Why Using the Word “Should” Creates Expectation, Judgement, Stress (and possibly mental health issues)

You should.   We should.   They should.   I should….

Should – used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.

The word “should” denotes an expectation. Families should have children.  Children should learn and grow according to the recommended timelines. Parents should send their children to the best schools and enroll their children in physical activities.  Young people should go to college.  Everyone should get a job.  You should save money to buy a house.  You should save money for retirement.  We should spend money to boost the economy.

Is this word really damaging though?

Remember that game we all played as children?  The game where someone is told a “secret” and then that person tells the “secret” to another person, and they pass it on to another person, and so on.  In the end, depending on how many people were involved, the message is so distorted that the person who originally started the game needs to explain out loud the original comment!

Over time, a comment like “Young people should go to college,” becomes “Young people are supposed to go to college,” or even “Young people NEED to go to college.”

Something that we originally had a non-biased choice whether or not to do becomes an expectation that we have to do it.

Expectation will always come from SOCIETY.  What to eat, wear, listen to, drive, and even how we should act, is suggested to us throughout life. However, it has been so cleverly planted in our minds that many people actually feel these expectations come from themselves.  That’s because expectations create judgement, and humans are naturally a very judgmental species.  We judge ourselves unbelievably critically.  Then, we judge others to the same standards we judge ourselves, and we assume that other people are judging us as much as we are judging them.

Think about that for a minute. Consider your life.  If you are content with your life, you don’t typically judge others for living the same way you do.  However, what if you aren’t happy with where your life is right now? What aspects of your life aren’t you happy about? How do you feel about others who live the same way you do? What makes some people content in a situation that leaves others unfulfilled?  The difference is the expectation that you have towards yourself that you SHOULD be better than what you currently are.

The only reason you feel that you should be better is because someone, somewhere, somehow has told you or implied that you are not good enough the way you currently are.  That, my friends, is just not the truth.

For decades I personally bought into these expectations, the “shoulds” of life.  I studied hard to get into college.  I practiced at everything I did so I could be the best I could be.  I started a career, bought a house, got married. I dressed like a professional should, like an “adult”.  I was doing all of the things I believed I should do to be a successful and productive member of society.

I also took my medications for depression and anxiety.  I had chronic health issues – GI problems, neck pain, and psoriasis.

Then came the point where I couldn’t do it any longer.  I left my lifelong career that I had spent decades building.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to have enough money to keep the house.  I was totally lost, which I can tell is not helpful for someone with depression and anxiety.

However, with some changes in how I think about life, I now feel the best I ever have.  I don’t have my chronic GI problems, my neck pain is not crippling anymore, and my psoriasis miraculously went away completely.  I personally feel I have the best grip on my mental health in over twenty years.  I am making a lot LESS money than I did before, but I still have my house.  However if I was unable to keep my house, I am at a point in my life where I would be fine with that.

I am here to tell everyone to LET GO OF THE EXPECTATIONS YOU HAVE ABOUT WHAT YOUR LIFE SHOULD LOOK LIKE.  Your life is how it is because that’s simply how it is.  Don’t judge yourself poorly for that.  You are coping in your current situation and your situation can and will change over time.

I can hear people saying in their heads: “What is wrong with having expectations? Without expectations everyone will just become lazy and unproductive.  It’s not right to tell people to give up on life, this blog is dangerous.”  If that is the message you have been reading, I apologize for not being clear enough.  Accepting where you are in life is not the same as giving up on life altogether 🙂 You can still have goals !

An expectation is something you have decided NEEDS to get done.

A goal however is something you WANT to get done.

Goals create hope, while expectations create despair.


Here is an example of an expectation:

I’m 36 years old and I want a purse because my back pack doesn’t really compliment the business clothing I wear. (fear I will be judged because of how immature pack backs look in the business world)

Here is an example of a goal:

I want to install a skylight in my bathroom because there are no windows and I want natural light. (no pressure from society to install a skylight in a bathroom, no fear of judgement if I don’t install a skylight)

I now live my life by letting go of expectations and accepting that I know what is the right thing for me.  My mental health is better and my physical health is better.  I am less stressed because I am content with my current situation.

Next time you think you should do something or feel you need to do something, just take a minute to reflect: is it because you WANT to do it, or because you think you are SUPPOSED to do it ?

Aurae Wellness Coaching helps others learn to cope in this society and live a less stressful life.  Danielle has two decades of personal and professional experience with trauma, mental health issues, and workplace related stress.


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