When Should We Use Should?

The word “should” is used all too often. In prior years we would hear people say they wished they had a dollar everytime they heard it. But what’s so wrong about the way we use it?

When using the word properly, “should” is meant to convey an expectation of an event happening, a probability from a point of view in the past. Such as “the circus should come to town again this summer,” or “I should have enough gas to get there and back,” or “it should be a nice sunny day tomorrow,” or “the dodgers should win the pennant this year.”

The improper and overly mis-used handling of the word is when it is meant to judge something, someone or oneself.

Should Use it Less Often

The word “should” is a favorite used by many depressed people. One that is taken all too seriously. Nowadays, the vast majority of people mis-use it all the time. We know we shouldn’t but the word is practically part of our human subconscious. We grew up continually hearing it and it is partly what created our “ideal self” and our inner conflicts. We “should” use it less often.

Beating Ourselves Up

The damaging way the word is used happens more often when people are being overly critical of something. Or making some sort of rule in an attempt to control, while also trying to live up to unrealistic demands and unhealthy beliefs. As in “he should get out of my way,” or “I’m too fat, I should go on a diet,” or “people should just leave me alone,” “this food is awful, they should learn how to cook.” The world “should” has a way of being used to beat oneself up. It also beats other people up by expecting their actions to be the way you want, or by demanding that the world be a certain way. “I should have been picked for that promotion” or “no one should be expected to obey all laws.”


If you make rules by using the word “should,” ask yourself where is this rule written? Or ask yourself who said you could make this rule? If you can’t answer or if you can’t find it written down anywhere, perhaps it’s time to change your language. A more helpful approach is to substitute other more reasonable and positive terms. For example, using the words “would,” “will” or “want” conveys a sense that you are in control of yourself. Replacing “I should leave now” with “I want to leave now” shows the element of choice. Or, use terms like “I’d rather,” which of course is a shortened form of the word “would,” or “I would rather you did this or that,” instead of “you should do this or that.”

Take Control Through Langage

A small change in language can make a big difference. Increasing self-awareness is a form of taking responsibility for our own reality. We must recognize how we use language and that it can give the illusion that we have no control when this is obviously not the case.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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