Feeling the Way You Should
Each family that I see in my counseling practice is unique, but there are some universal truths. "Should" is one of them. Should, as in, "woulda, coulda, shoulda."
"I know I shouldn't feel this way," someone will say. Or more likely, someone will say, "I don't know why he feels that way. He shouldn't."
In my office, we call this, "Shoulding all over yourself."
When the s-word pops up, I'll say, "I have very few rules when you're in here, but this is an important one: You feel how you feel. There's nothing right or wrong about a feeling. It's OK to feel angry or sad or glad or even ambivalent."
Some people stare at me. Some people start explaining, as if I didn't understand the intensity of what's going on. And some people embrace the idea, as if they've been waiting for someone to give them permission to just feel what they feel.
You never need permission to have feelings. There's a reason for every one of them, and you can't address those feelings with denial and repression. It's more effective to figure out the purpose of the feelings, which can't happen until you accept that you have those feelings in the first place.
Anger is a great example. Many people feel shame around anger, as if it's not normal to get mad once in a while. This is especially true with kids, who not only feel overwhelmed by anger, but then feel shame and embarrassment because anger made them do or say something out of character. (Yes, this applies to adults, too.) Kids' feelings are further complicated when well-meaning parents tell them that they shouldn't be angry, as if it's a choice. It's not. Kids get mad. Parents get mad. I get mad. You get mad. Heck, the president of the United States gets mad. And if you try to just ignore anger, you'll find it building up until it explodes.
Trying to hold in anger (or another feeling) is like squeezing your hand into a fist. (Go ahead and do that.) Squeeze harder. Now squeeze as hard as you can. And now, squeeze even harder.
Impossible? If you think that's hard, try holding in anger forever. Keep telling yourself all of the reasons that you shouldn't feel anger, and you'll eventually burst like a human volcano.
Ironically, anger is a mask for other emotions. It helps you express feelings in a way that makes you feel safer. It hides feelings like rejection, abandonment, betrayal, or even just the inconvenience of finding cream in your black coffee. Anger is never its own thing; it protects you from something else.
"Should" doesn't have to hold you down. Just start by noticing when "should" pops into your head, and then notice the feelings that accompany the "shoulding." That will give you an idea of where to start processing your thoughts and feelings so "should" no longer has a hold on you.
- Carl Grody, LISW-S, is a licensedindependentsocial worker who works with families at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington.