Sick of the Shoulds

shouldsagainI’m giving the “shoulds” in my life the boot. We are SO broken up. I wish there was a blocking option I could enable in my brain, like my Iphone so conveniently employs, which would prevent those words from actually popping out of my mouth again.

I should. You should. We should.


I’m over it.

I think questioning the shoulds in life is crucial. It’s a handy little widget to greater freedom and it helps uninstall those internal, roving scripts that each of us has in the background of our minds.

Asking the “Why SHOULD or SHOULDN’T I?” questions have brought me manifold paradigm shifts. All of them needed.

I’ve been actively pushing back against all of these shoulds in my own life. I’m a total recovering shouldaholic—both from the following of and the passing out of the shoulds.

I had no idea until recently how just two little words like “You should…” could contain so much power—both to self-motivate and to disempower others in their free will and creative problem-solving abilities.

How many times in my own life have I done something because I SHOULD? (Apparently I’m still following someone, somewhere, who told me to do or not do something a certain way.)

How many times have I told my children how to do something by using those same words?

So. Many. Times.

Yep. I actually hate it. Hate. It.

So I’m currently in the process of examining all the things that I was told I “should” do—whether as a child or even as an adult. Cause it still happens. People still doll out the shoulds on a daily basis.

Don’t believe me? Just start listening to conversations around you in stores or coffee shops. It’ll pop up.

I feel like I have just snapped out of a hypnosis. Like I have lived decades under the deceitful spell of the shoulds. Rarely questioning. Just walking and following the scripts right over the cliffs of conformity.

The shoulds have touched everything in my life—my marriage, parenting, schooling, friendships, spiritual journey, community involvements—even my writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted something because I shouldn’t say THAT.

Sometimes the shoulds pop into my head with a person’s face. I KNOW where that specific should originated. Other times, it just feels like the slow generational drip of conformity lands on my head from centuries of human history. Do it this way because this is how it has always been done. It’s just the insane compulsion or have-to feeling to bow to some external standard of interaction or behavior.

So I’m giving the shoulds their eviction papers.

The shoulds are stifling. They crush the individuality right out of a person. They accuse those very things that are brilliant, fun and uniquely God-given about a person, and they yell at them to conform. Like a drill sergeant berating his new recruit. Being slammed by the shoulds is like having the wind knocked right out of you.


Deleting the shoulds from my own life has been a HUGE pain. I wish it were simpler, but it actually takes some major think and prayer work. I have to pay attention. I have to stay present. But thankfully, I discovered a pattern in myself that the shoulds often emerge quite surreptitiously when I default onto auto-pilot mode.

This was illustrated just yesterday when I was at a store with my son. At one point, I heard myself squawking, “Don’t touch that!”

I was completely blitzed-out tired in that moment and I was TOTALLY on autopilot. I wasn’t thinking; I was reacting. And I have found that it is in those auto-pilot reactions that I hear those blasted should scripts pouring out of my own mouth.

Betrayed by my own words. Again.

In that occasion, I didn’t actually use the “should” word. But I might as well have. It could totally be rephrased as “You shouldn’t touch that!”

Same thing.

Telling my son not to touch the whatever-it-was (can’t remember now) was reminiscent for me of my grandparents’ generation that believed kids should be seen and not heard; that believed kids should do as they are told; and that believed children should submit to any adult authority and not question their elders.

I refuse to join that tribe of thinkers.

Death by submission and passivity.

It’s like turning a wild mustang into a stable horse.

I don’t want submissive robot children. I don’t want passive children who are too afraid of repercussions that they don’t take risks or push back against injustice. I want children who know how to use their free will to make good choices and think for themselves. And to get to that place, children also need to have the space to make bad decisions. How else will they learn?

I’m just learning this now at almost-forty years old. Sure wish I’d learned it decades ago.

If my son had broken the whatever-it-was, no big deal. I would have taken it out of his allowance. It would have been a great learning lesson. As it was, he didn’t break anything. And what rule says a person can’t touch things in a store? That’s just dumb. How on earth do we decide if we want to buy something unless we pick it up and assess its value?

So the no-touching-things-in-a-store should was exposed and ousted. See ya!

It needed to go. There was no longer a place for it in my life or worldview.

That’s just one example of my unearthing the should scripts in my own life. But each person has their own shoulds to exorcise. Each person has their own unique should scripts to examine and reassess.

But waking up to the existence of the shoulds isn’t meant to result in a legalistic editing of anyone’s vocabularly. It’s simply meant to be an awareness thing. Because it isn’t about the words as much as it’s about the meanings behind the words. Reading between the passive-aggressive lines. Decoding the subliminal messages. Deleting outdated rules, behaviors, and modalities. It’s about questioning and studying intent.

Is someone trying to control or micromanage me in this should?

Is someone trying to superimpose their values, belief systems or social conventions onto me?

Whose internal voice and script am I really listening to?

THAT is the problem I have with the shoulds.

It’s the toxic, disempowering, and death-to-uniqueness meanings behind the words that I have issue with.

So everything is currently under the microscope. I’m tossing out many childhood scripts. I’m questioning the social conventions of adulthood and parenthood that I somehow assimilated. I’m even assessing what I incorporated from the many streams of the faith I’ve swam through on my spiritual journey.

The religious shoulds have been some of the most painful crushers and initiative killers in my life.

So what’s the antidote to the shoulds? After a person has questioned, assessed, and ousted the shoulds that need to go, what then?

I believe the answer is CHOICE. We get to choose.

One of the very first things that God gave humanity was choice, free will—the ability to choose. The Garden. Two trees. Remember?

But how will we use our choices? Where will we choose to exercise our freedom and unique personality to stand out? Where will we decide to just get in line with the rest of the sheep? It’s about picking our battles. Deciding where to assert our individuality. Recognizing the appropriate places to take risk.

Because as tempting as it is to tell everything and everyone to shove off and not tell me what to do, the reality is that I live in a culture and society that has certain expectations. But the bottom line is that I get to choose when to say YES and when to say NO. I can certainly choose to show up to volunteer at my child’s school in pajamas. But do I really want to?

I get to choose. You get to choose. God gave us that right from the very beginning.

So which internal or societal scripts are you following? What shoulds are still dictating or limiting your life?

We were meant to walk in freedom. A high price was paid to restore that option to us. But it is an option. We can choose to stay in bondage to the shoulds in our lives. Or we can push back and learn to walk in the freedom that we were designed to live in.

Learning when and where to oust the shoulds and how to walk in that true freedom is an artform. It will take a person’s entire lifetime to unpack. And just like everything else, it will take a lot of practice.

Might as well start now.

Thankfully, we’re not alone on this journey. We have a Helper to see us through.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7).

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16).


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