by Linda-Ann Stewart
One of my early spiritual teachers told me not to “should” on myself so much. If I wasn’t as polite to someone who was rude to me like I “should” be, I felt guilty. Or when I loaned out my comic books like I “should” and they returned to me in tatters, I felt resentful. I’d heard so much about what I should and shouldn’t do, from family, society, friends, and teachers. Their priorities became my priorities, even though we were completely different and had different lifestyles.
Trying to live up to all the “should’s” and “ought to’s” was impossible, especially since many times the advice was contradictory. When I was focusing on the “should’s,” it meant that my subconscious was attracting more “should’s,” which created more anxiety, guilt and resentment. It became a vicious cycle.
When we “should” on ourselves, we’re imposing someone else’s values on our own. We think that if we tell ourselves what we should do, this will whip us into shape and we’ll act right. But it doesn’t work. The internal pressure generally causes us to continue the undesired behavior. Like when we’re on a diet, eat a cookie, feel guilty, and decide since we’ve already fallen off the diet, we’ll just eat the whole package. When other people force too many “should’s” on us, rebellion usually develops. We may feel in control when we act counter to what someone tells us, but many times we actually sabotage ourselves.
How can you tell if you’re operating on outdated values or standards that don’t fit you? First, identify when you feel guilty or resentful, and what’s causing the feeling. Are you following a rule that you accepted long ago and have continued to act on unconsciously, such as spending all your free time on the weekend cleaning your house from top to bottom? Ask yourself what you would really like to do in that situation. What directive would better fit you and your lifestyle? Maybe you would feel better if you decided to scrub the inside of your refrigerator once a month, rather than each week.
Is someone demanding time and energy from you that’s just too draining? If you’re having to sacrifice your well being or peace of mind for others, then your boundaries are being violated or you’re being taken advantage of. Remember that consideration for others needs to be balanced with a consideration for yourself and learning to say “no” is important. Your needs and desires are every bit as important as anyone else’s.
Become aware of when you tell yourself “I should” or “I ought to.” Write down what you have said to yourself, and why you need to follow that rule. Put down everything that comes to mind about the issue and what would happen if you didn’t follow through. If the reasons to do it make sense to you, or are important, then it’s probably appropriate. For example: “I should wash the dishes.” If you don’t, “I won’t have clean dishes.” Is this important to you? To clarify how you feel about something, ask yourself, “What do I think about this?” This will help to define how a standard can reflect what works for you versus what’s actually working for others.
Notice whenever you use the words, “always” or “never.” For instance, “I should always give to the less fortunate.” This a great value to have, but only if you’re taking care of yourself. If you give so much that you don’t have enough to pay your rent or groceries, then you’re going too far. Make sure you don’t make yourself one of the “less fortunate.” Whenever there’s a word that blankets every possible experience, then it’s probably a standard that’s impossible to live up to. And trying to live up to it will simply create frustration, guilt and resentment.
When you begin to create your own standards and establish them, some people may object. You’ve been catering to them for a long time, and they’re not going to like that you’re not doing what they want you to do. Be courteous, but firm. If someone becomes verbally abusive by berating you, putting you down or discounting you, then be civil and break off that contact. No amount of explanation or dialogue is going to make them accept your new direction at that time.
Many times, the “should’s” we repeat to ourselves are standards that someone else has decided are important. But they may be as outdated as a Model-T Ford. Maybe they were appropriate to give us guidelines when we were children, but are no longer necessary now that we’re grown up. As adults, we have a right to develop values that support our self-respect, well being, and reflect who we are.
Because I’m an individualized expression of the Universe, with wisdom, understanding, and principles of my own, I have everything I need to be able to identify and release old, outdated rules that don’t serve me any longer. I have a right to develop standards and values that give me a sense of peace and well being. When I feel guilty, resentful, or anxious, these are signals to let me know that I’m violating my own inner being by trying to fit myself into someone else’s mold or am being taken advantage of. I give myself permission to change my standards and stand firm in my new ones. The Universe completely supports me in this.
Copyright 2007 Linda Ann Stewart
All Rights Reserved