Transforming Toxic Tyranny Into Treasure

The Toxic Tyranny of the “Shoulds”

I enjoy writing. Whenever I have the opportunity to generate ideas and the possibility of inspiring others to grow into the best version of themselves, I get psyched.  At the same time, some subjects open the doorway to the toxic tyranny of the “shoulds.” A real buzz kill for my excitement. I first learned about the tyranny of the shoulds in a book by psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis. Frequently,  the “shoulds” we impose on ourselves, he proposed is a primary cause of depression. Also used in substitute of the word should is the word must. Some examples include:

I must do this task perfectly, or I’m not good enough.

I should have what I want, or life is horrible, awful.

Yesterday I “should” all over myself

Perhaps in reading those sentences, you think “Why that’s absurd. I don’t think like that.” But the mean voices in your head do.  Let me give you my real life example. Yesterday I wrote about my string of rejections in my search for meaningful work that matters. Generally, after having written, I have the same excited feeling that I have before I begin. Excited to see if it resonates with anyone, excited to hear about others experiences, etc. Yesterday was different. I was grumpy and a tad depressed.  After an hour or so that yucky feeling, I decided to sit down with my journal and figure out what the heck was up.  I asked myself where the feelings were coming from. Then I took the time to be still and see what insights came up. Here are the shoulds I discovered.

It’s been six months, you should have a job my now. Your experience must not be worth much

I shouldn’t have left my career. Now I have this six-year gap. No one will ever give me a decent look.

Perhaps your should is different. Your should might be “By now, I should be married. Something must be wrong with me”, “I should be more successful in my business by now, I’m a failure” or “I must not be doing something right because of…”. But there is a question that can turn the toxic tyranny of the shoulds into treasure.

I asked myself “What am I not seeing?”

As a result of asking myself “What am I not seeing?” I discovered that the last six-year journey had taught me a lot about myself, what I was capable of, even the great things I accomplished. Besides, I discovered even the sting of repeated rejection had strengthened my belief in myself, my abilities, and the value of my experience (even in the gap).  I had a new found confidence in my worth. In the final analysis, I recognized the temporary nature of unemployment and discovered an extensive list of great things about it. Including writing in my PJs till noon if I wanted, having lunch with my husband any day of the week, meeting up with a new friend I met on Twitter, just to name a few.

Grab your journal; it’s your turn to grow

Now reflect on something you want at the moment that you don’t have. Or perhaps it’s the situation that keeps repeating itself that takes you from a happy attitude straight into a slump.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are the shoulds and the musts my mind gravitates towards when this situation occurs?
  2. In the absence of this should or must in my life, what are the mean voices telling me I am? Is that true?
  3. What am I not seeing in this situation?

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