I should have done this!
You should have done that. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be told what to do. And “you should have” is telling someone what to do. Even with the best of intentions, it can evoke ire and anger in the receiver of the “you should have.”
It makes me mad when I say it about or to myself.
Today in a group session, we were reminded that I statements are much more effective. You can get your point across while talking about yourself. I statements are not accusatory and are not telling someone what to do. But they are stating what you did or would do.
When you are in conflict, you may have difficulty clearly articulating your situation without escalating the conflict. Using an “I” message (also known as an “assertiveness statement”) can help you state your concerns, feelings, and needs in a manner that is easier for the listener to hear and understand An “I-statement” focuses on your own feelings and experiences.
It does not focus on your perspective of what the other person has done or failed to do. It is the difference, for example, between saying, “I feel that I am not being permitted to participate in office projects to the extent that others are” and “You always let Marge work on office projects, but you never ask me if I’m interested.”
If you can express your experience in a way that does not attack, criticize, or blame others, you are less likely to provoke defensiveness and hostility which tends to escalate conflicts, or have the other person shut-down or tune you out which tends to stifle communication.
See the entire article Office of the Boston University Ombuds
You can should on yourself, escalating your anxiety and lowering your self-esteem.
In this instance, you are using name-calling or labeling towards yourself. The should have statement is; “you should have stopped after you had one doughnut, not three. Now you will be uncomfortable when you go on your walk in the hot sun.” The I statement to myself is: “I feel uncomfortable when I eat lots of donuts. Today I will only have one, before my walk.”
You can attack a decision you have made with you should have done this or that, making you defensive and uncomfortable.
And if you use “you should have” on someone else, well watch out.
Sparks usually fly, things get heated, and the outcome is never the “well-meaning advice” you were trying to impart to the person. You should have immediately makes me defensive and puts me on the attack, to justify whatever it is you think I shouldn’t have. And you tell me my decision is wrong when you tell me what I should have done.
When I am defensive, I am not thinking clearly.
I don’t hear what you are telling me, because of the way you are telling me. You are not empowering me with advice and ideas, you are cramming down my throat what you think I should do or have done. This is not helpful, it is not supportive, or seen as valuable be me.
All I hear is you shouldn’t have done it that way.
It works the same when I use those statements on myself. Shoulda, woulda, coulda is a rabbit hole as deep as any depression has thrown in my path. This unhelpful thinking style can escalate and damage my self-esteem if I am not careful. And believe me, I have let that happen more than once.
After yesterday’s meeting, I am thinking about labels in a whole new light. I knew they were bad, but I didn’t realize the power those words had over my recovery. Or the power they have to inflame others. With this newfound knowledge in hand:
I promise to not should on myself today!