By Alexandria Pizzola
“Why aren’t you happy? You worked so hard to get here, you should be feeling far more gracious!”
- Me, to myself, on a train in Denmark, 2012
“I’m surprised. That was months ago. Shouldn’t you be over it?”
- In an email received, read with tears in my eyes, 2013
“I just feel like I should be adjusted to this place by now.”
- Me, on the phone with my best friend, last month
A few months ago, I wrote a note to myself. It was a sad one about how I’d become accustomed to saying, “I’m working on it!” instead of, more honestly, “I’m still adjusting!” when asked how I was doing in my new home. It had been months since I’d moved, but I felt ashamed of the fact that I wasn’t feeling myself yet. Something inside of me kept screaming, you should be settled in by now!
Should. Such a small, simple word. Such a small, simple, toxic word.
It’s a word that drives us and keeps us moving. There are helpful shoulds: I should engage in self-care, I should do my laundry, I should shower regularly. They keep us on track, healthy, honest, and hygienic.
But at the same time, it’s a word that paralyzes us and teaches us to believe lies. Lies that say that there’s a time frame to feeling the way we feel, lies that tell us that there is a right and a wrong way to feel, and lies that say that we should stay quiet if we feel differently.
Society loves to tell us how we should, and shouldn’t, think, feel, and act. We should be over that breakup by now. We shouldn’t have such a negative outlook on things – it’ll ruin us forever! We should be louder/quieter/more energetic/more peaceful. We shouldn’t let people walk all over us.
As we self-edit, we devour click-bait from sites like Huffington Post and Thought Catalog and their counterparts. Though maybe they mean well and want to help us toward wellness, their subtle messages about what thoughts and feelings are the correct thoughts and feelings become fused with our daily processing of the world around us.
And so it goes that as kind and caring as our friends, families, and our own selves are, we become conditioned to do the same. We exercise our judgments and decide upon what is or isn’t an appropriate timetable for feelings as though feelings are the DC Metro.
The conclusion that I’ve been coming to recently is that the world is a rather hard entity to please. As it turns out, so am I! It’s left me wondering:
What would life be like without those unhelpful shoulds?
After a trial week, I can say that choosing to not use a word that’s so embedded in both this society and my own neural pathways is far easier said than done. But even so, slowly, I find my head and heart fighting to find more effective and authentic words. Words that speak more truth into my days. Words like do and am.
I do feel like this. I am feeling down. I don’t want to be afraid to tell you that. I have nothing to hide. How I feel is how I feel.
There’s always been a certain power connected to saying how we feel, right now, in this moment. In recognizing that feelings are things that are fleeting and things that are real. In spreading the good word that just because we are sad right now does not mean that we’ll be sad for always – but that it’s okay to not be okay. In being the living proof that there doesn’t need to be shame attached to admitting how we feel.
I’m not here to say what you should or shouldn’t do, of course, but I will encourage you to notice where this tiny word with huge implications shows up in your everyday life. I think you’ll be surprised by how present it is just as I think you’ll be surprised by the power within you to cultivate the vulnerability to say how you truly feel. Yes, it may be easier said than done, but muscle memory is a beautiful thing. The more we practice, the easier it always becomes. We must begin somewhere.
And there is absolutely no shame in feeling however you need to feel today or any day.