It’s not unusual for clients to tell me what they should do, or what they need to do.
And we’re not just talking about goal setting here.
Abused women often tell me that they have to stop waiting for an abusive partner to change. Or they should take better care of themselves. Or they need to believe they deserve a better life.
What's happened to make them come up with all this 'should' and 'have to' and 'need to' stuff?
What they don't know is, they've been brainwashed by the "Misery Trilogy"!
“I need to start feeling better about myself” isn’t a very compelling statement, is it?
It’s actually code for: “I've been stuck in an abusive relationship, and I feel really bad about myself. It’s making me thoroughly miserable. I know that needs to (notice: “needs to” again) change, for things to get better, and I haven’t a clue how to do it. Other people tell me I need to do it. I know they’re right; and I know they know how to do it, but damned if I do. I’m worried there must be something terribly wrong with me.”
“Should” means much the same thing. We use should to express an expectation we are all too well aware of; an expectation that makes us thoroughly miserable – because we can’t live up to it.
And how about “have to”: “I have to stop thinking about my abusive partner and get my life back on track”? How convincing does that sound?
“Should”, “need to” and “have to” (aka the Misery Trilogy) must be three of the most effective little words you can use for making yourself feel worse than you already do.
In fact, “should”, “need” and “have to” are the verbal salt you rub into the running sores of the emotional abuse you’ve suffered.
If you could do better than you are doing, there is no way you would allow yourself to be overwhelmed and paralysed by unhappiness.
So, what can you do, when you can’t do very much?
You can always do something.
You may have your eyes on the big prize that, for today, is out of reach: i.e. today I’ll do my Gloria Gaynor routine, and when I sing “Go on now, GO”, he’ll disappear with his tail between his legs, never to darken my door again.”
For today, that may be too much of a stretch.
Still, there is always something you can do.
You can listen to Gloria Gaynor and – not fantasize but – visualize your Gloria Gaynor moment.
Fantasy is one thing. It may not get you very far.
Visualization is another thing, entirely. It’s a very, very powerful tool to retrain your mind and change your belief system.
It’s never too soon to start programming your Gloria Gaynor moment into your mental muscle.
More importantly, you can start to harness the power of words.
Words have hurt you. And words can heal you.
What if you made one small change in the words you say to yourself, today and every day?
Could you do that?
It’s not much to ask.
Particularly since it will bring you massive benefits.
What if, instead of rubbing verbal salt in your wounds, you applied a little balm?
What would happen if instead of saying:
“I need to start feeling better about myself”…
“From today, I get to feel better about myself”.
That’s all there is to it.
Every time you catch yourself slipping into the Misery Trilogy of “should”, “need to”, and “have to”, you simply replace the Misery words with this simple formula:
“Today, I get to…”
It puts you back in control.
So you could say: “Today I get to tell my abusive partner: I’d rather spend time with a Box Jellyfish than with you… or not” - because there may be very good reasons for not saying that to him, just then. But there are no good reasons for not feeling free to entertain that possibility.
Today can be the day that you get to replace your feelings of paralysis with new vistas of possibilities.
Today, I know I’ll get to square up to one or two challenges in my life.
What will you get to do today?