Dealing with guilt? Stop living a life of shoulds and shouldn’ts

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My wastepaper basket was filled with scrunched up and scribbled on pieces of paper as I tried to write this post several months ago. After 6,000 words, it was still not feeling right, so I decided to pull out some of the thoughts and write an entire post on it.

I was going through a lot of mind struggle, as I battled with a bit of the travel blues, brought on by exhaustion and a slight evolving of my values.

I discovered that part of my problem was that I was caught deep in the mire of living a life of shoulds.

Shoulds precede guilts and are a just a whipping of the cat-o-nine tail upon ourselves as punishment for not being perfect. Or, they lead us to resentment – resenting others, resenting circumstances, resenting our mistakes, resenting ourselves.

Dealing with guilt

The guilt quagmire sinks you deeper into a life that has little meaning for you. You don’t want to move forward or backward because whatever direction you take it’s painfully reminds you of how less you are amongst the shoulds and shouldn’ts.

We all do it, don’t we?

There is so much more I should be doing to be a better mother, wife, friend, daughter, writer, blogger, traveller and person.

I should be writing this post, I should have my kids in school, I should have money in superannuation, I should own some possessions, I should be doing better with my business, I shouldn’t have forgotten that gift, I shouldn’t have missed the meeting, I should meet up with this person, I should help that person, I should be nicer when really what I want to do is tell some one to take a hike in colourful language, I should be exercising more.

I should I should I should.

You might as well whip out the fog horn and scream “I’M A FAILURE. LOSER. FAILURE.” to every person that walks past so they know what a mess up you are and you no longer have to pretend you’ve got your shit together.

Let me give you an example of how letting the guilts get in the way of the facts can seriously disturb your life.

We left on our Australian road trip just after Kalyra turned six. A couple of months in and her behaviour turned quite crazy and aggressive. I took it all on board as a result of our choice to go travelling. It was all my fault and I’d ruined our child. I was stressed out about it for months. Her behaviour would settle back into her usual sweetness and then it would erupt again.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a book “Your Seven Year Old: Life in a minor key” because I thought I needed some extra guidance as to how to figure my child out and help her. The book moves back and forth between six and seven for comparisons and low and behold, six is an age of fierce aggression. Exactly how Kalyra was. So for a year, I beat myself up thinking I was a failure as a mother, purely because I let guilt get a grip instead of going to seek some facts!

If only I took the time to get over my self-absorbed guilt to find an easy explanation.

Because that’s what we do with guilt right? Underlying it is a dislike and distrust in ourselves. The willingness to shoulder the blame and feel responsible so we can tear ourselves down a little. And if we don’t do it to ourselves we’ll do it to others in some weird projectory way.

When our road trip started to feel like a chore I fell apart because all I was focusing was on how I was failing and what I SHOULD be doing.

I looked out there to throw the blame. This stupid travel life we live is stopping me from doing the things I should be doing. It brought me down into the funk. There were definitely changes needed, but a large part of my dilemma was this battle with the shoulds.

Once I shone a light on this, I saw how disempowering the guilts are.

living a should life

Letting others control your guilt level

The guilts are often there because we place too much emphasis on what others think. The shoulds arrive when we don’t get the approval and verify to ourselves once again that we’re not worthy.

Can’t you see how messed up this is and how when we live like this we don’t stand a chance?

You’ll always be thinking I should be doing this because you’re not perfect.

It’s time to give up the quest to be perfect. Failure’s the only result and we end up projecting onto others the expectation they be perfect. It becomes a life of comparisons, pointing fingers and all round heartache for being such a failure, or an arrogant winner. It gets in the way of absorbing the beauty of each moment and the lessons that reside in them that help us naturally move to be that better person.

We don’t have to try so much, we just have to be. We just have to show up each day, do the best we can, change our approach a little when we mess up, and do what we want to do because it feels in alignment with our value systems.

A value system that is created by us to resonate our soul’s desires, not based upon how others want us to live.

If you’re perfect and have all the answers, there is nothing left to discover, and nowhere to go.

Break the should life habit

It’s hard to break the habits of a should life, but, you can make a start today.

Make decisions based upon what you really want to do and then let go of all emotions attached to it. Ban yourself from the words should and shouldn’t for a day.

Even if it means you eat that chocolate cake when you know it’s not healthy for your body. Enjoy every taste of it, and then move onto your next moment. I’m fairly confident that when you own your decisions and relish in how good it feels to not be caught up with guilt and resentment, you’ll just naturally start making decisions that actually help your body feel good.

Soon enough, you’ll be reaching for the sugar-free raw chocolate caramel slice and doing the hippy hippy shake.

The shoulds and shouldn’ts can be preventing you from making that step towards your dream.

I should be pursuing a career. I should buy a house. I should be having kids. I should send my kids to school and follow the normal path. I should save for retirement. I shouldn’t drink that coffee. I shouldn’t go out to dinner. I shouldn’t tell my friends my dream. I shouldn’t let my parents down by leaving to travel.

If you want to travel, but are worried about what your friends and family think, stand up tall to them, explain what your dreams are and why you want to do it.

