This writing process for me has been the unpacking of a suitcase. It's about sifting, right? Sifting through my childhood, my faith experiences, my family of origin and of late, my trauma, my politics, my theology...my life, right? That's what I want to do. I want to learn. And it has been such an ironic process because IT'S SO MESSY. It's laughable for a perfectionist to learn in public. That was always something I was terrified of growing up. I didn't want to screw up or even struggle in front of other people. I considered it embarrassing or something to be ashamed of. So writing about the things I'm learning is really kind of a funny way to continue to confront that base nature which is to be an expert or not engage at all. (As a side note, how unproductive is perfectionism?!?! It's absolutely BONKERS to only engage in things you're good at or to publicly claim things only after they're settled and tidy. It's like living life as a social media feed. Too pretty.)
I was helping someone process something tonight and we got onto the topic of "should's." Growing up in the church, and especially aspiring to be a "good girl," there was a lot of life lived out of the "should's" for me. In my childhood theology, everything was black and white and because of that, there was only one right way to be. IN EVERYTHING. This came up a bit in my recent post about self-care, that we're really uncomfortable with diversity. There isn't space in our culture for more than one reality. And the only correct reality is, of course, the one you hold. Right? It's silly but it's real.
And so we behave, especially if we are "in trouble", according to other people's expectations. And those expectations are usually crystal clear. The "in trouble" dynamic is straight from childhood. And so if someone else is upset, we're supposed to do whatever they think we SHOULD do to "fix" it. Or if we have feelings, we're supposed to couch them because we don't want to upset others. And of course, we don't want to upset others on purpose. But your very existence and your feelings don't exist to upset others. They're yours to hold and experience and to be honest, have nothing to do with others. You get to hold your space, your ground, your truth even if there is a list of "should's" presented to you.
But we have to make space for that. And that begins with renouncing "should's". My first step in this process was to not re-act. So if I feel a "should" being placed on me, I mull. I don't just react. I hold my feelings, I make space for whatever that "should" is. I run it through the filter of my experiences, my truth. I don't throw it on someone else like a hot potato. That perpetuates "should's". I get to decide what I want to do and I choose not to "should" others as best as I can (it's really hard to do so that's a practice not a perfect). After I hold it, I do what my girl Glennon Doyle says to do. I take 5 minutes to tune out all the should's and am just quiet with myself. I ask myself what the next right thing is. And IT PRESENTS ITSELF. I think about who I want to be in the situation (because even when people give you their "should's" you get to decide how you respond) and what decision or response I can stand behind and be proud of. I choose to be brave. I choose to do hard things. And sometimes, that is resisting the "should's."
It can be incredibly painful, even triggering to a "good girl" who wants the approval of others, to resist the "should's". And many of us don't know who we are when we strip away the "should's." Suddenly, we have to start making decisions for ourselves and that can be incredibly disorienting when you're not used to it. But I can tell you, there is incredible peace that comes from tuning out the "should's" and tuning into yourself. Because no matter what happens, how your actions are taken and processed by others, you get to leave it all on the field. You did what you thought was best and you risked rejection to be true to what you felt was right. And that discernment and courage is a BEAUTIFUL THING. Even great advice from a trusted friend might not be what you need to do. And you won't know until you get into that quiet space and ask yourself. But you get to untangle your choices from the perception of your choices and you get to validate your intent and your heart no matter what.
Disengaging from people pleasing patterns looks like this. Setting boundaries in dynamics that taught you that setting boundaries is disobedience or rebellion or just wrong looks like this. It's messy. And sometimes people get really mad. But what's cool is YOU KEEP YOUR DIGNITY. You experience peace. You hold the reality that there is so much in life beyond your control. That even if you ran around making everyone else happy, they still might reject you. You can't earn the things you really need: safety, love, acceptance. Those are given freely or they're not real.
The other thing that's fun about this (read: healthy) is that if all hell breaks loose after you act out your "next right thing", you don't feel any resentment towards others. Because you're not playing out other people's advice in a high stakes game. You're owning your choices and you're making space for the choices of others. When you stand on your own two feet, you're able to take the hits better than if you're acting on the advice of others. You're solid. You've validated yourself. You've weighed your situation and you followed your intuition. And you didn't degrade yourself in the process. It doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. But there's a quiet dignity to taking hits without passing on the pain.
So I encourage you, any time you find yourself thinking or saying the word "should", that's a great time to take a step back and examine things. Now, there are many annoying adulting type activities that we all do and they may very well come from a place of "should." Doing taxes comes to mind. But even re-framing "I should do my taxes to avoid punishment" you can tell yourself "I choose to do my taxes because I'm responsible for my financial health and well-being." Do you see the difference? We all have so many choices! If your brain likes to only present you with one option and lots of "should's", I encourage you to explore all your options and get quiet with yourself and find your next right thing. Thanks, Glennon.