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Part I:  Description

What are "Shoulds"?

  • Definition: "Shoulds" are rigid, often unrealistic, expectations we place on ourselves or others. They frequently begin with the phrase "I should..." or "They should..."

  • Origins: "Shoulds" can arise from:

    • Internalized societal pressures

    • Perfectionism

    • Fear of failure or disapproval

    • Past experiences or critical voices

How "Shoulds" can be Harmful

  • Unrealistic standards: "Shoulds" often set the bar too high, leading to constant feelings of inadequacy.

  • Self-Criticism: Fuel negative self-talk and undermine self-esteem.

  • Resentment: Can create bitterness towards others who don't meet our "shoulds."

  • Missed Opportunities: Preoccupation with "how things should be" can prevent us from experiencing joy and growth in the present.

Transforming "Shoulds"

Recognizing and challenging "should" statements is key for:

  • Self-acceptance: Adopting more flexible expectations for ourselves.

  • Reduced stress: Letting go of the need to control everything.

  • Greater Authenticity: Living according to our own values, not external pressures.

Part II:  Common Questions

1. How can I recognize "should" statements?

Answer: Watch out for:

  • Rigid language: Words like "should," "must," "ought to," "always," or "never."

  • Feelings of pressure: Tightness in your body, guilt, or a sense of dread.

  • Perfectionistic thinking: Believing there's only one right way to do things.

2. Where do my "shoulds" come from?

Answer:  Reflect on potential sources:

  • Family dynamics: Did you receive criticism growing up, or were expectations impossibly high?

  • Social pressures: Do you feel the need to conform to unrealistic beauty, career, or lifestyle standards?

  • Fear of judgment: Are you driven by a worry of what others will think?

3. Why are "shoulds" so harmful?

Answer: "Shoulds" can be destructive because they:

  • Undermine self-worth: They focus on what you "lack" rather than appreciating who you are.

  • Increase anxiety: Trying to meet every "should" creates significant stress.

  • Hinder relationships: Projecting "shoulds" onto others often leads to resentment and conflict.

4. How do I challenge my "shoulds"?

Answer: Try these strategies:

  • Reframe: Replace "I should..." with "I could..." or "I choose to..."

  • Explore the origin: Where does this "should" come from? Is it truly your value?

  • Be realistic: Are your expectations achievable? Can you allow for some flexibility?

5. What could replace my "shoulds"?

Answer: Focus on:

  • Self-Compassion: Treat yourself with the kindness you'd extend to a friend.

  • Values: What truly matters to you? Align your actions with those values.

  • Flexibility: Embrace that life is unpredictable and messy at times.

Part III:  Additional Resources

Books about "Shoulds"

"F the Shoulds. Do the Wants" by Tricia Huffman: 

  • A direct approach to ditching "shoulds" with practical guidance on connecting with your authentic desires.

"The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brené Brown: 

  • Helps dismantle perfectionism and the "shoulds" that accompany it, promoting self-acceptance and authenticity.

"Self-Compassion" by Dr. Kristin Neff: 

  • Develops the skill of self-compassion, a powerful antidote to the harsh inner critic that drives "shoulds."

Online Articles & Websites about "Shoulds"

  • Psychology Today: Search for "Should Statements" ( Offers articles by therapists exploring the psychology of "shoulds" and their impact.

  • PsychCentral: Search for "Shoulding on Yourself" ( Provides articles and insights on recognizing and overcoming harmful "should" thinking.

Other Resources about "Shoulds"

  • "The Work" by Byron Katie: A simple but profound method of inquiry for questioning your "shoulds" and any stressful thoughts. (

  • Mindfulness Practices: Cultivating awareness of your thoughts and feelings can help you identify "shoulds" as they arise.

  • Therapy: Particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), can help address "should" patterns.

  • Support Communities: Online or in-person groups where people discuss overcoming perfectionism, which often involves challenging "shoulds."

Part IV:  Disclaimer

These results were highly selected, curated, and edited by The Nexus Inititiative. To make this amount of complimentary content available at a cost-effective level for our site visitors and clients, we have to rely on, and use, resources like Google Gemini and other similar services.

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