Transforming the “Shoulds” and “Should” Sayers

My friend Teri shared with me that she had a big change in perception as she got deeper into recovery about the “shoulds” she hears.

“When I realized that I was perfectly okay being my human self, I was amazed at how my perception shifted.  People telling me I shouldn’t wear sweats or that I should wear make-up really showed me that it wasn’t about that per se. It was about them needing to feel authoritative …… I began to see the unconscious manipulation to feel better about oneself and how it relates to our upbringing.”

Yeah, I resemble that…..I’ve always been a “know-it-all”. Even though, deep down, I felt small and “not right,” I put on a show of being smart and perfect so that I could feel better about myself. In an effort to be compassionate to myself, I really didn’t know I was doing this. I was just doing the only thing that I knew that felt good. For me to be vulnerable and imperfect and show you that I didn’t have it all together would have been as terrifying as death to me. You wouldn’t like me then….OMG….that would be unthinkable.

I remember one time my manager at Whirlpool told me that I had to stop showing my emotions at work. She said whatever I was feeling was written all over my face. I struggled to understand what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know what my face looked like. How in the world did I hide my emotions? I felt really confused about how I was going to accomplish this. That was at a time when I was getting very discontented with Corporate America because I just couldn’t “get” who I needed to be. When I tried to be what I thought I should be, I just hated it. I was really struggling. What I realize now is that one of two things was happening:

  1. She, as a female, was struggling to fit in as well.
  2. The males were uncomfortable with a female showing emotion at work.

It wasn’t about me. It was about their own fear and their own discomfort. I will accept some of the feedback. There have been times when I have been too emotional at work. But, I’ve seen times when men were too emotional at work, too. Why is it okay for a man to rant and rave and get angry about something that happens at work but not for a woman to show her emotions?

But, like Teri said, I had to get really comfortable about who I was before I was able to sort out these things. If I was still uncomfortable with myself, I would still be seeking direction on how I should be, look, feel and think. I’m not going to tell you that it never bothers me when someone gives me feedback. It does. I still want to please you. But, now when I hear feedback, I ask myself:

  • What part of this feedback can I own?
  • What part of it can I actually do something about?
  • If it is not focused on behaviors, what do I need to ask so I understand what behaviors are issues?
  • If I disagree with this feedback, but I want to stay in this relationship, job or environment, how much am I willing to change? Can I give up this part of myself to stay connected?

Often, feedback is not specific. I had a VP give feedback to me via my boss that I was not acting busy enough when he was on vacation. Really? I asked him what was the behavior that she specified. He said I was in and out of a coworkers office throughout the day. Well….I was working on getting a course launched that she was needing for her client group. That feedback was irrelevent because it was misinformed. At first, I worried about how I appeared and what I needed to do to stop this kind of feedback in the future. But, I finally let it go. It was not relevant. My boss thought it was irrelevant once I discussed it with him. So, I just chalked it up to her paranoia about the way our team appeared to others.

Knowing this has also forced me to think a long time before I give feedback or ask for what I need. In most cases, I need to accept others just as they are. If I need to ask for something from them, I need to be really specific about the behavior, why I need the behavior changed and what I will do if it’s not changed. I know my feedback is much more specific now. But, I also know that the other person has a choice over whether or not they will change those behaviors. It is not about me nor is it about how much they like me. It is really about what they feel capable and willing to change. I always have a choice of whether I can still be in relationship with them or not. That’s my choice. And, it is empowering.

2 Comments on “Transforming the “Shoulds” and “Should” Sayers

  1. And isn’t it great to feel empowered? Taking charge of my own life is the best thing that ever happened to me. Granted, I was older before I learned this, but I’ve still got lots of kick in me.

    • Haha….I’m beginning to think we’re supposed to be older when we learn it. There’s got be some trade off for the lines and wrinkles. And, yes, it feels great to be empowered.

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