Dr. Kristin Schaefer-Schiumo| Manhasset NY

Living in the "Shoulds" and "Musts"

The "shoulds" and "musts" of our everyday life are the greatest destroyers of mental health. Everyday I work with my clients as they discuss the things they are unhappy about. Many times, it is not the thing itself that is causing the unhappiness, but how they think about what is happening in their lives. Perhaps they believe they're falling short of what their family, culture or society expects from them. Or perhaps they feel they are fully meeting outside expectations, but are still unhappy because they are not living the lives they want to live.

For example, adolescents feel they "should" do better in school despite their best efforts, and therefore feel down. Or, women see friends with children and believe they "must" have a baby too, and therefore feel down.

The "shoulds" and "musts," which are beliefs about what happens to us, are endless and exhausting. They can come up around many things including how much money we should make, what our marriages must be like, where we should (or our children should) go to school, what kind of parents we must be, how other people should behave...The list can go on and on and on.

The good news is, there are ways to be almost "should-free." Breaking free of the shoulds is not easy; it is uncomfortable, causes pain, and sometimes leads to disappointment by those we love because they don't always agree with the choices we're beginning to make. But as you begin to live your life in a way that is true to yourself and nurturing of yourself, you begin to experience an immense sense of freedom. You will begin to more clearly understand your own values and limits, the kinds of relationships that nourish you and make you happy, and what you are willing to do for others to be there for them without hurting or compromising yourself. To help you do this, there are a few questions that you need to ask "Is the should I'm doing getting in the way of the life I want to have?" "Is the should contributing to my being unhappy?" If the answer is yes, then you truly owe it to yourself to begin making some new choices and developing some new ways of thinking, feeling, and responding to the world around you. Release yourself from at least one of your "shoulds!"