SHOULDING all over your life

I, like the vast majority of the billions of people on this Earth, have a habit of beating myself up.  It’s one of those things we are socialized to do.  As a baby we bite mom’s nipple and hear her cry out in pain and displeasure, and so we learn not to do it again to avoid that punishing reaction.  As a toddler we learn not to leave our toys in the hallway because Daddy will put us in time-out. To avoid the punishment of time-out we pick up our toys.  And so it continues – detentions in school are avoided by us doing our homework, we work hard in order to not be told off for bad grades, scoldings and spankings from our parents teach us our SHOULDS.

We all have our own shoulds.  I should wake up early to get to work on time.  I should save money for retirement.  I should speak kindly to someone who has offended me.  I should protect my virginity until I am a married woman. I should go to church on Sunday.  I should pay my bills on time.  I should complete my education.  I should brush my hair 100 strokes before going to bed at night.  I should do this, I should be that, and I should go there…

Let’s face it.  There is a SHOULD for every minute of our waking lives.  In the words of one of my closest friends, a life coach, “We are SHOULDING all over ourselves!”

In a growing awareness around my own shoulds, I have come across some interesting understandings.  I don’t have to be right about any of them but this is what has been mined from my own life.

At the bottom of every guilt tower is the foundation of a SHOULD

  1. A SHOULD is a boundary past which a person feels it is impossible to cross without punishment.  It’s like an electric fence – you know the ones where the family dog has a collar that sends a jolt of electricity if he gets too close to the borders?  Well our SHOULDS are our collars.  They send a crippling fear through our being when we hit the edge of our comfort zone.
  2. We are fully responsible for the fence!  In fact, we set the fence up.  Now why would the family dog do that to himself?  Why would he set the stakes down at the edge of his family’s property and put the collar on his own neck?  A dog wants to be FREE!  Free to chase the neighbour’s cat or swim in the neighbour’s pool when it gets too hot.  It makes no sense that he would do that to himself.  Why then would we?  Why do we set our own fence up?  Yes, as children we are taught our shoulds.  But as adults with keys to the house, why do we keep the fence?
  3. Shoulds get in the way.  When you are put on a train running on rails you are only able to follow the direction that those rails go in.  People before you have set those rails down, toiled and laboured to lay those tracks.  And so, on a train set on rails, you are only able to go where people before you have been.  Think of all the places in the world that have never seen a train!  Think of all the places that have never seen a human being!  To stay on that train is to never be able to see those places. And so it is with shoulds.  Your shoulds keep you on the rails.  Shoulds take you only where you and those who have taught you have been before.  The power of your own mind and the uniqueness of your own creativity and your own journey cannot be found on the rails of shoulds.
  4. The punishment is never as bad as it seems.  Sometimes it doesn’t even exist.  Here we are referring to run-of-the-mill shoulds – not the shoulds in the penal code that say things like “You should not rape your neighbour’s wife”.  Laws and crimes aside, the freedom beyond your electric fence is more enormous and more delicious than you can ever imagine sat in your own yard.  The little electric shock that comes from busting through the barrier is often a small price to pay for so big a prize!
  5. How we experience the world beyond the should depends very much on whether we are able to leave the should behind.  Sometimes we pass the barrier and carry the fence.  From shoulds come guilt.  What is guilt but a bunch of busted shoulds?  Look at something that makes you feel guilt.  Look deeper for the should at its foundation.  If you took the should out of the foundation, like a jenga tower you’ll see the guilt fall down.  I’ll give you an example.  Last week I planned to run 9 miles.  I set a goal and went a step further and created a should.  Each morning, however, I woke up with a pain in my right foot and aches in my knees.  I have had knee trouble before and know the danger of pushing too hard and so I opted not to run on those mornings.  At the end of the week I had not run my 9 miles and was feeling quite guilty about it.  Looking closely at my guilt I found the SHOULD.  I SHOULD run 9 miles this week.  Taking the should out of the foundation I looked again at the facts – each morning I woke up in pain, that pain would have worsened with running, I was not wrong to not run.  And POOF – guilt was gone.
  6. There are no good SHOULDS.  In my humble opinion, shoulds are judgments formed about what is.  It isn’t the should that is important, but the thing that is.  Shoulds are statements of exclusion, limitation, and punishment around the thing that is.  It is very easy to find shoulds in your life that you think are constructive – we all have some shoulds that we like the most.  But are they really healthy?  A should makes you wrong or right.  If you abide by your should you get to reward yourself by feeling good.  If you breach your should you get to punish yourself for being bad.  I say quit beating yourself up!  The world outside of your shoulds is much bigger than all of this punishment and reward stuff!  More important still, the SELF you have outside of your SHOULDS is much bigger than all of this!

