ADHD, faith

The Shoulds of Life Can Destroy You

Should is a messy word.

It’s a messy word that messes with my mind.

I should do this.

I should be able to do that.

Should is like an arrow that shoots guilt into the heart of the receiver and drags them down to the bottom of the Pit of Despair.

With one word, I can make someone else feel like a total loser.

With one thought, I can make myself feel like a total loser.

As my children get older, should takes on a new approach: I should have done this or I should not have done that.

Should doesn’t just destroy me: it can destroy my kids.

How many times have I said, “Well, you should be able to do that!”

I have kids with special needs and should isn’t a fair gauge.

I have ADHD and some massive health problems. Should isn’t a fair gauge for me either.

Should doesn’t have realistic goals.

It looks at the ideal.

Should is a perfectionist who doesn’t want to face reality.

It asks “What would happen if no one had any roadblocks?” and measures everything by that ruler.

The problem with this? We don’t live in an ideal world.

We don’t live in a world free of roadblocks.

We live in this world.

Everyone –no matter who they are– has some impediment ….mental illness, chronic health issues, learning disabilities, childhood trauma –just to name a few.

Should criticizes and tears down the confidence we have and ignores the progress we’ve made.

It changes around our thought process from being content with what is working to being dissatisfied with life.

This is what I have learned about should:

  1. It’s a liar. A lot of times, the things I tell myself I should be able to do aren’t true, or at least they aren’t true for me. “I should be able to do calculus.” Really? I have dyscalculia, a math-based learning disability. I need to change the should to something rational. Something like, “I might be able to do calculus if I get a tutor who specializes in learning disabilities.” Here’s another, “I should be able to keep my house clean.” That pang of guilt from the should kills me, but it’s also not based in reality. I have over 20 medical diagnoses. Some days, I can barely walk. Would I expect a friend in that condition to keep her house immaculately clean, the standard I hold myself to? No. A more reasonable thing to say to myself is: “I might be able to keep the house clean if I get help.”
  2. It’s destructive. If I allow the shoulds of life to take over my heart and mind it destroys every bit of joy I have. There’s only so much that I can control. What is in my power, I can reasonably expect myself to do. What’s outside my control –my health, my children’s disorders, my friend’s attitudes– those I should not guilt myself about and should not second-, third-, and fourth-guess myself. One thing that’s in my power: how I use my words and what thoughts I entertain and encourage. Every little bit of joy, happiness, and confidence can be destroyed by that little word should if I let it have control over me.
  3. There are many versions of should. For example: “If you really loved her, you would have put her in Karate so she’d be able to protect herself.” What is that statement really other than a veiled should intended to bring shame and heartache? How many times have I hidden a guilt-inducing should in a sentence that stung someone like a dagger?

Should is just a helping verb.

Am I really going to let a little verb have this much power over my life and my family’s life when I have the power to change the narrative, power to change my own outlook and happiness, not to mention that of those around me?

Words are very powerful.

Although we liked to reject the power of words as kids (Remember “I’m rubber –you’re glue….”?), the truth is that words have the power to build up, to tear down, to sustain us through the hard times, or compel us to give up. Words can even make us believe there is no hope.

Worse yet, if we say something often enough or loud enough, we start to believe it no matter how far from the truth it may be.

So, I’ve started intentionally changing my narrative. I am trying to rethink my shoulds.

For instance, when I’m panged with guilt and say to myself, “You should have had him in piano years ago!” I change it to, “I could have had him in piano years ago, but we didn’t have the money. I had to make the best decision for the whole family.”

This is truth.

Truth sets me free.

And, poof, the guilt is gone.

Should has lost its power.

When I’m frustrated and think “He should be able to write this” about one of my kids, I change the words I’m using to “could.” “He could write this if he didn’t have this learning disability. I’ve worked really really hard to get him to the place where he is. He may not be where other kids are, but he’s actually doing really well.”

I’m truth-checking my own statements so they do the least damage possible to me and to those around me.

I know should is a liar and that his lies are destructive. So, I’m not letting his lies –no matter what form they take — settle in my heart and mind and contaminate my joy and peace.

Check your shoulds at the door.

Don’t let them ruin you –or those you care about.

You have the power over your inner voice and over the words you speak to others.

Speak truth.

Blessings,

Sarah Forbes

If you found this helpful, you might find these posts about seeking peace and about giving yourself and your kids grace helpful, too.

17 Things Your ADHD Child Would Tell You If He Could

What Is My ADHD Child’s Executive Function Tank

How Do I Do It All?

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4 thoughts on “The Shoulds of Life Can Destroy You”

  1. Thank you, from another shouldaholic perfectionist. This is such a timely reminder of how we, at times, are our own worst enemies. I have to take your advice, too.

    1. I’m so glad this helped you! It has been a long journey for me to let go of my shoulds and find joy where I am. ❤

  2. Excellent post! I catch myself with these thoughts as well. Reframing our feelings with a positive rather than negative language turns it from destructive to a constructive. Thank you for the reminder!

  3. Thank you so very much for this article. It was extremely helpful. I have chronic back pain and experience extreme guilt when I don’t attend church but feel that I should. I love your defintion: Should is a perfectionist who doesn’t want to face reality. It describes me to the letter.

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