The Should Monster

The Problem with “I Should”

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For all of us, there are things we want in life and things we need. Some of those needs might be indirect; we need a source of income not because we need money, but because money is required in order to have shelter and food. Wants might include pleasurable things like a hot fudge sundae, or more profound things that are in keeping with our values.

Then there’s the Should Monster. I think this particular monster in the image above is a he, but that’s not especially important. The Should Monster doesn’t help to propel you forward. When he’s not busy scratching his own rear end, as he appears to be doing in the graphic above, he’s got his finger claws digging into your back, and those pedicured toe claws digging into your butt. Plus he’s snorting his nasty messages in your ear. He makes it harder to get anything done.

I’d say that’s probably the key defining feature of the Should Monster. Instead of giving you motivation to do things, he drags you down and makes it extra-difficult to do whatever he’s snorting in your ear that you Should do. Psychologist Albert Ellis described cuddling up to Mr. Shouldy as musterbation, and Shoulds are considered a type of cognitive distortion in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Let’s have a look at some common Shoulds, inspired by a post on Dr. David Burns’ Feeling Good site.

Should Monster: You should be a better blogger, writer, pet parent, etc., etc.

There will always be someone who’s better than you at all of those things, just like there will always be someone who’s worse. There are over 7.5 billion people in the world. Chances are that at least a billion of them are better than you at something, and at least a billion of them are worse than you at something. Tell Shouldy to go bug some of those people instead.

Should Monster: You shouldn’t judge people.

We judge people. That’s what our brains do. Whether you choose to take those judgments seriously is a whole other matter, but if you try to put the kibosh on the process altogether, you’re just going to end up being so focused on judging yourself for judging that you’ll lose sight of the fact that the Should Monster is flexing his judgmental claws in your butt.

Should Monster: You shouldn’t make mistakes.

Give the Should Monster the middle finger by making a mistake right now. Like this tpyo. Bite me, Shouldy!

Should Monster: You should find time to do more [X].

There are a few options here. You could figure out a way to schedule [X] in over the next week so that you actually do it; you could decide that it’s low on the priority list, so it can sit on the back burner; or you could spend so much time snuggling with the Should Monster that not only do you not to [X], but you actually get less of other things done as well.

Should Monster: You shouldn’t feel [X].

All the while, the Should Monster is feeding you with a steady stream of feeling [X]. Suppression doesn’t work. The best way to get [X] to start dissipating is to kick Shouldy to the curb.

Should Monster: Other people shouldn’t be so stupid.

Maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are. You don’t need to look far to find plenty of proof of that. But unless the Should Monster takes flight and starts sprinkling smart juice down over the world, you might be better off just accepting the stupid and working around it as best you can.

Should Monster: “People shouldn’t support this (or that) political candidate. They should see what a loser she (or he) is.”

This one is in quotes because it’s straight from Dr. Burns’ site, and I thought it was funny because Shouldy and I are enthusiastically doing the cha cha together on this one.

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck because it is a duck, and some people choose to see a pterodactyl, that’s a bigger issue than the Should Monster.

Should Monster: Partner shouldn’t be so [X].

Perhaps partner shouldn’t be so [X], but maybe you shouldn’t be so [Y]. The Should Monster doesn’t have the skill set to help sort that out. It would be like asking me to build a house for you-not a pretty picture.

My own key defences against the Should Monster are my independence and stubbornness. I quite actively fight it when other people tell me what I Should do, and it seems to translate pretty well to the Should Monster. It’s my party and I’ll be stubborn as a mule if I want to.

Originally published at on May 25, 2020.

Mental health blogger | Former MH nurse | Living with depression | Author of 3 books, latest is Managing the Depression Puzzle |

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