Thursday, August 24, 2006

You Should Consider This

Karen Horney, a pioneering psychoanalyst, who followed in the footsteps of Freud, spoke of the “Tyranny of the Shoulds,” the self-haunting that occurs when we compare how we are to how we think we should be. Focusing on this discrepancy results in, as you’d expect, significant distress, and the solution, according to psychologists, analytical and cognitive alike, is to avoid the use of should—not just to remove the word from our vocabulary, but to be more compassionate with ourselves and lighten up with (often) unrealistic expectations.

I should lose 10 pounds.
I should exercise for two hours today.
I shouldn’t eat that cookie.
I should stick to my diet without any exceptions.
I should be thinner than I am.

Also, beware of the relatives of should: have to, need to, want to (with sufficient angst). Why are these all so damaging? Because truth is, it’s hard to lose weight, to exercise regularly (and excessively), to restrict, to limit, and to shrink your body beyond its natural weight. And when we get caught up in the “should” (instead of the “could” or the “would like to”), we set ourselves up for disappointment and self-reproach, both of which play an integral role in sabotaging our personal goals and further unsteadying an already shaky self-regard.


PalmTreeChick said...

Geez DrStacey. I thought I was okay because I don't use the word "should." Then I got to the second paragraph where you threw in "need to" as another "bad" word. Til then I was psyched thinking "I don't say should, I say 'need to.'" :) Oh well.

Jennifer said...

I recently took an "Increasing Human Effectiveness" course for work and we talked about something very similar. Much of the course was based on the incredible power of self-talk (and negative self-talk alike). As one of the first tips, the course instructor asked us to eliminate the words "could," "should," "need, etc." from our vocabularies, as well as time limits. Then, using only positive terms, we were asked to develop goal statements that were phrased self-affirming way. For example, instead of saying "I should exercise four times a week," one should set a goal by saying, "Exercise makes me feel good! I enjoy going to the gym." Seems very simple, but I was stunned by the results. This process really lifts the pressure and puts everything in a positive light.

blubbah said...

What about a simple "am going to"? Very Yoda-esque, I know. But seriously - I'm not trying to lose weight, I'm going to lose weight. For a number of reasons, and after working on my attitudes towards myself and my body, I'm working out and eating better, and losing weight. Sometimes I don't, sometimes I gain, but as a whole and as a process, I'm losing and going to lose weight.

I detest shoulds and shouldn'ts when it comes to food. When people say "Oh, I shouldn't" or "No, that's bad (sinful, naughty, whatever)!" I just roll my eyes and ask how, exactly? Sure, if you're watching your calories or carbs or refined suger, it's not ideal, but so what? If you want it, really want it, a healthy desire - difficult as that can be - you should eat it. Almost anything can be part of a reasonable and balanced diet (in the literal sense of the word.). A Danish isn't sinful - as my dad would say, "Sin is something else and much more fun."

I will sometimes say that I should go work out because I'll feel better after I do, but that doesn't come loaded with any feelings of guilt or shortcoming, it's just an observation of a known fact.

I'm not sure I'm entirely sense-make-y here, I'm a bit sleepy.

ps22 said...

I really 'should' stop using the word 'should'.....

I'm so lame, I just couldn't resist. In all seriousness, great post and way to give tips on how people can adjust their thinking. I could definitely apply this to many situations where I "should" myself into (or out of) things.

littlem said...

PS22, lol.

I'd like to take the course Jennifer is taking. Jen, where do we sign up?

I'd also like to know, once we kick that habit, how we -- positively, of course -- get our bosses/relatives/loved ones to kick it as well.

How do we get them to get the dreaded "we should"s and "you should"s out of their vocabularies?

Concrete examples: is there any way to get a close friend who's a size 00 to STOP CONSTANTLY SAYING she "should" lose weight, or a relative literally twice your size to STOP CONSTANTLY SAYING "we should" all go on diets?

Dr. S, you're a communications genius -- what's the most positive way out of those holes?

drstaceyny said...

ptc--ah, the sneaky "need."

jennifer--that's a great exercise. Here I go: I enjoy the process of writing. . . . ; )

blubbah (I love all these names I get to type)--I like the Yoda approach. I would think that the only potential problem would arise w/consequences--if you don't do what you "were going to do," how do you handle it? If it's not perceived as a failure or setback, then it works!

ps--you really should. ; )

On your point, another therapist once said to me, "should" means "don't want to." Interesting to think about. . .

lm--you're asking me for how to confront someone? ; )
I might. . . I don't know, refer them to this interesting website you visit. . . . ; )

For me, it's easier now b/c I can stand behind my writnig and clinical work and offer a "professional perspective" on why something's wrong. For others, I like Jessica Weiner's approach, from Do I Look Fat in This? (sorry, don't know how to italicize here) when people speak what she calls, "The Language of Fat":

"I am not gonna go there with you and bond over whose butt is bigger or who ate more at lunch. I believe we deserve better than that! I refuse to speak the Language of Fat. Instead, I want to engage in a more meaningful and authentic conversation. I am done talking diets and I am through believing my life begins five pounds from now. In order to speak with me, you'll have to address me in language that is clear and affirming. I don't play this game anymore."

stephanie said...

This was something that my therapist preached to me about, because I was queen of the "should."

I'm happy to say, I do this less and less.

flowerchild said...

I was aware of the "Tyranny of the Shoulds" and their companions from Dr. Horney. It still doesn't help me get around hearing their echoes in my head.

littlem said...

"lm--you're asking me for how to confront someone? ; )"

Actually? Yes.

Because not only do I totally not have your professional cachet, but

as much as one is pointing out - as you've pointed out here - that something might REALLY BE WRONG with the thing you'd like the other person to focus on (here, for example, the relationship of "shoulds" to negative body image),

no one wants to be labeled as the angry, confrontational girl. Because then

1) you're not "ladylike", and

2) you're no longer "fun", either.

And that way, as you know, usually lies ostracism.

Haley-O said...

ooo...I needed this today! ;) Thanks Doc!

drstaceyny said...

stephanie--that's great. It sounds like your therapist really knew her stuff!

fc--it's hard to quiet voices that you've spent a lifetime rehearsing (takes lots of practice). I don't think the point is to eliminate them (at least early on), but rather, to avoid engaging them once they're there.

lm--that is true. I, too, sometimes struggle w/how to address these topics. The other night, a stranger was commenting on my friend's baby, only using words like "cute" and "beautiful." I added that the baby is also quite funny and intelligent, and the lady looked at me like I had two heads.

haley--glad it helped. . .

blubbah said...

drstacey - the flippant answer is, well, then you're not.

It's hard to be that flippant about yourself, of course. So I see it as a larger process rather than a weekly-daily-monthly thing. If I gain weight for a week, or a while, sure, I'm not losing weight right then, but in the larger picture, I am.

(Hah, I reread my initial comment and realized I mentioned 'process' there too. I'm consistent!)