Many people seek counseling for ways of thinking and behaviors they feel like they should or should not be doing. These exaggerated expectations are commonly referred to as baggage. But there are healthy standards we need to hold ourselves to, so how do we find the line between maintaining healthy beliefs and taking on unhealthy and destructive beliefs?
There is little hope of solving a problem if we cannot first accurately identify what is wrong. So, how does should become a problem? Where do we get derailed? We get derailed in this area of our thinking when we begin to adopt black-and-white, this-or-that thinking. Don’t get me wrong; there certainly are absolutes in life. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about taking specific virtues and exaggerating them to unnecessary shoulds. For example, the virtue of selflessness can easily shift into an unhealthy belief such as, “I should always consider the needs of others and never my own.”
Many counselors combat this type of thinking by working with their clients to remove should from their vocabulary altogether. But this can be dangerous if it removes the only means of self-control available to the client. Many people are unknowingly guided into shameless lives where shoulds simply don’t exist. “Don’t judge me!” is their cry, unaware that their proclamation is in itself a judgment. It is shortsighted to deconstruct a person’s concept of right and wrong without replacing it with a healthier concept of the virtue in question.
Shoulds are not always wrong. The way to untangle the right ones from wrong ones is to ask why. Why is a powerful question because it plunges us into the details of our beliefs. Healthy shoulds can be supported with sound reasoning. For example, “I should be faithful to my spouse,” can be supported by the sadness, anger, and destruction that occurs when a spouse is unfaithful. Every healthy should can be supported with a why.
Imagine a woman named Kate, who attended a church where shoulds were haphazardly preached from the pulpit every week. She left church every Sunday afternoon feeling guilty and anxious, convinced she couldn’t do anything right. She carried many unwarranted shoulds: “I should help with everything I hear about, I should never be angry, I should be able to meet all my kids’ needs.” The list went on and on. In time, Kate learned to ask herself why? “Why should I help with everything I hear about? Why should I never be angry or feel like I need to meet all my kids’ needs?” As she applied her newfound skill to her pastor’s sermons she was able to extract the good without taking on the guilt and anxiety. Eventually, Kate began to accept more realistic beliefs about herself.
Don’t eliminate shoulds from your thinking, instead let shoulds trigger why questions. Whenever we catch ourselves thinking of a should, we can learn to ask why, and this challenges the belief we hold to be true. When we ask why, unhealthy shoulds collapse under the weight of honest examination.
We said goodbye to Jenny Farrow in May. She is beginning an exciting new phase of her career at Epic Counseling Group. We wish her all the best in her new place of employment!
We are welcoming Lindsay Bonebrake who will be taking Jenny’s place. Lindsay specializes in working with children and women and joins our team the first week of June. We are looking forward to benefitting from her knowledge and experience. In the coming months, you will have the opportunity to get to know her better as she contributes to our newsletter articles and appears on our website.
To all of our Peace Partners, we thank you for your generous gifts. Although we cannot mention each individual and family who partners with us, your contributions are what allows us to continue. We would like to notice a couple of new Partners joining our vision, so here are this month’s “Thank You Notes”:
- Thank you, Zhou Nutrition, for your new monthly gift. We admire your active involvement in making a difference in your community.
- Thank you, Archie R-V School District, for partnering with us to provide additional tools for your teachers. We congratulate you on your focus on student and teacher health.
If you are interested in finding out how you can become a Peace Partner and how your gifts can be doubled, please click on the link below or contact our Director of Development, Jeff Cox, at firstname.lastname@example.org.