Regardless of what happens in life, we always have the power to choose our attitude. In other words, our circumstances do not define us. So, what is the difference between someone who remains hopeful despite experiencing great suffering and the person who stubs his or her toe and remains angry the rest of the day? The answer lies in the way in which one thinks.
Cognitive distortions are ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions; telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.
"Should statements” are types of cognitive distortions that can contribute to feelings of fear, worry, and guilt. This type of faulty thinking typically surfaces in phrases that include the words “should,” “ought,” or “must.” The word “should” has become a fixture in our everyday dialogue. We use it in conversation with others, as a way of motivating ourselves or keeping ourselves in check, and to express our feelings, including frustration, guilt, and regret.
I soon realized that telling myself I should be doing more or being more wasn’t actually helping me to do more or be more, and it left me feeling like I was not enough. When we use the word “should,” we are not accepting reality. Rather, we are talking about things that we wish were so, but that are not. Therefore, “should statements” typically only make you feel more hopeless about your situation and further diminish your sense of self-esteem.
If we say to ourselves, “I should really exercise more often,” the unspoken follow-up to that statement is “… but I don’t.”
Similarly, if we say “I should really be eating healthier today,” the unspoken ending to the statement is “…but I’m not.”
In the long-term, when we tell ourselves that we should be doing something, we are reinforcing the negative, and the fact that we are not doing something.
How Can You Reduce Should-ing?
How many times a day do you use the word “should” in reference to yourself? Cognitive distortions are at the core of what many cognitive-behavioral, as well as other kinds of therapists try and help a person learn to change in psychotherapy. By learning to correctly identify this kind of thinking, a person can then answer the negative thinking back, and refute it. By refuting the negative thinking over and over again, it will slowly diminish overtime and be automatically replaced by more rational, balanced thinking. Removing the word “should” from your vocabulary will take time, patience, and practice, but the rewards are worth it. Replacing “should statements” with more helpful dialogue can lead to a kinder relationship with yourself, and with those around you.
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