I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or used the word “should” lately. It feels as if the world is being run based on “should” and “have to,” and there is little or no compassion left in our interactions with ourself or with others. Every time I hear the word, I envision the person hearing it feeling shame or guilt at something they have not yet done, feel they have to do, or something they “should” have done better. What are we doing to each other – worse, what are we doing to ourselves? Our culture has taught us to utilize this form of communication to get people to do things they might not want to do. It is a form of manipulation and tyranny, and the energy that is created in this is joyless and draining.
In his book Non-Violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, says “If the way we evaluate ourselves leads us to feel shame, and we consequently change our behavior, we are allowing our growing and learning to be guided by self-hatred.” This statement is hung on my office wall as a reminder to me to do those things that give me joy, because I want to do them, and that I have choices. It states that any change I make in my actions or communications can come about out of respect and compassion for myself and for others. It can happen without hatred, self or otherwise, shame or guilt.
Maria Nemeth, PhD, author of Managing Life’s Energies, suggests that all goals should be play, creating joy based on values and your intentions in life. Marshall Rosenberg shares that “an important form of self-compassion is to make choices motivated purely by our desire to contribute to life rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, duty, or obligation.” When you look at goals, actions and behavior in this fashion, it changes the soul energy you hold as you go about any activity. And, when you change the soul energy, you are motivated even when the work is hard, or takes time you feel you don’t have, because you have a choice.
An important form of self-compassion is to make choices motivated purely by our desire to contribute to life.
So, next time you are faced with something you are manipulating yourself into doing by saying you “should” or “have to,” complete this sentence: “I choose to ____________(whatever it is you are doing) because I want __________________ (what you need and value, your purpose, or what you are seeking from others).” This can be a difficult concept to understand, so some examples should help.
Janie has smoked off and on for 16 years. She knows all the reasons why smoking is not healthy, and I hear her constantly saying “I know I should quit smoking.” But the “should” in that statement makes her feel guilty and ashamed of her smoking, and she digs her heels in every time she says it. But, if she were to say “I choose to quit smoking because I want to not get bronchitis and pneumonia this winter so I feel well enough to visit my parents in January,” she may find herself resisting less. What she wants is based on her intention to be physically vital and a loving family member. These are powerful motivators and by recognizing she has a choice, she begins to relax her resistance to the “should” in her previous thought process.
Sam, in his fifties, has been pursuing a career he disliked in Senior Management. He has been miserable for a very long time. I asked him to complete this sentence and he made a major discovery. He said “I choose to work in management at company XYZ because I want my spouse and family to know that they can expect to live the life, now and in the future, that the money I earn provides them, and they will love me because I am taking care of them.” This realization saddened Sam tremendously. He knows that he has been “shoulding” on himself, and making choices based on a reward coming from outside himself in the form of money and approval/love rather than seeking to satisfy an internal need. While it is a great motivator to be a loving family member and to make enough money to take care of your family, for Sam to continue to do so at his own expense and unhappiness because he thinks they will love him is debilitating. In essence, he is telling himself that this is the only reason they love him – and is a form of self-hatred because he sees who he is as unworthy of their love.
So, going back to the concept of creating goals that are play and contribute to life, what do you envision Janie's or Sam’s goals to be? Janie’s play goal is to visit her parents in January. Sam’s play goal is to find work that fulfills his interests and passions and utilizes his strengths and gifts – at the same time spending more time with his family so they can get to know him for who he is and begin enjoying each other.
What are you doing out of fear, guilt, shame, or obligation?
Just for today, I will take action out of a desire to contribute to life; I choose to play.