How many times have you found yourself judging your experience? Saying things like “I should have done it this way” or “I should feel this way.” You may also place strong meaning to the experience by labeling it as good or bad. We live in a world of instant access to others’ views, opinions, and shares. This can be positive in that it can help us feel connected to others. However, it can also be terribly damaging, as we tend to compare ourselves to others. This can be isolating in that it can make you feel like you are alone in your experience while others seem to have handled it so well or differently. And as you might know, research shows that people tend to put their best foot forward on social media, often leaving out the nitty-gritty painful parts, the ugly bits that we are often afraid to show. Because of course there is that concern of “What if people judge me for this?” or “I should present a certain way for people to like me.”

They say we are our own worst critique but maybe it is time we rewrite the script and start being gentle to ourselves? If we don’t start a trend of kindness towards ourselves why should we expect anyone else to treat us that way? If we start with treating ourselves with empathy, objectivity and acceptance, then maybe, just maybe, we can begin a movement of paying this same concept forward to others by being non-judgmental of them as well. The truth of the matter is, very often our perception of others and of life in general is really just a mirror of ourselves, which is why that is where we start.

Similarly, I have led countless therapeutic groups where people tend to naturally “should” on one another. We need to start a healthier means of support, a more open, validating form of communication. While these same people are often well-intentioned, it comes from a place of discomfort. For example, when someone is grieving a loved one after quite some time has passed, many find themselves saying common phrases like, “when are you going to move on” and “you should be over this by now, it has been a year.” We do this because we want to help them feel better, but it can actually have the opposite effect. Grief is not processed on a specific timeline. Yes, there are the well-known “5 stages of grief” from the Kubler-Ross model, but more recent research indicates that there is no definitive timeline, and these stages are more individualized, and not necessarily occurring in the same order for everyone. But let’s save more on grief for a future post. This form of hinting at how someone “should” feel places expectations on them and can set someone up for feeling like a failure if they do not live up to those expectations.

 We also have a tendency to tell others about our own experiences rather than letting them express their present feelings, in an attempt to relate to them or make them feel at ease. This is another form of “shoulding” if we do so too quickly, without giving them the opportunity to feel or express their own experience. While again the intent is good, it can often lead to comparison. If someone you care about is going through something challenging for them or on the flip side wonderful for them, don’t assume you know or understand exactly how they are experiencing it. Ask them to share their feelings with you. Then you can relate and talk more openly about similarities if it feels appropriate. But often, especially for the hard stuff, people really need you to just allow for a safe space for them to feel their feelings. We deserve to give ourselves this same space as well. Room to be heard is a gift we often struggle with giving.

The part about feelings we tend to forget is that we are HUMAN. Two people can be in the same event and experience it completely differently. There is no right way or wrong way to feel something. If we start to let-go of judgement and work towards allowing ourselves to “just be” we can likely work through our feelings in a healthier way. So many people feel stuck because they never really gave themselves time to feel something, anything, all the parts, the sad, the positive, the relief, the pain, the fear, the…

It is human nature to want to “fix” things and it is not an easy feat for many to “sit with” someone in their experience, especially painful ones. However, that is exactly what we need from one another. The beauty of our human experience is the being in it. Stop fighting it so hard, stop “shoulding” on yourself. Because while it may seem like you “should” feel a certain way, pushing yourself to go against the grain, rather than allowing yourself to feel the experience in the moment can actually prolong your healing process.

Do you have a habit of “shoulding” on yourself or others? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and try to stop instantly because we think we think we “should”, but rather notice your pattern with an objective eye, practice acceptance, and sit with it. Happy observing.