Tell them your plans for making it work and then bravely say, “I love you and want your support. I know this is what will make my life have meaning and bring me happiness. “And leave it at that. Give them a warm hug full of love and embrace yourself for standing up for your dreams, guilt free.

If you allow anyone else to control any of your decisions, you will resent them in the future.

Because shoulds lead to guilt which ends in resentment and a life that is not fully expressing joy and shining your light.

Claim your imperfection today. Give yourself the grace to mess up and not know everything. You’re good enough despite how you might sometimes forget to brush your child’s hair, or drink too much wine, or forget to phone your best friend, or if your child decides to lie down in the supermarket hitting the floor because they want an ice cream.

Hell lie down with them and scream I want one too!

And give other people the same grace to be imperfect too.

Let go the worry of the future and trying to make the right decisions. Let your heart guide you, stand firm in your choices, and then enjoy every minute of them. If it’s not perfect or you mess up, then so be it. Just release yourself from the burden of the worry and start again.

How do the shoulds and shouldn’ts impact your life?

Do you want to learn how to eliminate the shoulds and develop more confidence and control?

Sign up for free Confidence Igniter training with myself and my business coach, Mike!

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14 thoughts on “Dealing with guilt? Stop living a life of shoulds and shouldn’ts”

  1. Michelle Atwell

    I returned on 5.24.15 from Negril, Jamaica. I didn’t stay at a four or five star but I had a wonderful time on 7 mile beach. Traveling keeps me grounded and open-minded. I enjoy conversing with locals and learn from them.

  2. I’m sure we all struggle with this to some degree. Life is full of shoulds and shouldn’ts, and it’s really hard to get away from it. It’s definitely worthwhile to be cognizant of it and do what we can to break the cycle. We’ll never be perfect at whatever we attempt to do, so why beat ourselves up for it?

  3. Thanks for this. I think that when you choose to travel instead of settling down, or conforming to what society expects of you, it takes a while to break free of the pressures. But when you can find this new freedom and confidence in pursuing your own dream for your life, you’ll be able to be so comforted. Because you will know that what you are doing is for you.

  4. 2 weeks ago I finally decided to follow my heart and intuition and I took my son 8 out of school to home educate him. After an initial unsettling feeling I felt immensely relieved, positive and strong. Today I took my son to play with his best friend (he used to go to school with) and today I had my first experience of explaining to the parents why I choose to home ed. I felt squashed and irresponsible afterwards, in the end I had to explain I was not prepared to carry on the conversation because I was feeling negativity that I did not need at this time in my life. I do realise that if I am going to take such “controversial” steps in my life I SHOULD be able to talk about it and have a plausible/logival reason to support my choice, but after today I realise that all I need to do is believe in the depth of what I know and not feel judged for not wanting to explain or share any reasoning. What I am working towards might be very different to what others are putting their life’s work into, and it is too much to ask others to come out and question their entire existence in the hope for some understanding. When I got home I was so glad to shut the door to the outside world although what I want the most is to embrace it! The planet is my home, I am just as deserving as any other human being of being here, its a shame when I am made to feel inappropriate for being human in the way that feel right for me. I hope I get over it soon so I can be driven forward with inspiration and not fear!

  5. Here, here. I’m on the same wavelength with banning some words lately (my latest post) – guilt and fear and hate are all amongst them and shoulds and shouldn’ts only feed all those negative emotions.

  6. This is genius and so wonderfully articulated! I’m grateful that you share your thoughts so openly, it gives other people permission to do the same!

  7. Hi , you have just poured every single feeling of mine in your own words.
    I have learnt how to say NO to things my mind & heart does not agrees with & believe me , It not only helped me a lot to grow as a person but also helped me to get out of this should & shouldn’t scenario.

  8. This is genius and so wonderfully articulated! I’m grateful that you share your thoughts so openly, it gives other people permission to do the same!

  9. Caz your gentle, caring soul has managed to touch me again. Thanks so much for another thoughtful and honest post.

  10. You know what … I just wrote a post called “The bloggers blues” … when writing “I need to do this / I need to do that …. ” in order to tell myself how to change my life, I changed most the of the needs into shoulds. When I hit “publish” I got scared because what if people thought I’d be a tart for writing what I wrote and not sounding grateful for the opportunities I’m getting as a blogger. But as you said it, we’re not perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist and if we live a life full of shoulds, it’s most likely not the life you really want to live…

  11. I made a decision a couple years ago to stop doing anything I thought I Should do out obligation. This sounds much more harsh than it is. We can all think of things we do because we are obligated. I can tell you my life has gotten so much better since I started sticking to this. I haven’t lost friends, haven’t made people angry. The sky has not fallen. Best decision I ever made, and I work to continue the practice every day.

  12. Very insightful post. Being a location-independent designer, the thought of not having a “title” bothered me at times. But that’s only because I thought that I SHOULD have one, that people EXPECTED me to have one. But in reality, it meant little to my personal notion of happiness.

    Sure, many of my contemporaries who took the traditional route can proudly call themselves “CEO” or “President”, but I have something that means more to me than that — Freedom. And in the end, that means more to me than any title. Thanks for posting this. 🙂

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