etc. Is there anything I need in this moment for support with my stress, overwhelm, exhaustion? What kind words would a friend tell me in this moment? What would you say to a close friend who was feeling this way? Take a moment to imagine them saying these kind words to you. Can you take it in? How does it feel to hear these kind words?
We all get caught in negative thoughts. It is possible to begin to notice them and pause, giving them less power and impact. Maybe we can even begin to change the messages all together.
I hope you found this helpful. I am looking forward to connecting with you next week.
Michelle Puster M.Ed., LPC
Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist
Certified Clinical Trauma Professional
Katy Couples & Wellness Counseling
Finding Me Again
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