shouldThe Friendly ‘Should’

I used to use the word ‘should’ all the time. It felt benign and friendly. “You should put your toys away before supper time,” always sounded kinder than, “Put away your toys before supper.”

Telling someone what they ‘should’ do sounded so much nicer than telling them what to do. It allowed me to hide my bossy nature from the world (or maybe just deny that I HAVE a bossy side).

And then our daughter entered the miasma of severe depression. For six months she struggled to get out of bed in the morning. We forced her to leave the house and locked the doors when we left in an effort to help her not wallow in darkness. She worked each day (under duress) as a volunteer at a school in exchange for room and board.

We wondered where our self-motivated adolescent had gone. I started reading every book I could find on depression, moods, and eating disorders.

Who would have thought that an innocuous word could have a darker side? It took seeing my daughter suffer before I understood. Click To Tweet

The Darker Side of ‘Should’Who would think that a little word like should could cause so much agony!

A book changed the way I felt about the word ‘should.’ In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by Dr. David D. Burns, I learned that should statements “cause you to feel pressured and resentful. Paradoxically, you end up feel apathetic and unmotivated” (location 770 in the ebook).

I went on to read that should statements can cripple someone who already feels down—opening the way for self-loathing and unrealistic expectations. More importantly, I realized that I needed to change the way I spoke to others.

If I wanted to act in an encouraging way, I needed to eliminate ‘should’ from my vocabulary. I didn’t need to burden Sarah (or anyone else, including myself) with a sandbag of shoulds.

Don’t Eliminate Should Altogether

Should has three different meanings. The first replaces the old-fashioned word ‘shall.’ Should we go to a restaurant for supper? If we started using ‘shall’ instead of should, folks might wonder what century we were born in.

Should also replaces ‘would’ in some instances. ‘I should think you would apologize.’ This instance borders on the bossy.

Eliminating the third use requires forming new habits of thought. ‘You should pray more if you feel depressed.’ Not good. People who suffer from mood disorders don’t need our self-righteous advice cloaked in a should.

Rethink, Respect, and Rephrase

I hate it when people tell me what to do—even if they disguise it with a should—and that’s when I’m feeling great! Which means that we need to rethink our propensity to suggest to other people what they should do.

We need to respect their feelings and their right to feel the feels they feel. We want to enter into other people’s world and come alongside of them—not dispense advice and spread guilt.

Respect those with #mentalhealth problems and learn not to use this word. Click To Tweet

I learned to rephrase things. “Would you like to hear my opinion?” and if Sarah said, “No,” I learned to hold my tongue (no small feat). It took time, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of eliminating the third form of should from my vocabulary.

My relationships with other people have improved because of it. Who would have thought?