First 30 Days Blog

18 feb

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Jope2“Should is a learned response.”

Those words were once said to me by a sage advisor (read: counselor). Until then, it never dawned on me that feeling obligated to others and myself wasn’t some lucky trait I was born with; it was something I picked up along the way.

When Should is Good … and Bad

There are varying degrees of “should.” Certain things are taught to us from an early age and make us decent people and functioning members of society, such as sharing and having compassion for others.

We also learn that some obligations simply need to be fulfilled.

“I should go to the dentist.”

Yes. Yes, you should.

But then the notion of “should” gets murky and we place unnecessary guilt on ourselves and become anguished by huge self-inflicted obligations. Not so great for our mental health.

As life marches forward, we learn that we “should” do something because society says so, all our friends are doing it or the pressure from family is too much. We learn that we’re supposed to be a certain way in order to be successful professionally and personally.

  • “I should socialize more.”
  • “I should go back to school.”
  • “I should have a baby.”

But what if you don’t actually want to do what you feel obligated to do? The minute we make statements like the ones above, we’re taking ourselves to task. We’re scolding ourselves when we didn’t do anything wrong. We beat ourselves up and damage our self esteem in the process.

You shouldn’t have to apologize for how you feel. Think about it: If you don’t enjoy going out very much because you’re an introvert, what’s your crime? There isn’t one.

Women seem particularly prone to saying they “feel bad” if they fight against the “should.” We think we owe someone something, but I think my counselor said it best:

“Says who?”

Let’s be clear: This isn’t an argument in favor of throwing your hands up and never listening to your “should” again. Sometimes things need to get done. Instead, it’s time to evaluate how it affects your mental well-being. Every time the word is uttered, do you feel guilty, worthless or like a failure?

Believe it or not, it’s not always obvious why we feel compelled to do things we don’t want to, but our mind and spirit suffer anyway. Understanding the root cause can be immensely liberating. Is it fear, habit or something else leading you down this path?

Jennifer Jope is the author of, where she documents her own struggles with depression, including what she learned in a behavioral health program. Her other health writing has appeared in Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing Newsletter and

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Posted by Jen Jope on February 18th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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