MH@H Mental Health

The Should Monster: The Problem with “I Should”

The Should Monster: a purple monster with wings weighing you down with "shoulds"

I’ve written before about Shoulding Ourselves to Death, but lately, I’ve been using the term “should monster”, and I wanted to play around with that a little bit.

For all of us, there are things we want in life and things we need. Some of those needs might be indirect; we need a source of income not because we need money, but because money is required in order to have shelter and food. Wants might include pleasurable things like a hot fudge sundae, or more profound things that are in keeping with our values.

The Should Monster

Then there’s the Should Monster. I think this particular monster in the image above is a he, but that’s not especially important. Shouldy doesn’t help to propel you forward. When he’s not busy scratching his own rear end, as he appears to be doing in the graphic above, he’s got his finger claws digging into your back, and those pedicured toe claws digging into your butt. Plus he’s snorting his nasty messages in your ear.  He makes it harder to get anything done.

I’d say that’s probably the key defining feature of the Should Monster. Instead of giving you motivation to do things, he drags you down and makes it extra-difficult to do whatever he’s snorting in your ear that you Should do. Psychologist Albert Ellis described cuddling up to Mr. Shouldy as musterbation, and Shoulds are considered a type of cognitive distortion in cognitive behavioural therapy.

Common Shoulds

Let’s have a look at some common Shoulds, inspired by a post on Dr. David Burns’ Feeling Good site.

Should Monster: “You should be a better blogger, writer, pet parent, etc., etc.”

There will always be someone who’s better than you at all of those things, just like there will always be someone who’s worse. There are over 7.5 billion people in the world. Chances are that at least a billion of them are better than you at something, and at least a billion of them are worse than you at something. Tell Shouldy to go bug some of those people instead.

Should Monster: “You shouldn’t judge people.”

We judge people. That’s what our brains do. Whether you choose to take those judgments seriously is a whole other matter, but if you try to put the kibosh on the process altogether, you’re just going to end up being so focused on judging yourself for judging that you’ll lose sight of the fact that Shouldy is flexing his judgmental claws in your butt.

Should Monster: “You shouldn’t make mistakes.”

Give the Should Monster the middle finger by intentionally making a mistake right now. Like this tpyo. Bite me, Shouldy!

Should Monster: “You should find time to do more [X].”

There are a few options here. You could figure out a way to schedule [X] in over the next week so that you actually do it; you could decide that it’s low on the priority list, so it can sit on the back burner; or you could spend so much time snuggling with the Should Monster that not only do you not to [X], but you actually get less of other things done as well.

Should Monster: “You shouldn’t feel [X].”

All the while, the Should Monster is feeding you with a steady stream of feeling [X]. Suppression doesn’t work. The best way to get [X] to start dissipating is to kick Shouldy to the curb.

Should Monster: “Other people shouldn’t be so stupid.”

Maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are. You don’t need to look far to find plenty of proof of that. But unless Shouldy takes flight and starts sprinkling smart juice down over the world, you might be better off just accepting the stupid and working around it as best you can.

Should Monster: “People shouldn’t support this (or that) political candidate. They should see what a loser she (or he) is.”

This one is in quotes because it’s straight from Dr. Burns’ site, and I thought it was funny because Shouldy and I are enthusiastically doing the cha cha together on this one. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck because it is a duck, and yet some people choose to see a pterodactyl, that’s a bigger issue than the Should Monster.

Should Monster: “Partner shouldn’t be so [X].”

Perhaps partner shouldn’t be so [X], but maybe you shouldn’t be so [Y]. The Should Monster doesn’t have the skill set to help sort that out. It would be like asking me to build a house for you—not a pretty picture.

Go away, Shouldy!

My own key defences against the Should Monster are my independence and stubbornness. I quite actively fight it when other people tell me what I Should do, and it seems to translate pretty well to the Should Monster. It’s my party and I’ll be judgy if I want to. 🤪

Do you have any Should Monster repellant strategies that you use?

