Defeating the should monster

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

trees roots that look like a monster
Photo credit: © 2012 Vince, Flickr | CC-BY


The battles we fight in the external world are never as challenging as those that we fight within ourselves.

Most of those internal battles can be traced back to a single insidious source: the should monster.

It is a punishing taskmaster who speaks with a thousand voices but lives inside our own minds, trying at every turn to force us into the molds that others have created for us.

The should monster is a master of camouflage, hiding so well that we often miss its ever-present influence even as it drains the life from our souls.

Learning to recognize its every whisper and training to defeat it is the only way to live a life a true freedom.

The origins of the should monster

Part of what makes the should monster so challenging is that although we are given its messages by others, we have made them a part of ourselves.

Sometimes these messages and expectations are given to us by specific people—our parents, teachers, peers, spouses, colleagues, and friends. Other times they are indoctrinated into us by the forces of society at large or by the media as we see something so often that we begin to believe it.

No matter how these shoulds are given to us, though, they don't turn into a should monster until we ingest those shoulds as our own. We eat from the banquet of shoulds and expectations laid before us without realizing that we have a choice, and from there they spread internally until they take control.

We think we are still hearing the voices of others reminding us of what we should do, who we should be, how we should appear, but those voices are now only eternal echoes inside our own heads driving us away from our truest selves and into the molds of others.

It's so much easier to blame those who originally offered us these "shoulds" to eat, but once we've internalized them, we have become our own jailers.

We are the ones keeping ourselves enslaved to others' opinions. But that also means that we are the only ones with the power to set ourselves free!

Recognizing the should monster in action

The challenge, of course, once they become a part of us, is that it is harder to tell the difference between what is truly coming from our soul's deepest wisdom and what is coming from an echo of some externally imposed expectation.

It all sounds the same when it is echoing about inside our hearts and minds.

The difference is in how we feel when we consider something. If contemplating some action makes me feel caged or "less than" in some way, it's a should that I've ingested somewhere along the line. If I am doing it only because I fear the reactions of others or think it will help me fit in, it's someone else's expectation acting on me.

If considering some action feels ultimately liberating or empowering—even if it's scary or doesn't sound like much fun in the short term—chances are it's an authentic choice. If it's something I am doing because it aligns with my values and moves me toward the person I want to be no matter what anyone else thinks, I can trust that.

As you think about an action, do you feel dread? Or do you feel excitement (even if it's blended with fear)? Does it make you contract or expand? Do you feel resentful or relieved?

Sometimes it comes down to noticing the focus of the thoughts that spring up as you consider something. Lots of thoughts about what other people (specific ones or people in general) will think is your should monster in action. Be wary of choosing from that place!

Choosing what matters

Once we've learned to recognize the should monster in action, we are in a better place to know why we are choosing something.

There will always be things that we do even though we don't particularly want to (at least not in that moment). For those things that we choose to do anyway, we take back our power from the should monster by re-framing them into the choice they really are instead of blaming them on a should message.

For example, I don't enjoy cleaning the bathroom. I choose to do it anyway—not because I should, but because I like the feeling of having a clean bathroom more than I dislike the chore of cleaning it. I'm choosing it because it ultimately makes my life better, not because of anyone else's opinion about it.

There are days I really don't want to write a blog post, but I choose it anyway—not because I should, but because I ultimately really like writing and having a schedule of due dates gives me good incentive to do what I enjoy doing even on the days I'm feeling lazy.

When I clearly and intentionally choose what I do based on my wants, needs, and goals (and not on someone else's expectations), I defeat the should monster, who no longer has a say.

Ditching the rest

Once I'm clear about what I'm choosing because it's what I want, it's much easier to let go of all of the other messages that the should monster tries to impose on me.

I've learned to pay careful attention to my language (out loud and in my head). When I notice myself saying I should do something, it's a cue to stop and look for the influence of a should monster.

Either that's a good moment to re-frame this into a choice I'm making because of an ultimate good I want (e.g., cleaning the bathroom) or it's a should that I have internalized from someone else's opinion that I can drop.

At the end of the day, there will always be people who have opinions about how I should be living my life, and there will always be those who disagree with my choices and will happily tell me that I should be doing things differently.

Always. No matter what I choose.

But I'm the only one who has to live with the choices I make, so I am best served by making those choices from deep within myself and not as a slave to the should monster who is nothing more than the echoes of those who want to make me conform to their expectations.

Where do you fall prey to the should monster in your life?

What should messages have you ingested along the way that you're ready to drop in favor of choosing what matters most to you?


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