The Should-ing Personality

‘Should’ is a word that I don’t use in my therapy sessions as I think it’s loaded with pressure. It creates rules for us to follow. Breaking our own should is like breaking a personal commandment. The feeling could be of sadness, guilt or shame. More the number of shoulds the narrower is the path on which we tread. That much easier it is to fall off the path, resulting in guilt.

The Should-syndrome is also included in the list of ‘Distortions in Thinking’ that is usually referred to by therapists. It is the tendency of a person to impose his world-view of right and wrong onto others. A person who uses too many shoulds is called a should-ing personality. This person has a thick rule book and a rigid way of thinking.

A should-ing person creates pressure on himself and everybody else around him.

The effect is sometimes really subtle but it exists. For instance, if somebody invites you to a party and says, “You should be here by 6 pm”. The invitation has already generated a feeling at the subconscious level although it will be hard for you to trace the reason back to the pressure-filled word.

According to the theory of Transactional Analysis the Should-ing comes from our parent ego state. This is a state of mind that we assume from time-to-time. It is based on what we observed in our parents, in childhood. Our parents are the ones who gave us the initial rules in life. Stronger the shoulds in the parent, more will be the tendency of the child to grow into a should-ing person as an adult. Even the rules predominantly remain the same.

A should-ing person believes that there is only one right way to do anything.

During my therapy sessions, I usually have a background counter that processes for words like should. As I have been doing this processing for a while now it comes automatically to me. At the end of a session, I am able to tell how many times the person has said should. Whatever is framed in the sentence is the individual’s need from the self or the world. It’s something that just has to be the way he/she wants it otherwise it will create a feeling of discomfort or pain. Unfortunately for us, people around don’t care that much for what’s written in our rule book. As we try to impose it onto others we come off as controlling.

Implicit Shoulds are trickier. In this case, people expect others to read their minds and know their shoulds without actually stating them. It’s like passing a law and keeping it a secret.

There is only one place so far where I have failed to find a should. I was taking a one year course in Transactional Analysis last year. I was pleasantly surprised to see that none of my trainers used the word I was looking for. That was the only place where my should-counter started at zero and ended at zero! Just once something happened. Our trainer was explaining something to us and used should in her sentence. I looked up from my book and noticed that she had stopped mid-way. She rephrased her statement leaving the word out. I smiled in my mind as I realised that avoiding should was not happening accidentally, it was happening by design! My counter went back to zero and stayed there till the end of the course. It was a refreshing change.

I don’t mean to erase the word from the dictionary altogether. There are places in life where we need to impose rules and in those cases should sounds apt. For instance, the principal of a school says to the children, “You should be here every morning at 9 am”. There is a rule in the school and it demands discipline. We cant expect the principal to say, “It would be nice if you could be here by 9am”. Definitely not. However, should sounds good where the pressure is necessary and not loosely everywhere. May be, being judicious about it’s usage can help us free our minds from the unnecessary burden of doing things in only one fixed way and expecting others to fall in line as well.

How often do you should yourself and others? Are people around you sensitive to your shoulds? If not, how does it make you feel?