I’ll leave you with a test to perform on your own life – see if this Should assessment works for you.  If it doesn’t and you like your shoulds just the way they are, throw out my opinion without a second thought.  But if you face down even the shoulds you like and test them and find them wanting, please feel free to let me know.

Take your favourite shoulds – the ones that you like – and list them out.  I’ll list a few of my favourites out for you.

  1. I should work out and be healthy.
  2. I should speak kindly to my employees.
  3. I should work a minimum of 8 hours a day to enrich the lives of my clients.
  4. I should visit my grandmother weekly.
  5. I should bathe my dogs once a week.

Now turn your shoulds in to statements of fact, commitment or identity.  Neither right nor wrong, these are I DO, I WILL or I AM statements.

  1. I will work out and be healthy.
  2. I am an employer who speaks kindly to my employees.
  3. I do work a minimum of 8 hours a day to enrich the lives of my clients.
  4. I do visit my grandmother weekly.
  5. I will bathe my dogs once a week.

When a week passes and I haven’t worked out, what is there to do with my statement?  Working out is no longer a SHOULD but a WILL.  When a should is broken, the beatings begin.  I say, put the bat down.  Simply say it again.  I will work out and be healthy.  Recommit to who you have decided to be and what you have decided to be.  Is a should needed to make it happen?  I am sure you will see that it isn’t.

Looking forward to hearing about your shoulds!

Self-Esteem Meets Identity

Now we have covered some ground and formed some conclusions on Self-Esteem that take away from the value it is given in society as a theory that explains good and evil human behaviour.  And here comes a spanner that changes the course of our discussion – Identity.  What is it?  And what does it have to do with Self-Esteem?

You have gone to pay with a credit card and been asked for your ID.  You have travelled and had to present the picture page of your passport.  Before you can vote in many countries a card with your picture on it must identify to the authorities WHO YOU ARE.  But that picture only provides so much information – a snap shot of your facial features.  The concept of identity is about the whole of you – what is seen, what cannot be seen, what you see and what you cannot see.

Once upon about two years ago I came across a new perspective on the concept of identity in a most unlikely place.  I was helping a friend in the writing of his dissertation for a master’s degree in International Relations.  The central concept was national identity – the identity of one nation in particular.  By the end of the exercise I felt myself worthy of a master’s degree myself – one in Identity, so long did I analyze and so deeply did the concept of identity resonate within my mind.  I had come across Identity before in a different and seemingly unrelated place – my spiritual search – and had been chewing on the word and savouring the flavour for some time.  But for the purposes of a discussion in International Relations the concept was split into two main parts:

  1. How a nation sees itself; and
  2. How a nation is seen by other nations.

I have determined that both these elements are authentic pieces of identity – they are both real and true, even if one or both of them are outside of the control of the identified nation or person.

How You See Yourself

The internal element of identity is determined by the cultural mores, the rituals, the relationships that a nation has and values.  Think of the holidays you have where you live and how your own nation identifies with them.  Transferring that to our own human experience, internal identity is the thoughts and actions and – yup, Self-Esteem – of a person, their sense of self, their boundaries and their own image as it displays itself in their head.  It is determined by their own actions and their own judgment of those actions based on their belief system – always measuring up to the ruler they create for themselves.  This ruler set will be determined by their religion, their jealousies, their comparing themselves to people they admire or despise, and informed by their culture.  But in the end this is also part of their internal identity.  So they see their intelligence and measure it – 8 inches of intelligence makes me above average and I feel good about that.  Or they see their beauty – 3 inches of beauty doesn’t compare to Kim Kardashian and therefore I’m not good enough.  You can see the path here from Identity to Self-Esteem.  You can also see here that the internal identity is also informed in some ways by the opinions of others.

