Stop Shoulding All Over Yourself

a sepia toned photo of a dog on a leash sitting next to its owner. The owner is only depicted from the waist down and appears to be wearing denim jeans and boots.
Image by Natalie Lucier / CC BY

Hi Page,

[Description of a complex social situation.]

Am I wrong for feeling [emotion]? Should I feel a different way?

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Feelings are never right or wrong. They just are. You get to feel what you feel.

Now, when we take actions based on our feelings, whatever they are, we are accountable for those. So if we cut someone out of our life, or have a heart-to-heart with someone, or whatever it is we decide to do, we are on the hook for whatever outcome those actions cause.

Sometimes our feelings will push us in ways that cause us to act unproductively or in a way that actually backfires.

So just because feelings aren’t wrong doesn’t mean that those emotions can’t push us to do things that have really undesirable outcomes.

But the feelings themselves aren’t wrong. They just are.

Stop Shoulding All Over Yourself

The best piece of advice I ever got was “stop shoulding all over yourself.” Say it aloud. Sounds like “shitting,” doesn’t it? Which is apt, really. Because that’s what you’re doing when you should all over yourself.

Stop worrying about how you should feel. There is no should. You feel how you feel.

The Oughts Aren’t in Your Favor

There’s a framework in psychology called self-discrepancy theory. In it, Higgins proposes that there are three basic domains in our self-concept:

  • Actual Self. How we perceive ourselves to be already .
  • Ideal Self. How we would ideally like to be.
  • Ought Self. How we believe others would like us to be.

Both the Ideal and Ought Selves focus on our future potential, but the key difference is that Ideal Self tends to revolve around what a person admires in others and has been positively rewarded for in the past.

Conversely, the Ought Self tends to arise based on trying to avoid characteristics or behaviors that a person has been criticized for in the past.

Neither guide is bulletproof. However, it’s worth noting that shame and guilt are often linked with a focus on the discrepancy between Ought and Actual Selves. Rather than being a good motivator, when a person perceives a large gap between how they ought be and how they actually are, they instead tend to avoid their problems and procrastinate.

In other words, shoulding all over yourself likely isn’t doing you any favors.

But look, it’s probably not even your fault. If you’re anything like me, you grew up in an environment where people shoulded all over you. It’s what you learned to do from them.

And maybe they were well meaning, trying to teach you to fit into a complex social world. Or keep you from running out into traffic.

And if you’re reading this, it’s likely that the approach kept you safe enough from harm that basically it did what it was intended to.

But for most adults, that sort of thinking does you way more harm than good. And you probably don’t need it anymore.

Stop shoulding all over yourself.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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