Don’t Should on Me

“You should be grateful” …

  • That I did this thing for you
  • For how easy your life is
  • Because you’re <pretty, rich, smart, talented, or any other “enviable” descriptor>

First and foremost, stop shoulding all over me. That should is all you, it’s your should … own it.


Merriam-Webster Defines Should

1 — used in auxiliary function to express condition, if he should leave his father, his father would die—Genesis 44:22 (Revised Standard Version)

2 —used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency

’tis commanded I should do so —William Shakespeare

this is as it should be —H. L. Savage

you should brush your teeth after each meal

3 —used in auxiliary function to express futurity from a point of view in the past

realized that she should have to do most of her farm work before sunrise —Ellen Glasgow

4 —used in auxiliary function to express what is probable or expected with an early start, they should be here by noon

5 —used in auxiliary function to express a request in a polite manner or to soften direct statement

I should suggest that a guide … is the first essential —L. D. Reddick

— past tense of shall

Did you happen to notice the level of negativity in each example? While “should” is supposed all about softening a statement (5), express adherence to norms or best practice (2, 3), set expectations (1, 3, 4), our colloquial uses often extend “should” to express judgement or manipulate emotions.

Time and again, I’ve heard foreigners use it in the intended nice manner. Many Americans, however, use it to sound nice while being mean, or even cruel.

How many times does the word should come with a punishment? How frequently is it used to blame someone for being in an undesirable state such as poor or victimized?

‘You should’ve done your homework. You’re grounded until …”, “You’re getting spanked because you should have …”, or even “She should’ve known this would happen, dressing like that all the time / walking alone.”

You Should Be Grateful…

Now let’s explore the statements at the top of this post, You should be grateful…”

“you should be grateful that I did this thing for you.”

Um … huh?

  • Did I ask you to do it? Did you save my dog’s life or stop the house from sliding into a wormhole?
  • Do you trust me to be thankful?
  • Do you trust me to get it done?
  • Are the victim of my inability to take care of the thing?

Maybe I had a plan. And maybe you just totally messed that up and now I have to go undo or fix that thing you just shoulded on me about.

Or maybe I would’ve been genuinely grateful had you simply said, “hey, I noticed the dog was still outside and asking to come in while you were downstairs doing laundry, so I let him in.”

Chances are pretty good that I’d respond with something like, “oh jeez. Thank you! Things took a lot longer down there than I thought they would and I totally forgot.”

But now that you’ve made it about measuring duck sizes because you’ve done something and felt the need to be recognized for the great job you’re doing at taking care of my life, well, I’m a lot less likely to say thank you, and may well just happen to remind you that my uterus is bigger than your manly parts will ever be by either pointing out your childish ploy or ask a question or two in the hopes that you’ll pick up on the utter lack of grace or manners you’ve chosen to display.

So, yeah, keep your shoulds to yourself. And if you happen to should all over someone, including yourself, ask yourself why you feel the need to do that.

You might be surprised by how much baggage you’re still carrying from controlling, abusive, or narcissistic family members. Or that you forgot just how small your locus of control actually is. Or one of a million other reasons I “should” know but don’t 😜.

What’s the baggage, assumption, or judgment behind your shoulds?

About That Judgment or Superiority Thing

Anytime someone tells me I “should” do something, my first reaction isn’t something like, “Wow! You’re right! I’m so glad you know how to run my life and deigned to share that with me today!”

Actually, it’s more like, “wow, you sure assume a lot and have an overdeveloped control streak,” or “judgmental much?”

Similarly, I see my telling you what you “should” do is like me saying, “hey, you suck at life and need my amazing wisdom … in fact, you ain’t sh-t if you don’t take my advice.”

What’s utterly hilarious to me is how indignant folks get when the inherent, underlying judgment is pointed out to them. Or better yet, how oblivious they are to their own assumptions about understanding all the facets of my situation well enough to know the one correct course of action.

Or another favorite is when they approve so much that I took their shouldy actions before our conversation even happened. Like I’m a puppy in training who needs their love and approval to survive.

But the absolute best is how peeved they get when the actions I’ve taken are either superior to their recommendation or show that I’ve thought through the actions more than they can even dream to do. Here again, mainly because I have knowledge of the full situation and they don’t.

Do I welcome input? Absolutely! I ask for it all the time. I also trust myself enough to know that I’ll find a way to make the best out of whatever comes out of my chosen actions.

It’s not that I’m smarter than the person shoulding all over me. In fact, chances are pretty good that I’m not.

No, the real difference is that the only person’s judgment of me that matters is my own … I have to live with the benefits and fallout of my actions. And I’ll probably ask for several opinions and do some research before making a decision.

And then I’ll do what I believe is the best course of action … not because it’s what someone said I should do. It may not even be what I want to do.

If it later turns out to not be the best course, I have sufficient self-confidence to know that I did the best I could with the tools, resources, and information available to me at that time.