Is 'Should' Holding You Back?


How one little word can keep us from achieving lasting happiness.

Should is one of the most dangerous words in the English language- it speaks of obligation (I should do the grocery shopping), expectation (my partner should bring me flowers), and often disappointment (I should be more successful).

When we focus on how we believe things ought to be or how we’ve been told they should be, things tend to fall short. This can lead to serious dissatisfaction in work life, personal life, and even our own sense of self. We feel like failures either because we don’t live up to the expectations or we don’t seem to want the things we ought. We can also feel entitled (I should be happy) and then become angry or even resentful when we find we are not.

I had a client who came to me with relationship issues; she was so sad that her marriage was not what she thought it should be and that her partner did not do the things she thought he should, that she was contemplating leaving. Once we got to the root of those expectations, we began working on letting go of all of the “shoulds” and replacing them with “want” or “would like.” We focused on what was (what was her marriage actually like? What did her partner do for her?), and she began to explore whether or not she could be satisfied with things as they were.

As it turns out, she could. Not only did she discover more joy and contentment in her marriage, she began to recognize the power she had to determine her own wants and needs, to express them, and to even find ways to meet her needs herself. She let go of the idea that someone else should be making her happy, and discovered that she had the power to become happy herself. She then was able to enjoy her relationship without resenting her partner for being who he was and not what she thought he should be. She was positively buoyant the last time we met – sharing with me the sense of liberation and empowerment she was experiencing. And all of this came from letting go of a single word, should.

I see it every day – in my work with clients and even my own life. We are bombarded with images (some subtle and some not-so-subtle) about all that we should be. We place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and on our partners. It undermines our ability to enjoy the gifts we are given when they don’t resemble the gifts we thought we should be getting. So how do you break out of the shackles of should? The first step is to question your assumptions. When you think “should” ask “says who?” Consider where these messages are coming from and if they fit what you really want. Once you can figure out the things you want from life, not because you “should” but because they feel right and good to you, then you can start looking at how to achieve them.