The dark power of should
“Should” is one of the most powerful killers of Spirit and self-esteem known to humankind and to spiritual direction clients. It’s full of obligation. It drives us into inaction and mental paralysis. And, it works on our psyche like a 50 lb. backpack works on a hiker. Its power is a dark force in our lives.
Alex grew up in a fundamentalistic church. The first time we met, he said he was failing in his spiritual life. When I asked him what he meant, he said, “I made it my New Year’s resolution to read through the Gospel books. I’m supposed to be reading a chapter a day. I’m just not doing it.” It quickly became apparent that Alex’s religious framework served up all kinds of “shoulds.”
Here’s a step we can take with clients who are “shoulding” on themselves: Help them convert the “I should” to an “I shall” or “I will” that truly inspires them. This amounts to helping them move from a victim and shame mindset to a creative and proactive mindset. There is a world of difference between the God who keeps score and who leads us through our inner desires. An inspiring “I will” leads us to take action. Decisiveness is energizing. Any small action is more powerful and effective than 1000 shoulds. And an action that becomes a mistake has something to teach us. Shoulds simply scold us.
When Alex listened deeply, he decided he wanted to choose a favorite Bible passage, meditate upon it, and then write a poem on what it means to him using entirely different words (he loved to write poetry). Alex was able to convert a burdensome “should” into an exciting action. And in our next session, he shared a beautiful poem about the power of forgiveness.
Listen carefully for when clients use the language of “should,” and then see if you can help them transform the should into an exciting “I shall”. Freedom is the reward.