Individual Psychotherapy + Sex Therapy

Anxiety Treatment: Are You ‘Should’ing On Yourself?’

Many of us spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how we should be feeling, what we should be doing, or what we should have done. Living in the land of should’s usually makes us feel lost, wrong and/or bad. It is rare that a shouldthought is positive in nature. Most of our should’s are a form of negative self-talk, a way we judge and put ourselves down.

The more time we spend reminding ourselves of the things we shouldbe doing, the less motivated we become and the more anxious we feel about our lives. This is because we are not honoring how we dofeel and what we aredoing now. Should’s take us out of the present. We move away from what is true now and start contemplating the things we shouldhave done in the past or the actions we shouldtake in the future. Living in the past or the future limits our ability to access our true power. To transform your should’s and ultimately feel more empowered in your life now, try the following:

First, take notice when you’re ‘should’ing on yourself.’  We often don’t even notice when we make these self-criticisms and self-judgments.

If you think it might be helpful, write down your personal list of should’s.  This list is to help you bring more awareness to your should’s, not to judge your judgments. Simply become aware with kindness and without judgement.  Your list may look something like this:

  • I should eat better.
  • I should be happy in this relationship.
  • I should have gone for a walk instead of eating that cookie.

After you have taken some time to bring awareness to the fact that you do ‘should on yourself’ at times, and you have identified some of these shoulds’, start to explore what is present around the should. You may want to write that down as well. As you write, try to use the kind of language you might use with a very good friend. Talk to yourself with compassion, love, and kindness. Your list may look similar to this:

  • Ok, I’m not eating well lately. What is standing in my way? Do I feel like I need to punish myself? Why? Do I want the way I feel emotionally to match the way I feel in the body? Hmmm…Well, I am eating more junk food while I’m watching TV lately. What’s that all about? Maybe I’m feeling lonely and I watch TV to feel more connected and involved in life, but it just makes me feel more alone, so I eat to make myself feel better. That isn’t really working though, is it?
  • I’m just not happy in this relationship. What do I feel? What am I feeling right now? It is not wrong if need something different or something more right now. I feel really sad because I feel pressure to be happy and I’m not. Maybe I can explore that sadness at my own pace and try not to just push it down or hold it inside so much.
  • Yes, I originally wanted to go for a walk, but I ate the cookie instead. Okay. Let’s not be hard on myself and just start over. I’m still a good person and I do love myself enough not to beat myself up for a slip. Breathe and let go.

Moving forward continue to notice when you use a should (out loud or inwardly to yourself). Notice. Pause. Slow down. Breathe deeply a few times. Bring yourself into the present. Give yourself permission to feel the way you do now – it isn’t wrong.   Honor your true feelings.  Should’s are a judgment and just create more suffering and pain.

It takes practice to pause and not get dragged down by what seems to be wrong. When we put down the ideas of what life shouldbe, we are free to truly live our life.


Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in private practice in Princeton, NJ.  She specializes in sexual health & wellness, intimacy and relationship issues.  For more information, please check out her website at

Kimberly Atwood, MA, LPC
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