The Unofficial Swear Word We Need To Stop Saying

Self Love

There is another word to add to the taboo list, and this one packs a punch that can have a lasting damage that is just as bad, if not worse, than any word we were scolded for saying when we were young.

This word masquerades in morality and goodness, yet makes our insides shudder when uttered. This word is sly, infiltrating the everyday sentence, seemingly nonchalant, yet leaving feelings of inadequacy whenever it’s wielded. Even when only thought, not even stated out loud, this word causes our insides to turn as feelings of shame overtake.

What is it? What is this seemingly innocent word that can cause so much havoc?


That’s right. Should. This simple one syllable word can be devastating in any form.

Telling yourself that you should or should not have done something is like scolding yourself; it is passing judgment and shaming you for your actions, without considering your intention behind them. When used on yourself, should prevents you from being able to see other options, limiting you to a predetermined belief system that comes from deep within, without considering that this belief system may be outdated or based on a different set of circumstances. Should-ing does worse than just hold you back from thought exploration, it also makes you feel confined, controlled, or contained in the process. It takes away choice by making the choice for you, taking away any freedom you had to act, think, orfeel otherwise. God forbid when you tell yourself that you should do something a certain way and you don’t; you are left feeling the repercussions of its sting, the self-disappointment in knowing that you did not live up to should’s expectations of you. To your self set, potentially unexplored, expectations of yourself.

Similarly, using this word against another by stating they should or should nothave done something, said something, been something, is just as shattering. It casts judgment on the recipient and in one quick phrases dismisses any chance for an open conversation because it implies the answer is already known. Saying should closes communication by failing to allow other possibilities, answers, ways of thinking, being, or doing, to be considered. Think about it — when someone you look up to, love, or respect tells you that you should do or say something a certain way, how does that leave you feeling? Chances are it doesn’t put you in a creative or inspired state — instead, it may feel obligatory, that you have to respond accordingly or else disappoint that person whom you admire. Even if someone you don’t know or don’t respect were to should at you, it still doesn’t breed possibility or conversation and often doesn’t lead you to just let the situation go. Instead, it usually creates anger and frustration by suggesting you are supposed to be/do/think differently than you do, and who does that person think they are to dictate their beliefs onto you?

On a team, should is just as bad. It does not provide clarity in rules or guidelines as the word may suggest. It simply halts effectiveness by hindering collaboration, thought partnership, and brainstorming. Saying should is not only stating an opinion — it is also stating that the opinion is right and that to go against it would be foolish, wrong, or simply inaccurate.

What purpose does should serve (because why would we should if it has no purpose)?

Should is a clue into our internal beliefs and guidelines about what is right and what is wrong. It provides a glimpse into our inner workings by sharing a deep-set belief that a person has about the world. It is a way for those beliefs to be articulated. Yet it is flawed in that it implies that a truth is known and is to be followed, without ever considering that one person’s truth may not be another’s. In society, we have constructed a group of shared norms and expectations — shoulds about what is right or wrong, what is or is not legal, and what is or is not to be tolerated. When the beliefs are shared and considered to be truth, should serves as a reminder of how to behave to keep us in line and in check with these moral codes.

However, in everyday life, should has been used in excess to the point of detriment. It undermines our own confidence by telling us how to be without giving us a say.

I believe it is time to put a stop to it. I am calling upon us to catch ourselves when we are about to lean on should. For the benefit of all, for the goodness of self, for the betterment of society —

I am calling on us to, as the saying goes, stop should-ing all over ourselves.

Here is what I propose:

Before responding to another with a should, consider rephrasing the thought to be a suggestion or a statement about what you believe as opposed to forcing your own belief system (in the form of should) onto the other. While it may be that the other person would agree with your belief in the situation, by rephrasing your thought away from should you are giving them the opportunity to choose to believe it instead of presuming or requiring it. Shoulds can make the other feel as if they need to go on the defense when communicating with you; eliminating shoulds will create opportunity for deeper, richer discussions in which all aspects of a situation can be voiced without fear or judgment.

As you go about your day and hear your inner thoughts telling you to should, I encourage you to challenge the thought. Ask yourself, why should I? What makes it so? Could it be equally as likely that I should not? By questioning the shoulds you are challenging your own belief system, giving yourself an in to reshape and reconsider how you want to respond to that situation or thought. It puts you back in the driver’s seat. Another tool is to rephrase your thoughts away from should so that the feelings of shame or judgment that often latch onto shoulds are not present. One option would be to turn should to could for instances in which you are considering what to do but aren’t ready to make a decision. This will open your mind to possibility and free you; it may even feel like a weight has been lifted as you begin to think through all the different ways to move forward. Another option is to turn should to will for instances in which you want to act, and haven’t done so yet. This will inspire action by phrasing the thought in the declarative.

So, there you have it. It is time. It is time to leave the shoulds behind, and the judgements, shame, and limiting perspective will fall away with it.