Stop “Should-ing” on Yourself

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Below is a quote from the section of a book that I’m reading by Claudia Naranjo. Naranjo was a student of Fritz Perls, the well-known gestalt psychotherapist that led encounter groups at Esalen Institute in the late 60s. What I like about this quote is the distinction Naranjo makes around the subject of achieving goals. He describes how we often “should” ourselves when we have a particular goal or target in mind. Our “shoulds” really only act as self-punishing games. Moving forward on something important to us doesn’t require the “should” game. What it requires is simple, pure awareness. Read on...

A “should” is different from either a call or an ideal; “shoulds” constitute a way of being at odds with reality that cannot be other than what it is. When we blame ourselves for something already passed, for instance, we are indulging in a feeling that neither improves the wrongness we incurred in the past, nor provides anything necessary to do better in the future. Perhaps the only benefit of our guilt is that, at some level, it makes us feel “better.”

The same may be said of our stance toward the present area our experiences and actions here and now are what they are and could not possibly be otherwise. Self–blame or self–praise do not make them more or less. And they certainly did not make us better. If there is a way towards the fulfillment of ideals, it is clearly not the practice of turning them into shoulds.

Yet, “shoulds” exist to the extent to which we do not believe the foregoing statement. We believe that we must “push the river”––that if we do not make things right, they will certainly be catastrophic. In this sense, shoulds are an expression of our control madness... Our catastrophic expectations usually takes the form, “what would become of me ( or the world) if it were not for my (our) trying?” People should, to keep out of trouble.

Awareness is enough... If we have a conception of the desirable, and we know where we stand, that is all we need for our movement to perceive in the desired direction. Perhaps a good analogy is that of a child learning to walk or to climb. Warnings of danger and criticism, however accurate, will only detract from his attention to the task at hand and make contents areas if chronic, such “help” will make him less secure and not more skilled. Just as the adult in overprotecting the child lacks trust in the child’s potential for learning and developing, we, in ourselves–manipulation, through prodding or blaming, lack trust in our psycho–physical organism.

-- Claudia Naranjo, M.D., Gestalt therapy: The Attitude and Practice of an Atheoretical Experientialism, Gateways Publishing, pp. 64-65