I feel like I talk very often about working in addictions on here, which I worry might alienate some people because before I educated myself about addictions, I really thought it was pretty black and white. Either you’re addicted or your not. Either you’re mentally healthy or your addicted.

As I’ve come to learn through my internship, addiction is just one extreme symptom of mental health. It’s like the common cold. Some of us get a cough and a few sneezes. Some of us turn the cold into the flu. If left untreated, our mental problems fester and turn into things like domestic violence, addiction, and other self-destructive behaviors.

The neat thing (for me anyway) is that because I am a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I always trace back most of this stuff to the way the client thinks about something. A big piece of this is really listening to the client and hearing patterns in the way they speak, the words they choose, and specifically the way they speak about themselves. It’s a wonderful way to easily show the client what their self-talk probably sounds like. If you beat yourself when you talk about yourself to others, you probably beat yourself up when you have an internal dialogue.

A pattern I began to notice with my clients is this idea of “I should…”. I kept hearing over and over, “I should have told her I loved her,” or “I really should get sober for my kids,” or “I should really know how to follow the rules by now”. Whatever variation, I found myself picking these statements apart for one common thread.

The idea of “should” comes from what we feel others want us to do. When we say we should do something, we’re basically implying that we don’t want to do it. We’re saying that we are doing what others want us to do and what we feel we should want to do.

Think about it. How often do you say the word should with the true and earnest desire to actually follow through with the task?

I should go running.

I should unload the dishwasher.

I should be a better daughter.

I shouldn’t be as angry all the time.

I shouldn’t write blog posts at 11:15 at night…

I pointed this out to one of my clients recently. He was a constant “should” offender in session. Whether he was feeling guilt for something he should  or should not have done in his addiction or something he should do in treatment, it was just a lot of hot air. Should should must to be eliminated from our vocabularies!

I’ve found myself being a Should Offender on some days. We all do it and that’s OK, because we all have unhealthy thinking from time to time. Part of being a healthy person isn’t having everything perfect and sorted into pretty boxes, it’s knowing you have some imperfect stuff you’re knowledgeable about and you’re actively working on. So, I’m working on my shoulds these days. I started with my week off, because I needed to rest. It wasn’t a should anymore and I must acknowledge that in the future.

P.S. ACA Post for the week: A Good Listening To…

Author: Jennifer Bingaman Mazur

I like writing about what I think about what I think. I also like writing about what other people think and what I think about that. Yes? Yes.

6 thoughts on “Shoulds”

  1. I think taking initiative in your life is good. If you SHOULD be doing something, then do it. And if you’re not doing it then it obviously isn’t that important to you.

    You are so insightful!!

  2. Jen, have you ever written a blog post on how you ended up in this field? You seem so wise so and so full of experience at such a young age, I’d be fascinated to read about how you ended up doing this. I get so excited when I ‘find’ other social workers/therapists/counselors who really seem like they know what they are doing, because oftentimes we are not taken seriously for what we do – and in reality, when we do our jobs well, we have a tremendous opportunity to help people take control over their lives and emotional well-being.

    Your clients are lucky to have you!

    1. I mention it briefly in a couple of posts, but I’ve never written a post directly addressing “my journey”. Thanks for the idea! I think I’d really enjoy writing that one. Also, thank you for the compliment, it truly made my day! I agree with your thoughts on our field. It’s so new and the measurable outcomes of our clients are sometimes so intangible, it’s not really given the credit it deserves. I really hope that will change in the future!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *