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.