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49 thoughts on “The Should Monster: The Problem with “I Should””

  1. I always know I should get more exercise, but I never feel well. It’s a dilemma. I try not to be too hard on myself over it. As far as other stuff, if I do my work and pay my bills, everything else is extra. I TRY not to get mad at myself for not writing more or cooking from scratch etc.

  2. Sometimes it is hard for me to know if something is a random should or something really important. Sometimes important things seem beyond my power.

  3. I think I have every should monster in the book. Having a hard time breaking free because my mind tells me what I think is TRUE. Such a vicious cycle.

      1. Thanks. I feel partially there; the differnce between knowing and doing. At least I have the knowing part down, now to take action.

  4. “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck because it is a duck, and some people choose to see a pterodactyl, that’s a bigger issue than the Should Monster.”

    LOL. It really is, it’s very concerning!


    I love this term! I had actually already pictured something along those lines from the preceding 2 paragraphs, because of the similarity in how you can automatically fallback to either kind of thoughts when you need to get stuff done and how it’s generally not constructive.

    “My own key defences against the Should Monster are my independence and stubbornness. I quite actively fight it when other people tell me what I Should do, and it seems to translate pretty well to the Should Monster.”

    This is a great point, thanks! This is actually how it felt on days when I’ve been able to monitor anxious impulses from ‘without’ and not react to them. I will remind myself of this!

      1. Even sadder is they won’t know themselves if you asked them, nor even what a pterodactyl is! They won’t know why they’re doing a particular thing at any given moment 🤦‍♂️. A generalisation of course, but that’s definitely something I observe!

        I’m kind of at the extreme end of somebody who doesn’t really fall into unthinking habits, or at least to a minimal amount, and constantly update the ways I do things when some new logical rationale occurs to me. So it’s very obvious and baffling when I notice people doing things a certain way purely out of habit 😆. I’ve seen it in my family a LOT.

        I mean having said that, I probably do just as much of it at least mentally. But also there, I constantly question I guess.

        Sorry, little side-essay!

        1. It makes a diffeerence to be willing to change habits should new information come along, as opposed to just ignoring new information entirely.

  5. Me and the should monster have been at war lately.
    “You should be a better mom”
    ” You shouldn’t have blown up your marriage because your oldest was unhappy and scared of her stepfather”
    ” you should have blown up that marriage sooner.Your child suffered. why are you crying? You should be a better Mother”

    On. A. Loop.

    1. Wow, talk about being tough on yourself. 🙁 Remember, just because the Should Monster is whispering something to you doesn’t mean he’s right! Please remember you probably did the best you could at the time.

  6. Love your examples, especially when you point out that the Should Monster doesn’t have the skills to sort out the important issues. In my opinion, that’s where empathy (and utilizing our strengths) come in.

  7. My own defense against the should monster is merely to realize it’s there, whispering it’s vile poison in my ear. Then to deliberately change the tune to something that doesn’t include “should” in it. Pick another word or figure out why I think I SHOULD do this or SHOULD NOT do that. It’s tough.

  8. Ha ha! I love your humorous take on this. Should hangs out at my place with his gang of Could and Would all the dang time. I kick them out but they’re in the backyard chilling when I get home. They’re the friends I hate to love. That said their existence in my life can be quite serious and stressful so I really appreciate your take on…it. 😉 And I love your bit about “if it walks like a duck…” I shouldn’t say more. 😉

    What do I do about Should? Well other than give him way too much attention I try to act on something. A lot of my “shoulds” are things that I will/would benefit from were I to get them done. For me the issue with “should” is that it almost acts as a stand in for actually getting the thing done. Instead of get it done I’ll ruminate on it LATER – Should’a, Would’a, Could’a.

    Indecision is their cousin who works with them against me. “I should do X” but then “I should also do Y and Z and A and N and oh shoot I forgot I HAVE to do L”.

    So my best defense is to just DO SOMETHING.

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