Cognition distortions are negative thought patterns that reinforce harmful beliefs and block the progress of recovery.
Should statements are when someone is constantly dissatisfied with whatever’s occurring in the present moment. If they’re doing something, they should be doing something else. If nothing is happening, something should be happening. If something is happening, something else should be happening.
This negative judgment extends to other people, who should be saying, thinking or feeling whatever you think they should – anything else is just plain wrong.
When you get caught up in should statements, you feel guilty about what you’re doing, saying or thinking because you’re violating these artificial rules you’ve constructed. That self-criticism can lead right to wanting to harm yourself with excess food, restricting food, purging, body obsession, or over-exercising.
When the should statements take over relationships, you feel anger and resentment that other people aren’t doing what they should, according to your definition of what should be happening. This leads to disappointment and hurt feelings.
When you first start monitoring your thoughts and words for “should,” “must,” or “ought to,” you might be surprised at how often they come up, yet that awareness is key to healing this distortion and moving towards healthier thoughts patterns.
You may also find it helpful for a therapist or sponsor to gently reflect back to you when they hear should statements – you may not even realize you’re making them.
Ideally, you want to reframe your wishes into choices, not shoulds. Instead of, “I should go for a walk tonight,” say, “I will,” making a commitment or, “I want to go for a walk because I want a healthy life.” Sometimes I encourage my clients to say, “I get to….”
If you notice your anger flaring up when someone isn’t doing what you think they should, practice letting go of being in charge of other people. You may think, “I wish he would get some help for that problem, but that’s his choice,” or, “I don’t like the way he left the dishes on the counter, but I can choose not to fight about it.”
Do you get caught up in what you and others should be doing? How does it feel to think of things in terms of a choice?