• Erin

Shoulds and Musts

As we enter the holiday season it can be tough. Less sunlight, more travel, and increased interactions with family, co-workers and friends. Shifting you out of your normal routine and introducing you back into a world that for many has the residue of childhood. Old wounds and hurts that surface again. Reminders, both subtle and overt, of what you did or didn’t accomplish during the previous year. These goals may have been set by you, but were probably motivated by the expectations of others. Conversations can be painful and leave you a little tender. In many cases, they act as indicators of the origins of our shoulds, musts, and ought tos.

Should is a seemingly benign word, but don’t be fooled. It may wear a mask of motivation or perhaps a reminder of something you wanted to achieve, but it is dangerous. It shames.

I should have gone to the gym more this year. I shouldn't have eaten that brownie or had the extra glass of wine at the party last week. I should have said this during the meeting. They direct our mind to focus on worries, desires, and concerns about how we have not been disciplined enough, strong enough, fill in the blank enough to meet cultural and/or familial expectations.

The language we use when talking to ourselves matters. Our words have a vibration. Have you ever had a friend say they should do something and the minute the words leave their mouth you both kind of cringe. It’s because we know on some level the emotional weight it carries. We can feel the guilt, shame, and regret emanate from her. It leaves her disempowered by imposing obligation that may not align with what her deeper wisdom believes is right.

When tracing your desire to act out of the pressure of a should or a must you may discover a wounded space. Hidden within these sensitive spots are belief systems that guide and control your life. On one hand, eureka!, you just discovered an opportunity to unwind something unsupportive to your growth. On the other, now what do you do with that information?

First, stay open to witnessing what arises. That can be scary. Revealing itself to you is how your should-ing behaviors come from a fear of missing out, of not being seen as lovable, of not being enough, or being alone. That can lead to a system of internal pressures and rules that guide your decision making and pull you from your best interest in order to please or appease others. Have you ever stayed in a job too long or overcommitted to a project and felt like you couldn’t change your mind or say no. That is the voice of your shoulds.

The part of you that lives in that sensitive space wants to feel the sensation and security of being loved, accepted, and safe. It has you believing that if the demands of those pressures aren’t met you won’t experience the emotions you desire. The trick is in shoulds contradictory nature, because a should will never be complete. You'll always be looking at the to-do list, noticing all the accomplishments that are not achieved and reinforcing the idea that I didn’t finish xyz, so I’m a bad person. I’m not good enough. It's toxic and energetically draining leading to increased levels of stress and anxiety. Should impacts your self-esteem and discourages healthy boundary setting.

Use these reminders to support you as you shift yourself out of should heavy language:

  • It’s okay to change your mind.

  • It’s okay to say no.

  • You don’t have to do something just to make someone else happy.

  • Your self-care is important.

  • Your feelings matter and are valid.

  • You’re enough.

Rather than focusing on what you should do today make a note of something you have already accomplished. Hint: Even the tiniest thing is a major win as you heal.

It’s always okay to seek support when liberating yourself from the pressure of an old belief system, such as feeling bound by a desire to do and be perfect. Give me a call to start strengthening your relationship to your inner guide and shift the gunk (harmful ways of thinking) out of the way.


Erin McCloskey provides confidential, client-focused counseling, coaching and therapy services specializing in areas that include, but are not limited to: Women’s Health, Chronic Stress, Life Transitions, Low Motivation, Anxiety, Depression, Relationships, Self Esteem, Spirituality, and Maternal Mental Health including issues in Pregnancy, Prenatal Anxiety, and Postpartum Depression.

Serving: Wilmington, Hockessin, Newark and Greenville, DE as well as Media, Garnet Valley, and Chadds Ford, PA, and their surrounding communities.

Erin McCloskey, M.Ed., LPCMH

3526 Silverside Road, Suite 36

Wilmington, DE 19810


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