By Beth Bloom, MS, LPC, C-DBT
Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that?
We have all done this…ask why questions.
Have you ever told yourself you should have done something differently, should have known better?
We have all done that as well.
Here are some follow-up questions to consider.
Have you ever been able to answer why?
Has saying I should have done things differently made things better?
Lots of questions, I know, but sometimes there are no answers when we speak to ourselves this way.
Language is important—this is another message that is commonly heard. Make sure that you say what you mean, share your feelings, and communicate effectively.
I believe that all of it is true, but ask yourself: How are we communicating with ourselves?
When we use negative language, we make ourselves feel negative, and we all have enough stress already.
Asking why leads to the thought process that you did something wrong and feel guilty, which never feels good.
Saying you should have done something may elicit a negative feeling, such as shame.
Instead—ask yourself different questions like:
What did I want to happen?
What were the barriers to getting what I want?
How could I have done things differently?
These are better questions than merely asking why. This is because those types of questions allow you to express your hopes, dreams, and fears in a way that does not lead to shame or guilt.
For example, if I say to you: Why didn’t you call me? You will likely feel guilty feelings for not having done so.
However, if I say, “I wish you would have called me because I missed you.” It is a totally different message—a much more positive message.
Saying you should have known better feels very punitive, unlike when someone says I wish things would have turned out differently.
Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, spent a lot of time talking about how we may have irrational thoughts, such as we must behave a certain way. The three statements most associated with this theory and Dr. Ellis are: “I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”
He coined the term “musterbation” which refers to people believing that they MUST live by a set of absolute and unrealistic demands that they place on themselves, others, and the world. When engaging in this cognitive distortion, people try to motivate themselves and push themselves into shape, emotionally and physically, by using “should,” “shouldn’t,” “have to,” “ought to,” and “musts” These words are a set-up for negative self-judgment and feelings of guilt.
Dr. Ellis would say: Who is telling you that you should, that you must? He would then say be quiet and stop should-ing yourself!
Think about saying things differently to ourselves and others. Give some thought to what you really mean when you say why or should. You will be surprised if you increase your awareness of the negative language you use on a regular basis and how you can increase positive feelings just by changing a few words.
Instead of saying I should be kinder to myself, say I believe in myself. It just feels better!