Things Fall Apart: How 'should thinking' is crushing our self-esteem

When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart, she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves

One of the wisest women I know, my friend Maria, once taught me about 'should thinking'. It’s a way of knowing when your mind has gone to the bad place and is beating you up. Because sometimes, it is possible to have clicked into that mode but not to have realised it.

To be feeling dreadful but also be in complete denial about it, and sort of not realise you are feeling dreadful. Mask it with all kinds of things. Food. Drink. Busyness to name a few.

You’ll know your own mind is giving you a hard time when you find your inner voice telling you you should be doing things. Or feeling things. Or achieving things.


Once you know about 'should thinking', it’s like having a little alarm bell set in your head, and when you start should-ing yourself to death, it goes off, and hopefully, you stop.

My own brand of should thinking

I do it a lot as a freelancer. I should be at the desk, I’ll catch myself thinking as I go for coffee with a friend on a Tuesday morning. And then I’ll remember that I worked until eleven the previous night, or got up at five the morning before to finish something off.

I get there quick now — mostly I don’t even have to lucidly think through all the above, or do the rationalising. My brain instantly knows that, if it’s being told I should be doing something, chances are it’s best to ignore it.

'Should thinking' is rigid thinking. It’s thinking that there’s one way of doing things and everything else is wrong thinking.

Christmas pressure

Christmas is the worst for should thinking. It’s just one big should nightmare. I should be having the time of my life. Things should be going exactly like this. Feeling a certain way. I should be happy, happy, happy.


"I see what’s happening here," the Work Wife said to me during the week as I glumly regaled the tale of a day out not gone to complete it’s-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year perfection. "You’ve put Christmas in front of everything you’re doing this month. It’s not just a walk, it’s a Christmas walk. It’s not just an afternoon in town, it’s a Christmas day out."

She was right. I was slightly crushing things with the weight of my own expectations of how things should be going.

Don’t should yourself to distraction this Christmas.

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