How You are Seen by Others

The external identity is the way that the rest of the world sees a nation, not with the vested interest of ownership or the fears of facing ones self but with objectivity – or at least a different subjectivity – of an outsider looking on.  And so, in our own lives, it is what our friends and enemies see, who they see us to be.  How they become sorted into friends and enemies will depend on their set of rulers, their values, their belief systems, and how closely they match up with yours.

CASE STUDY

Let’s take the USA as a case study.  Their internal identity has traditionally been informed by the values of their founding fathers – several freedoms enshrined in a constitution.  It is also informed in the outcome of the conflicts they have entered into like Vietnam and the Gulf War and World War II.  Their achievements in sports, their economic successes, all of these things inform their identity.  One would simply need to drive out of the airport in any US city to see bumper stickers screaming national pride and national identity and the love with which this nation sees itself.  Not to mention national holidays where the things that they value are celebrated like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July and even Martin Luther King’s holiday.

On the flip side there are other parts of their identity held deeper and less proudly that they choose not to make a part of national identity internally but inform they way they are seen by other nations.  The racism of their history, the brutal corruption of their politics, the stain of assassinations, espionage, and the hypocrisy of their international policies all inform their international identity.  The USA is not revered in France as it is in Wyoming, it isn’t seen as a nation that stands for freedom in Iran or in Cuba in the way it is seen in Virginia.

LESSONS

Two things can be learned from the identity of the United States.  Firstly, the vision one has of ones self can be completely at odds with, or at least very different from, ones external identity.  Secondly, identity is a fluid thing evolving as time changes and people grow.

Of course, how you esteem yourself will be heavily affected by who you see yourself to be.  You will measure that vision up against your value rulers and determine how much value you give to yourself and, voila, out comes your Self-Esteem!

But is how you see yourself the problem?  Or is it how you are BEING that makes you value yourself more or less?  And perhaps, most importantly of all, is who you are being something within your control?

Stay tuned for the answers in the next installment of the common-sense study of Self-Esteem.

Related Posts:

Self-Esteem: What is it?

This is a common sense study.  Not one based on Maslow, nor on Branden or Rosenberg.  But to rubbish the theory as we have committed to doing one must be able to define it.  What is Self-Esteem?  The common sense encyclopedia of our age has this to say:

“Self-esteem is a term in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of her or his own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”) and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame; some would distinguish how ‘the self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the positive or negative evaluation of the self, is how we feel about it’. ” ~Wikipedia on Self-Esteem

For me to summarize, Self-Esteem as I see it is the amount of value one places on ones’ self or the amount of love one has for ones’ self.

Read the entire Wiki entry for what a low Self-Esteem looks like and what a high one looks like and we can easily see the theory:  Perfect balance and harmony are found in a high Self-Esteem and the root of all harmful human behaviours lies in a low one.

Enter the NARCISSIST:

Narcissus

Narcissus, who loved the look of his own image so much he drowned in the pool of his own reflection, has so much to teach us on Self-Esteem.  Our same common sense encyclopedia points to narcissism as being an unhealthy self-love, self-absorption, vanity and conceit.

Have you ever been around a conceited person?  Was it much fun?

I went to university with a greek (coincidence, I promise) named Nic.  I am in no danger of him reading this blog and seeing himself in it because 1. it would take away from the quality time spent in his mirror, 2. he could never see himself as a narcissist – that means something negative right? Nah.  Not me – and 3. there are so many Greeks named Nic you could recreate the Great Wall of China if you stood them on each other.  Nic was a narcissist.  Classic.  His body was more perfect than a greek god’s (even if it was a little short), his mind was more brilliant than any human being alive (about as bright as midnight), and anyone who disagreed was simply unenlightened.  He had a healthy self-esteem alright – was the life of the party, didn’t suffer from any doubts, and did not in any way appear to feel the need to over-compensate.

Now, the psychologists will say “Deep down he has an aching need to belong, has many layers hiding his true feelings, and doubts his own value.  He has something to prove.”

