Intellectual Discernment - Choices, not "shoulds"

"In order to Love ourselves we need to have boundaries within as well as external boundaries. Codependence is a disease of self-victimization - "I'll show you, I'll get me!" We need to stop feeding the dragon within by giving power to the part of us that shames and judges us. We need to stop listening to the disease voices which tell us that we "should" be able to control things over which we have no control."

Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

In my November and December articles here, I focused on how important it is to start getting more conscious and discerning of some of the dysfunctional ways we learn to communicate - both with others and our self. As I said in the December article:

"It is so important to take the "shoulds" and "have tos" out of our vocabulary - both externally and internally in our mental process. "Should" and "have to" come from the critical parent voice in our head that is judging us according to false criteria from a black and white / right and wrong perspective - and we learned that programming from our parents in our family of origin (as well as from teachers in school, ministers and priests in church, etc., etc.)."

In the quote from my book above, I mention how important it is to stop buying into the "shoulds" in relationship to things we do not have control over - the external things. It is also vital - in learning how to be more Loving to our self and in changing our dysfunctional behavior patterns - to stop "should"ing on our self about the things we do have some control over - our own internal process. As one of the numerous recovery handouts that I have picked up over the years puts it:

"Should", "must", "ought to" and "have to" come from a parent or authority figure. "Should" means "I don't want to, but THEY are making me." Adult don't have "shoulds."

We all, of course, do have "shoulds" in our life because we grew up in shame based, emotionally dishonest, dysfunctional cultures that were trapped in a black and white perspective of life. Those "shoulds" are causal in creating the self sabotaging behavior patterns in our lives.

Human beings, as I say in one article I wrote for my web site, are kind of like water - we seek the course of least resistance. There is a human part of us that is lazy and wants to take the easier, softer way to getting what we want. Part of learning to be an adult is realizing that sometimes we need to do things we do not want to do in the short run because that is the more effective, and sometimes only, way of getting what we want in the long run - delayed gratification.

It is human not to want to get up out of a warm, cozy bed in the morning to go to work. It is mature to understand that the law of cause and effect dictates that if we don't go to work enough times, we won't have a warm, cozy bed. So, we choose to get up and go to work because that is the best choice for our own well being.

However, as I mention in other articles, if we get up and go to work because we "have to" then we will feel like a victim and be resentful instead of owning that we are making an empowered, Loving choice for our self. When we own our power to make choices instead of doing things because we "have to" or "should" we change our relationship with life - we start to feel empowered instead of feeling like a victim.

As a codependent human being, we have further complications involved in this dynamic. One is that we have some wounded inner child places within us that we are powerless to stop reacting out of (the internal minefield) until we start learning how to have internal boundaries. Children want immediate gratification. In childhood we learned to nurture and protect ourselves by going unconscious because we were not in a healthy environment. When one of our childhood emotional wounds is triggered, we overreact or underreact - we act out in childish ways or stuff those feelings in whatever ways we learned to as children. One of the ways we learned to stuff those feelings is by shaming and judging our self. Other ways include, using food or fantasy or inflicting physical pain on our self.

Not only do we have wounded inner child places within us, out of which we react in ways that are self destructive, we also have certain archetypal energies that are vital parts of our psyche. One of those is the rebel. We all have a rebel within us. When we "should" on our self, the rebel in us rebels by going to the opposite extreme - "I'll show you for shaming me, I'll do just the opposite." We act out against the "shoulds" in ways that are harmful us.

As we change our relationship with life in recovery, we can start living life in ways that are more Loving to our self. The law that governs human life is cause and effect - if you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting. When I started recognizing that reality, is when I could start learning how to live life in a way that is not only more functional to my own well being, but also involves treating myself in ways that are Loving instead of beating myself up all of the time trying to get myself to do things I "should."

I have choices in my life today. Those choices have consequences. As a responsible adult I can own my power of choice - and accept the consequences of those choices without shame and judgment. I can make the choice that my emotional wounds / human laziness cause me to feel like making - or I can make the choice that will make me feel better later. An example I have found myself using a lot lately with phone counseling clients - because it is such a mundane, normal part of life for most of us, and it gives a really concrete example of how I have learned to change my relationship with the realities of life - has to do with washing dishes.

There are dirty dishes in my sink. I do not "should" on myself about there being dirty dishes. I own that I have a choice to do those dishes today - or leave them for tomorrow. No shame, just a choice. I can do that for days in a row - but I know I will not feel good about them stacking up in the sink. I don't shame myself for them being there - but it is not a pleasant sight to see them there. On the day when I do decide to do the dishes, I do them because it is a nice thing to do for myself - not because I "should." Then later that day or the next day, when I glance at the sink, there are no dirty dishes and it feels good. I make the choice that works best for me today - not based on what I "should" do. I accept the consequences of that choice without shame or judgment rather it is unpleasant or pleasant. I am conscious that it is a Loving thing to do for myself to create pleasant consequences, but that it is not bad or shameful to choose otherwise some of the time.

We can change our relationship with self and life by starting to own that we have choices, instead of sabotaging ourselves because we are rebelling against the critical parent voice in our head telling us what we "should" do.