Patrick McCurry Counsellor Eastbourne Canary Wharf

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Letting go of how things 'should' be

30 April 2021

“Always seek to allow others the space to be imperfect.”

Alan Downs

Many of us drive ourselves so hard - and we often drive others hard too.

Much of this comes from our understanding how things ‘should’ or ought to be - I’ve heard it described as having ‘a hardening of the oughteries.’

I recently went through a process of looking at what my values are, or what I’d like them to be, and one of the values I came up with was a phrase - ‘accepting other people’s imperfections and my own’.

For me this is a powerful phrase because it undercuts the deeply held belief I have that things should be a certain way. I expect things (and people) to be a certain way and when they’re not that means something is wrong and needs to be corrected.

The kind of control that an aeroplane pilot needs to have in order to keep his passengers safe, and which his instrument panel helps with, is not really applicable to our own lives. 

Wanting things to be as we believe they 'should' be leads to a subtle desire to control situations and people. I notice this, in particular with family members. Especially children. When I believe they ‘should’ be behaving in a certain way and they’re not I want to somehow ‘make’ them behave in the right way.

 Of course, it’s part of a parent’s job to guide and help socialise children but when we have a rigid idea of what is the ‘right’ way it can get in the way of our relationships.

I think the same can often be said in our relationship with ourselves. We have a certain idea of who we ‘should’ be and how we should behave. When we find ourselves straying from this script we can judge or shame ourselves. If this becomes habitual it can lead to depression, addiction, relationship problems and all the other symptoms of a lack of self-love.

Part of the response to this challenge is to hold more lightly our view of who we are or should be. It is tempting to see ourselves in a certain way - as a shy person, a disorganised person, a calm person, a loving person, an angry person.

There will be some truth in this self-view as we all have certain character traits, but if we hold this view tightly it can become self-limiting and we can find ourselves subtly shutting down the potential for personal growth.

When we have a particular view of who we should be we tend to judge ourselves harshly for thoughts, feelings or behaviours that don’t form part of that self-image and are therefore ‘unacceptable’. 

Gradually becoming more self-accepting, while still holding ourselves accountable for our actions, can be a lifelong process but a valuable one.


Image Creative Commons license courtesy of Andrew Hitchcock on Flickr,