Hitler - Perhaps one of the most famous Narcissists in our recent history

Nah.  The guy was obnoxious, but going through Wiki’s list of symptoms of a low Self-Esteem he didn’t match up.  He had no care about what others thought, was no people pleaser, was not hyper-sensitive or hyper-critical of himself, had no guilt or perfectionism (how could you improve on perfect?), and even though he was entirely obnoxious, he had no floating hostility.  He was a complete and perfect descendent of Narcissus.  Along with Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Jim Jones, Stalin, Casanova and Marquis de Sade.

Yet he was capable, like many narcissists, of countless ills.  His conceit was nauseating and entertaining for its shock value all at once.  He was invited to parties and events just to see what he would have the balls to say next.  He was convinced that any woman who wasn’t swept off her feet by his hello was in denial, blind, stupid, and certainly not worth the rest of the conversation.  Yet his Self-Esteem – fed by ingratiating, enabling and wholly entertained friends – was not only intact but thriving.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum…

Someone with a low Self-Esteem isn’t hard to find.  Every tortured artist and troubled celebrity wears their low self-esteem on their shoulder.  There are many who have rocked the world with their goodness despite having something close to hatred for themselves.  Princess Diana is a classic example – not one biography of her life fails to capture her self-doubt, her self harm, depression, bulimia and low Self-Esteem.

Princess Diana, a life testimony to low Self-Esteem not preventing one from doing good

Whitney Houston, the idol of many and valiant champion of love and music also harmed herself, doubted herself, made a masochist of herself.  Did she have the Self-Esteem the match the level of esteem the world had for her?  She certainly did not.  But she is mourned with broken hearts all over the earth today, a few weeks from her death.

There is also the far more balanced sense of self in the vision of Mother Theresa’s humility.  Someone who made herself low, determined she was but a tool for the work of God, cannot necessarily be seen to have had heaping amounts of Self-Esteem.  By her own admission she was always plagued with doubt, feared not being good enough for the ministry she was called to.

And so… in the journey of making rubbish of the theory that high Self-Esteem leads one to perfection and low Self-Esteem is the root of all evil, we have made the first decisive step toward our destination on the Leer Jet of narcissism and the hard Hike of self harm.  But there is something in the smoke of the theory that leads us to another fire altogether.  Keep an eye out for the next leg of our journey – the Train to Identity.

Related links:

A journey to the rubbishing of Self-Esteem: INTRODUCTION

“In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. Self-esteem is often seen as a personality trait, which means that it tends to be stable and enduring. Self-esteem can involve a variety of beliefs about the self, such as the appraisal of one’s own appearance, beliefs, emotions and behaviors.” ~Kendra Cherry, About.com’s resident psychologist

This is a topic so very heavily discussed that it has become cliché.  The therapy culture of the 90s and the new age movements coming out of that decade have taken the world by storm giving Self-Esteem so much air time that it has become a household name.  Having a low one is a diagnosis for all sorts of dysfunctions and criminal behaviours and there is an unreachable image of someone who has a high one.  Someone with the highest level of Self-Esteem is gorgeous, intelligent, powerful, gregarious, kind, utters no wry word and causes no harm.  There is no end to their power and no end to their perfection.  All because they hold their Self in high Esteem. 

In my opinion that is utter nonsense.  It’s a tidy little theory expounded upon over and over  in brilliantly inaccessible language by brilliant minds with PHDs and accolades.  But I must humbly disagree.  The love of self does not result in perfection.

Over the course of the next few entries I am going to do a layman’s exploration of Self-Esteem.  Because I am a layman.  The theories behind this stuff aside, my study is going to be one of common sense.  The topics I intend to explore are:

  1. Self-Esteem:  What is it?
  2. Self-Esteem meets Identity
  3. Killers of your Self-Esteem
  4. The source of Self
  5. The source of Love

Once again, a Bushlings caveat:  This is how I plan to cover it.  I might change my mind along the way.  I am inviting you to share in a journey I have not yet taken – travel with me not as a guide but as a companion.  Sure, I think my destination is going to be a place where the theory of and the importance placed on Self-Esteem is total rubbish.  But I might bump into something on the way that totally changes my mind. 

But while you wait in the departure lounge, please go and test your self-esteem so we know exactly what it is we’re rubbishing.

Have a good day!