Cognitive distortions are thinking patterns that are not necessarily based on an objective interpretation of our environment. These biased interpretations, which have been reinforced over a lifetime, often lead to negative thoughts and emotions. We can imagine distortions as a pair of glasses. Each pair of glasses represents a different distortion through which we view our environment. These cognitive tendencies can lead to anxiety, depression, and ruin our relationships.
To “should” or not to “should”
SHOULD STATEMENTS represent a set of rigid, deeply reinforced rules or standards that we believe are the ideal way to go about life. Take the following as an example – trying to tell someone what they “should” do. Concentrating on what you think “should” have been done, rather than the actual situation you are faced with will simply stress you out and potentially lead to conflict.
Let’s get one thing straight, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with using “should” statements. After all, there are many things we have to do or “should” do. However, “Should” statements become problematic when they are used to meet self-imposed expectations or standards that are unreasonably high (I.e. I should be totally competent; They should always be on time; I should never upset others). Or, when we try to impose our values or standards on to others (i.e. They should always be on time; they should have done it this way).
When used in such a manner, “should’’ statements only leave two options, either we achieve our expectations, or we don’t. In the case of other people, same thing, they either meet or do not meet our expectations. Attempting to achieve such expectations create stress and anxiety. They can also cause guilt for not doing something we “should’’ have done, and decrease self-esteem.
How to challenge “should” statements
So, how do we challenge ‘’Should’’ statements? There are many ways. However, the following 5 questions have proven quite effective.
1) Is the standard flexible: basically, is it rigid and global not allowing for any exceptions? Or, does it allow for exceptions?
2) Is the standard based on our experiences. Is it ‘’inherited’’ (i.e. it came for our parents and we never questioned it). In other words, who says we should?
3) Is the standard realistic: does it consider all the possible consequences of its application? Is it based on arbitrary feelings of being right, regardless of its consequences?
4) Is the standard life-enhancing: (in other words, does it acknowledge our needs and feelings)? Or life restricting: (does it ignore our needs and feelings)?
5) Is there any law that says, it should be?