Stop Shoulding on Yourself!

Mental and Emotional Warrant-of-Fitness #4

I’m writing from a bit more of a personal perspective this week as I’m trying to practice what I preach by listening to myself. Balancing the desire of my heart to be there for others with the reality of what I can manage without the wheels falling off is a matter that needs frequent recalibration.

I’ve had a very busy week, busier than most and I’m close to overwhelm. Through no fault of their own, some of my family members are going through particularly stressful times and even though they are adults, I’m still mum and have a heart to ease their pain and lighten their load.

This can be a big trigger for me as a child of an alcoholic. Over-responsibility and dismissing my own needs was a behaviour that gave me a place in the family and a naïve sense of having some control over others’ happiness and the volatile home environment.

Having crashed with Adrenal Burnout 5 years ago, I now recognise the warning signs of doing too much and no longer have the capability to push through, nor do I want to. It’s taken me 5 years to restore my body, mind and spirit to be able to do what I can currently do, which isn’t very much by others measures.

I try not to compare myself to others though……that’s a game you can never win. My advice to myself and my clients is always, “If you have to compare yourself to anybody, compare yourself to your former self. You will be surprised how far you have come. Give yourself credit for that.”

Balancing doing for others with my own needs and self-care is a continuing process of learning for me, of trial and error. At times my empathy can almost blind me to the bigger, overall picture of that elusive quality of life……balance.

Again it relates to boundaries, saying “no” when I’m tired or simply because (you actually don’t need to justify it), valuing what’s important to me/you (time, energy and financial resources) and paying attention to your/my body. I swear at times I’ve been deaf to my body screaming at me to STOP, slow down and say that powerful, tiny “no” word.

First we need to recognise this in ourselves, we need to recognise we ARE doing too much and listen to what our bodies are communicating to us. Our bodies are talking to us constantly if only we will slow down and tune into it. We need to give ourselves permission to say “no” on the inside before we can say “no” with our lips by learning to manage the uncomfortable emotions that arise when you try and say “no”.

If your body is screaming and you can’t hear it here are some things that may be an indication that you are (a) not listening to yourself adequately, (b) that you may be saying “yes” with your lips whilst your body is screaming, “no fricken way!” (c) and doing too much or doing things that are out of balance:

  • Irritability (contemplating kicking the cat for merely existing)
  • Low mood/depression
  • A sense of futility (what’s the use/point)
  • Avoiding certain people, situations or places
  • Angry outbursts
  • Tiredness – lack of energy – lethargy
  • Lack of motivation (can’t be f’d attitude)
  • You are “shoulding” on yourself (and others)
  • Over thinking – being “tired and wired”
  • Critical self-talk (a major contributor to depression and anxiety)
  • Feeling guilty when no crime has been committed

Personally, I attribute this cursed trait of over-riding my body to do what my mind tells me I “should” do to my family-of-origin and the ways I adapted to survive. An ex-therapist of mine told me once to, “stop shoulding” on myself (quote attributed to Albert Ellis, an American psychotherapist who founded Rational Emotive Therapy), words I’ve never forgotten.

Whenever I hear others or myself say silently or aloud the dreaded “should” word I know it’s coming from a place that is not good for mental and emotional health and I need to STOP and remind myself that I have other choices now. Used in the past as whip-word to whip us into shape as kids and shut down our own knowings, the “should” word wreaks of punitive control and shaming. I shudder as I type it, it is that repugnant to me.

So, I implore you, be on the lookout for the dreaded “should” word. How does it makes you feel? Notice how it causes you to lean towards decisions, choices and behaviours that may not be in balance with the bigger picture of your mental and emotional well-being. I’d love to hear your personal experiences with this. Like pulling a thread, see where this admonition comes from and sever the connection of past conditioning to present functioning if it no longer serves you.

Remember to get support for behaviour change.

Find out about Albert Ellis’ philosphy

Enough for now…my body is telling me I’m tired! I will honour myself and listen.

(c) Karen Lighthouse 2022

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Thanks for reading and take care until next time.


Words by Karen Lighthouse.

I also offer –

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2 thoughts on “Stop Shoulding on Yourself!

  1. Powerful words… I was raised to serve… it took a long time to re-route that programme into ‘put on your own oxygen mask first’.
    Thank you for giving me time to reflect on whether ‘should’ remains in my vocabulary… I will be looking out for it😀

    Liked by 1 person

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