I am realizing that much, if not most, of my stress over how my life is going has a lot to do with not living up to the “shoulds” that furtively, yet, persistently find a place in my thoughts. These shoulds dictate to me what it means to be successful, what it means to have a good life, what it means to be good.
- I should have children.
- I should always be happy in my marriage.
- I should have an amazing job that brings me joy and fulfillment.
- I should unquestioningly accept the setbacks in life with equanimity.
- I should be thin.
- I should be beautiful.
- I should have lots of friends and an incredibly active social life.
- I should be happy all the time.
- I should not be angry.
- I should always like my husband.
- I should always put myself last.
My entire life has been ruled by the shoulds. I have ruled myself with an iron fist to bend to the shoulds. The shoulds are the bane of my existence.
But lately when I become aware of these cruel thoughts I am learning to ask, “Who says?”
Who says that success means having children? Who says that marriage has to “work” all the time? Who says I shouldn’t be angry? Who says I can’t grieve? Who says I can’t be a loner? Who sets up these impossible rules that are stamped into my brain?
Sometimes the answer is everybody. Sometimes the answer is nobody. Sometimes the answer is, “I do.”
I do. That’s the hard one. I’ve realized that my entire life I have believed in a very narrow definition of success, a narrow definition of good. This definition includes happiness, babies, a great career, and an ever supportive and accepting husband. Any other life simply is not worth living. This is what I say to myself. And I’m wrong. I know with all my mind that I am wrong.
But telling that to my heart or whatever part of me it is that believes so strongly that I must have a child to be worth something, that if my husband and I have serious problems I am a failure, that if I prefer to spend most of my time alone my life must be empty…telling it to me so that I believe it in my soul is going to take some time.
I have been trying to tell myself different things–hopefully they will eventually drown out these subconscious messages that I live with. No more shoulding. No more iron fist.
- I accept that I am not perfect.
- I accept that I am human.
- I accept myself the way that I am.
- I’m doing fine.