The Word "Should" and Your Emotions Don't Mix, By Krista Cheuk, Associate MFT
The Word “Should” and Your Emotions Don’t Mix
In my experience of working with anxiety, “shoulds” play a huge part of that which distresses us. We often find ourselves falling short of the standards set forth by the “shoulds” in our life, especially when we try to apply them to our feelings. In many cases, the word “should” can create stress and prevent us from exploring the more nuanced, complicated emotions we’re feeling and issues we are going through. Let’s take a moment and explore a common “should” together.
“I shouldn’t feel this way”
“I shouldn’t feel this way" is a “should” statement that I hear all the time in my sessions. And I’m not surprised, because our society often dismisses feelings as inconvenient or symptomatic of being “weak”. If you have this belief about feelings, that they are somehow weak or shameful, when you find yourself having an emotional reaction you may feel compelled to shut it down with this “should”.
The effect is a feeling of shame. Humans experience much of the world on an emotional level – it is how we gather information from our environment. So getting mad at yourself for something that is literally a central part of being a human is only going to result in feeling like there is something wrong with you (e.g. shame).
The result? This is a classic recipe for emotional buildup. We feel like we’re not allowed to feel our emotions, so they stick around, unprocessed, under the surface and we get mad at ourselves for having feelings, which only makes it worse. For some people, these emotions can transform into anxiety. For others, they can act like magma, under the surface of a volcano that can explode as anger, extreme sadness, or a panic attack at the slightest provocation.
What should I do with this “should” instead?
If this internal dialogue is sounding familiar, try and catch yourself before the “should” dismisses the emotion. Then, stop and take a breath. I like to think of “should” as a sign that there is an emotion that needs to be explored underneath. Take the time to look at and explore what you are actually feeling without trying to explain it away.
This can help you get down to what is really going on. If you’re in a situation where you’re offended by something somebody said, telling yourself you “shouldn’t feel offended” is not going to help you feel better. Maybe talking to them, rather than shutting yourself down, will help elucidate the situation and keep the emotions from building.
Telling yourself to feel a certain way is almost never helpful and can leave you feeling ashamed of your inability to control this part of yourself. I leave you with this final suggestion, if you find that this is happening constantly, there may be some things that you might need to explore further with a therapist, especially if you are seeing the symptoms of emotional buildup I mentioned before. It’s never easy to figure these issues out by ourselves, and it can be amazing to embark on the process of getting to know yourself better with a therapist.
The author, Krista Cheuk, Associate MFT, is currently accepting new clients in our Banker’s Hill location and can be reached by calling 619-272-6858 x704 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org