Don’t “Should” Yourself to Death

Feeling our feelings in the way they were meant to exist gives us permission to live the full human experience. 

So much of our daily thoughts follow loosely along the lines of “I shouldn’t be mad about this” or “I shouldn’t be so dramatic” or “I should be doing more”. The irony of using “should” or “shouldn’t” is that we often feel more and more stuck in the same situation, discomfort, or intense emotional experience. How radical would it feel to stop telling yourself that you should or should not be feeling a certain way in order to move more freely through the ups and downs of daily life? 

“Shoulding ourselves to death” often invalidates or removes ourselves from the very real present experience that we are feeling. Emotions ebb and flow depending on a wide array of situational, chemical, hormonal, relational, and cognitive factors. Grieving a loss, getting in a fight with a loved one, or receiving bad news at work are just few of the many different things that can trigger an emotional reaction. Feeling a feeling in response is very natural, normal, and even adaptive reflex. 

If I am feeling sad, I may want to pressure myself to talk myself out of it or convince myself that it’s not that bad. But a very prominent saying rings so true in that case: Feelings that are buried alive never die. Perhaps a more empathic, compassionate form or self-talk when feeling a “negative” feeling would be to validate and acknowledge it rather than urge ourselves to remove it as soon as possible. Noticing the emotion, acknowledging its presence, observing its function within our bodies, and deciding how best to use it to choose the most appropriate behavior helps the emotion complete its purpose and allow room for another emotional experience to take its turn after. 

Acceptance of the full range of emotions can feel threatening and scary. Yet allowing them to exist without trying to convince ourselves through “shoulding” ourselves to death actually prevents them from getting stuck. Feeling our feelings in the way they were meant to exist gives us permission to live the full human experience.