I was sitting in a coffee shop mulling over a recent separation feeling low and going through the autopsy of what went wrong and what could I learn and basically if I’m honest just feeling sorry for myself and I kept forming certain sentences in my head, “I should ….” “I ought to …….”
“I should have been more caring”
“I ought to think more positively”
“I should have been a better girlfriend.”
“I should be a better mother.”
So much pressure! So much judgement, and that is exactly what they are. The words should and ought are the pressure words we use to beat ourselves up with. I am judging myself a lot of the time when I start to allow the ‘should’s’ and ‘ought’s’ to dominate my thoughts. When I do this I tend to get stuck in a cycle of recrimination.
The ‘I should’ drives me to I either take on so many tasks, or add so many activities to my time with my daughter, You see “I should” because she’ll get bored or not be stimulated enough just sitting at home, and if I don’t then it means I’m not a good mum. So we have to meet friends at the park, go to the play centre, fit 3 parties into one day because I shouldn’t say ‘No’ to them. If I say no, then we may not get invited again, yikes and there it is again the insecure little voice that told me a minute ago I wasn’t a good mum and now reminds me of childhood fear of not fitting in. It definitely leaves me exhausted and if I’m honest the evidence suggests that my daughter is quite happy spending time at home playing with her toys or reading books and hanging out with her mum.
Where do these pressures come from? The messages we grew up with from our parents, our friends, school, society. There are certain rules that we learn, certain expectations we grow up with and sometimes we internalise them whether they be purposeful or not so good for us. We often find it difficult to be assertive, to acknowledge what the other person is asking of us but also acknowledging what we need too. As in my fear of not fitting in example above it comes from experiences that may still affect us today that we might not be aware of.
How do we know when the word should and ought are words of pressure?
When we lack motivation to go through with what we have told ourselves must to do. It is the deep sigh, or the thought “I don’t feel like it ,” or the excuses we come up with to talk ourselves out of something or procrastination. Or as in the list at the beginning the negative voices the gremlins that get me at the times of tiredness or when I feel a bit low.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certain things we have to do whether we want to or not we have to interact with people, we have our families to look after, our friendships and relationships to nurture and develop and often this will need compromise. Even so I hear the phrase of” I wanted to say no but I thought I should do it,” so many times. “I just couldn’t say no, I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.” Or “I should do it really for an easy life.”
It took me a while to understand what the ‘should’s’ and ‘oughts’ meant about how I was stopping myself fully engaging with how I wanted to be in my own life. Once I learnt it was about setting boundaries with myself and with others I could choose to let go of some of the ‘I should’s’. So the first time I said no to an invitation, I felt anxious but I soon realised that actually I was still being invited to things so it was okay to continue to trust my instincts. It is an on going lesson some days easier than others after all life isn’t perfect and neither am I.
So when I catch myself thinking “I should” or “I ought” in a beating myself up sort of way, I find I am extra easy with myself and reach out to friends. If I’m faced with a practical situation, I stop and think about if I want to do it can I re-schedule it and this often is about the shopping or if I am invited to an event, do I want to go or do I feel obliged to go? Often I just have to get on with it because like I said earlier I live in a world of family, friends, work and having to feed the kids.
Even so I find it’s important that I don’t over reach my capacity by using up my own time to do something when I could schedule it another time or say just say no.
So when the ‘I should’ or the ‘I ought’ hits I practice turning the sentence around and here is a different list:
“I am a caring person.”
“I can be positive person who has low days.”
“I made mistakes as a girlfriend, I am learning.”
“I am a good mum, I do my best and I will continue to do my best”
There that feels much better.