In January, I talked about transcending the animal and the power of a simple smile as it relates to learning and unlearning behaviors. This month, let’s look at the words we use to talk to ourselves. One word I continuously work at eliminating from my self talk is should.
The Way You Talk
The way you talk to yourself (aka self talk) is important to your well-being. And I know you talk to yourself because everybody does.
I live alone so I’m either talking with myself or talking with my cat. Quite often I’m talking right out loud to an empty house. In my humble opinion, it’s perfectly normal to talk with yourself.
The way in which we talk with ourselves is often scripted. We learn what to say and how to think from friends and family when we’re very young. We learn as babies and toddlers. We learn in grade school and then as we move into middle and high school and try to differentiate ourselves from that home environment.
The “scripts” we learn when young are interpreted by us as the final word, as the thing that we should never be questioned. We learn:
- You shouldn’t do that, the neighbors might notice or
- You shouldn’t do that, it’s embarrassing to our family or
- You shouldn’t do that or you’ll get in trouble
- You shouldn’t wear that, someone bad might notice or
- You shouldn’t wear that – it sends the wrong message
- You should do this thing here
- I think you should do this, say this, be this
- You should care more about
- You should go to this (event, place, etc.)
- You should believe this (and not that)
- It’s even in headlines like “Investigators should examine” and “X should have looked at.”
As very young children, we hear these words. And then going forward, they stay with us until we learn how to rewrite the script and take charge of our thoughts.
Should Is Debt and Obligation
The dictionary definition of should shows that it is the past tense of the verb shall. The etymology of shall goes back to Middle English, Old English, High German and was defined as ought to, must.
But the etymology point that interested me the most is from the Lithuanian skola. Depending on how it’s written, skola can mean school; however, it can also mean to owe, a debt, duty, obligation, being indebted, or to lend or borrow. That is more what I’m talking about.
Think about the energy behind the word should, the history and ancestry of the word if you will. We humans are all products of the ancestors who have come before us. Words, likewise, carry the energy from which they emerged.
When we speak, “You should care more about…” there is a LOT happening notwithstanding the energy of the person speaking those words. That person might be angry or happy or sad. It may be a friend simply suggestion that you try something new out.
Should, however it is used, implies that you ought to, that you must, that you are obligated, and that you are indebted to the person who made the suggestion. And ultimately, should is about shame.
Rewrite The Script
Merriam-Webster defines shame as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” They say it is “a condition of humiliating disgrace or repute” or “something that brings censure or reproach.”
So literally every time you think “I should do….” you are shaming yourself. You are reproaching yourself, you’re making yourself feel guilty. Feeling guilty leads to feeling angry, which leads to more should, and the whole darned thing just keeps circling.
Part of your job as an evolving human is to break your circle of shame and rewrite the should script. This is ongoing inner work and it can transform your relationship with yourself, which then changes the way you interact with the world.
Three Things To Try
- When should appears in your self talk, this article suggests replacing should with “might.” That leaves you under no obligation or debt and keeps the door open for possibility.
- Adjust the tone of your inner voice. Practice speaking to yourself with love and patience.
- Embrace your inner child. It may sound sappy, but it sure works. Make your adult self the knight in shining armor for your younger self. Listen to her fears with an open heart and respond authentically. When your inner child feels safe and secure, your adult self feels better, too.
I’ve definitely changed the tone of my inner voice over the years, and I have a decent relationship with my inner child. I’ve never tried replacing should with might – yet.
What about you: Do you “should” all over yourself?