Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Should On Yourself!

I've been thinking a lot lately about how self critical we have become. We berate ourselves for falling short of some imaginary goal that we set for ourselves. Worse yet, we have a habit of replaying scenarios over and over again in our heads of how we should have handled a situation differently - things we should have said, ways we should have acted. We degrade ourselves and judge ourselves as inferior. We are often far more critical of ourselves than we are of others. We are judge and jury and pronounce a sentence that is extreme and leaves us feeling guilty and shameful. We punish ourselves and then we do the next inevitable thing; we begin to attack others to make ourselves feel better. "Well if she hadn't been so stubborn, I would have never..." It starts a vicious cycle of attack. It's time to let ourselves off the hook. It's time to promote inner peace in a way we've never done before. These times are calling for a radical change. We must forge the waters of inner peace in ways we've never done before by changing the inner landscape of our minds.

When we attack ourselves it is no different than attacking someone else. Since we live in an energetic world where thoughts and feelings relay messages that affect the whole, when we attack ourselves we send a message of fear that is felt by everyone. The response to fear is often attack, blame or defensiveness. Katie Byron, founder of The Work tells us that defense is the first act of war. A Course In Miracles tells us that "In my defenselessness, my safety lies." Having remorse for treating yourself or another person badly is normal. The action called for is forgiveness. Forgiveness of someone else, forgiveness of yourself. As my friend Jacob wisely tells us, "Mistakes call for correction, not punishment." We need to learn from them and then move on. More often than not we punish ourselves significantly more than the alleged crime warrants. How can we learn compassion for others if we lack it for ourselves? "I should be this way, I should have done this, I shouldn't be so..." I had a teacher who used to say, "Don't should on yourself!" If we, for just one week, wrote down all the "shoulds" we impose upon ourselves, it would shock us at the impossible task masters we have become. Who could live by all those rules? Who could live up to that kind of perfection? And yet, this template becomes the one by which we set our standards. We don't even question where these rules come from. And the disappointment of not measuring up to these preconceived standards resides in the background of our lives and adds to our mild or even perhaps extreme discontent.

I'm asking you to give yourself a break. Let yourself off the hook this week. Ease up on all those strict standards and relax in the knowledge that you're doing the best you can. We make life so much more difficult than it has to be. If we ease up a little on our impossible rules, we will begin to feel a natural release from guilt - guilt that we tend to project onto others and then judge them by. We will then begin to see others differently because we will break the chain of defensiveness and blame. We are always first cause. It always starts with us and that's the good news. It gives us the power to change it.

We think all hell will break loose if we relax our standards, but once again it's the opposite; all peace would break loose. We are living by man made, self imposed, seemingly impossible rules; by which we then judge the rest of the world. If we are trying to become happy then that is faulty problem solving at its best. The solution here is inner peace. That may sound like a lofty ideal but it is, in fact, the best contribution we can make toward a more peaceful world. Berate and judge or soothe, forgive and relax the inner critic? Which one are you willing to project today? Inner peace is the beginning of the kind of life that we seek - a life of incredible joy, love and overwhelming good.

I would encourage you to relax this week. Take a vacation from all the "shoulds" you've been burdening yourself with. Check in with Byron Katie whose soul purpose is to teach people how to end their own suffering. Remind yourself of how often you get things right. If you're mind is being insufferable, make a list of them. If you still can't find peace in a given situation, pretend it's your best friends' problem and they are coming to you for advice. Extend to yourself the compassion that you would give your friend. Be easy on yourself this week. You're doing the best you can. Relax in the knowledge that you are loved and all is well.

I leave you this week with a quote from PM Forni, M.D. who said, “We are all the trustees of one another’s happiness and well being in life.”


  1. Really nice piece.
    We all learn from mistakes and being able to move on with a goal of attempting to not repeat something that is looked upon as a mistake takes balance. I think that part of not "should-ing" all over yourself is recognizing when something goes well. I have a friend who says "I love it when things go right." The meaning is that he doesn't take anything for granted.

  2. Very well said, inspiring and uplifting.
    It is always wonderful to be reminded the the "shoulda" is self defeating and not nurturing for the spirit.
    I love your way of expressing the gentle wise advice you give.
    Love and Aloha,
    Kauai, Hawaii