Are You “Should-ing” on People?

Thank you for your grace as I continue on my healing journey. This summer has been all about “Being and Breaking.” Being with feelings (my own and others) that may be uncomfortable. Being present to the collective trauma and triumphs (from the water in Jackson, Mississippi to the wonder of Serena Jameka Williams). Also being open and available to all of the changes that are required to begin Breaking patterns, assumptions (again, my own and others) and generational curses.

As I ease back into my conversations with you, I wanted to share one of the many learnings that have come my way during this time. And, as usual, it comes in the form of a question:

Are You “Should-ing” on People?

Image Description: Image of a person sitting in a corner with their hand on their head in shame. Six hands (three on the left, three on the right) are using the index finger to point at the person in the corner.

Having expectations and standards are a form of scaffolding for the visions we have for our lives. We all hold an ideal vision or outcome for a situation or way of being engaged by others that is, as we view it, beneficial for ourselves and those around us. Where it gets janky is when we use our expectations as a way to judge what someone else “should” be doing in their lives.

Please note, I’m not talking about the ever-so-innocent “You should try this new app” or other advice for your good. I’m talking about the heavy-handed “shoulds.” The judgmental “shoulds.” The “shoulds” that have just a hint of moral superiority and meanness. The “shoulds” that rob us and others of their humanity and opportunities to transform their lives for the better.

We live in a society that shoulds all over us. This “should-ing” as I am starting to call it (because it sounds like I’m sideways cursing and I am working on curtailing that habit a bit) or “Should Statements” are actually one of a number of what psychologists call, Cognitive Distortions.

According to Positive Psychology Today, Cognitive Distortions are:

  • Tendencies or patterns of thinking or believing;
  • That are false or inaccurate;
  • And have the potential to cause psychological damage.

The “psychological damage” based on “false or inaccurate” thoughts or beliefs is at the core of many/most of the conflicts we are experiencing–internally and externally. To be clear, what I am referring to when I say “should-ing” is forcing people into an ideal that we have created in our minds, then harboring anger/frustration/resentment because others are incapable, unwilling or just unaware of what we envision. Should-ing may sound like:

  • “They should understand their job by now. They’ve been here for almost 3 months already!”
  • “My father should be more supportive of me! I’m his kid!”
  • “My partner should be more responsive to my feelings without me having to ask. We’ve been together for years!”
  • “I should be further along in my______ by now.”
Image source: Mental Health @ Home

As a recovering “Should-er,” I know just how quick, convenient and destructive should-ing can be…especially when we don’t communicate our needs out loud (oops!). When reality and our expectations are not aligned, frustration and resentment take root. And let me tell you, those roots are tougher to untangle than the roots of a rootbound plant (Ya girl has been working on her green-ish thumb during this sabbatical).

Understand that some of our shoulds have been passed on to us by people who may have had very different lived experiences from ours. Additionally, some of the shoulds were designed by people who lowkey didn’t know what they were doing and made up the shoulds in order to survive. My therapist Myra (a.k.a. “The Dopest Therapis-ian” as I call her in my head. Look, if Brené Brown can talk about her therapist all the time…) reminded me that there is nothing wrong with having expectations.

Expectations are healthy. Where we cause ourselves unnecessary emotional distress is when rigidity sets in and we are unable/unwilling to see people for who they are: Their unique gifts, flaws, skills and experiences. Some people are doing the best they can even if their best does not align with the stories in our head.

That’s freedom for free, People!

I am not arguing for anyone to accept basic treatment. What God has placed on my heart to communicate is just that–communicate the desires of your heart so that they don’t become the silent destruction of your mind. Provide support when needed, accept when others really are unable (for whatever the reason) to grow to meet that expectation, then continue to move forward with doing that which aligns with your vision for your life while holding onto this little nugget:

What if your should-ing is not part of their story?

As the folx at Nike highlighted about the greatest athlete of our time, there are some people who change everything by changing nothing:

May you continue to focus on healing the world within you while positively impacting the world around you…even if you are not from Compton, California.

Sending you thoughts of love, justice and liberation!

In Solidarity.

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