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Stop the Shoulds!

Updated: Jan 12, 2019

Learning to stop the inner critic and be more compassionate toward yourself.

If you're anything like me, sometimes you do a really good job of criticizing yourself. Do you ever think to yourself "I should've known that was going to be a bad decision!" or "Why am I so _______?" or "I should do more!"

Then sometimes we even beat ourselves up for being so hard on ourselves in the first place!

I call this the case of the "shoulds" - and you SHOULD stop it right now (Haha, I'm hilarious)

Actually, I'll rephrase that and say this instead - You have the option to change this thought pattern if you'd like to. I mean, if you're tired of putting energy into beating yourself up, then you should know that there are other options for you.

Most of us who do this to ourselves are really great at being positive for others, so why is it so hard to give ourselves that same consideration?

Why do we put so much energy into being hard on ourselves?

Perhaps because we are caring human beings and we want to better ourselves, but what would happen if we allowed ourselves to think differently?

Think of all the energy that could be spent instead on creating new, healthier thought patterns. Your brain has the ability to create new neuropathways and new options for thinking about yourself and the world around you.

Just like exercising your biceps to make them stronger, you can exercise healthier thinking patterns and strengthen those instead!

My past supervisor Serena Matuk, LMHC used to say "Stop should-ing all over yourself!" as a humorous way to call out self-criticism. But when you hear this statement it definitely takes you off-guard, which is a great way to stop letting your brain rehearse that negative thought pattern, thus, keeping it from getting stronger.

The more we rehearse these unhelpful thinking patterns, the stronger and larger they become.

So it's really important that we interrupt that sequence.

Here's an example I drew up to help explain this more:

As you can see, this pattern could easily become your go-to way of thinking, feeling and behaving.

This pattern will continue to strengthen, like a snowball rolling down a hill, unless you change the pattern by giving yourself other options:

Doesn't that seem like a more pleasant route to take?

One easy way to change your criticism thought process is to replace "should" with "I would rather".

Instead of saying "I should have really done things better." Say instead, "In the future, I would rather do it another way."

You can't beat yourself up for having knowledge now that you didn't have back then.

Where your control lies is in your ability to notice what you would like to do differently and not harm your self-esteem in the process.

However, this is easier said than done.

The good news is - just by reading this blog right now you have already started new neuropathways in your brain.

You've already started the process of changing your thought patterns.

You now have one more option for yourself, so go use it! (insert cheesy cheering photo here)

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to change your thought patterns, consider seeing a mental health therapist in your area.

To read more about the benefits of going to therapy, read my blog here:

Or to read more about giving yourself better self-care, read my blog here:


Hallie Henely, LMFT

Licensed Marriage and Family TherapistMental health advocateHolding Hands Family Therapy, PLLCWest Des Moines, Iowa Don't be shy, email me!

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