A Mess of “Shoulds”

It’s easy to “should” on yourself – or others, if that’s the kind of person you are.

I should stayed.  I should have tried harder.  I should have pushed him away when he… I should have been sober.  I should have said no.  I should have stopped him.  I should have told her the truth.  I should have left earlier.  (Or, if you can’t face your own shoulds and get some satisfaction about judging others, you can insert “She” or “He” in lieu of “I,” because, Lord knows, you are a bastion of good sense, perfect decisions, and a saintly life.)

Twice now I’ve been told to stop “shoulding” on myself.  And yes, it sounds like “shitting” on myself – and there’s a reason for that.

Growing up Catholic (though I’m sure there are other religions and ethnicities whose cultures work in the same way), I was practically bottle fed the guilt trip.  It’s remarkably effective because, after a while, kids will guilt themselves and their parents, grandparents, teachers, et al, no longer have to give moral diatribes about how they should be thankful for having any food because there are poor starving children in China (though that never made cold peas or burnt quiche go down any easier).  Nope, those malleable little minds grow into guilt factories!  Yes, little girls and boys grow into bigger girls and boys and they know when they should feel guilty about their feelings, their actions, even their dreams or wants.  I’m not sure if I was convinced so much that God would judge me as I was afraid of disappointing my grandmother and my parents – my grandmother on my father’s side was the guilt trip queen.

I can tell you how my grandmother would call the house on Sundays to make sure that we had all gone to church and if we hadn’t would call us “heathens” in disgust.  This is the same grandmother who, every single holiday, would drink too much with her sisters and cousin and the four of them would harangue each other, cutting one another up one side and down the other, over wrongs both real and imagined from when they were little enough to have scraped knees and be walked to school.  I loved my grandmother and admired her on many levels, but holidays could be a little slice of hell for many moons growing up.

And yet – and yet – even those I’ve met who weren’t raised Catholic or whose parents and/or grandparents weren’t guilt trippers – coat themselves in “shoulds.”  We are a culture of self-flagellation.  Here’s the truth folks – none of us are fully psychic.  None of us fully know what will happen from our decisions to act or not act; to speak or not speak; to stay or to leave.  We are, all of us, stumbling and bumbling along in the dark until we find a light switch and can see better.

Would any of us blame a person for falling in the dark?  And yet, people judge others all of the time.  I had a woman on Instagram tell me that she’s sorry for my decision to not remain married but something to the effect that her life as a married woman was better or more right.  I felt physically ill – that was judgemental as hell.  And then it made me crazy – who the hell are you to judge me or mine?  Lady – he punched holes in walls and windows.  He got into fights even with his boss.  Physical fights.  At work he would get pissed off and throw things – I have no idea how many coffee mugs were decimated  when he exploded.  And that’s ignoring the yelling, lying, and etc.

I may be stumbling and falling as I’m living my life, but I’m getting up and I’m learning so that I don’t stumble and fall over those same damn obstacles in the future.  And, if I do – then I’ll learn doubly well next time.  Either way – I’m not asking for your judgement.  If you want to be a part of my life, then you can either accept me unconditionally, or simply refrain from judgement and care about me as a human being.  Or, honestly, feel free to turn your judgemental self elsewhere.  (All I can think of is how the kids say, “Bye, Felicia!” now.)

It took me several run-ins with narcissists, both those I dated/married and those I considered friends (yes, there are female narcissists), for me to finally say, “Enough!”  Narcissists are attracted to people with empathy – we feel things more intensely – we care almost too much – so, the narcissist says, “Feel and care about me.  After all,” the narcissist reasons, “everyone and everything is about me, right?”  He or she might seem the nicest, smartest, most outgoing and successful person but, let me assure you, they are leeches of the highest blood-sucking, soul-searing caliber.

I truly feared for my safety, for my life, in all honesty, when I finally hit my real, lay it on the line “Aha” moment.  Now, you are possibly telling yourself and me, at least silently, that I was never truly in danger.  He certainly told me so.  Yet, I still called 911 that night.  I couldn’t sleep as he snored blissfully beside me.  He yelled at me the next day for being a drama queen.

Frankly, I don’t give a damn about others’ judgements any more.  My feelings are my own.  My gut, which I listen to now, was right and is right.  And the only life I have to live and can live is my own.  Which is the same for you – I don’t need a keeper and I certainly don’t need a judge and jury.  You may dress it up in caring or religion or some other fancy mantle of respectability, but people who judge other human beings when they are struggling or trying to make their lives better are pricks.  Tend your own garden, friends.  If you’re busy looking at me and mine, then there are weeds and poisonous nightshade growing in yours.

I apologize for the rant, sort of, but I read a lot – blogs, poetry, people’s posts, people’s responses to my social media posts – and I’m amazed at how people can be so incredibly judgemental.  It’s important to remember that social media is limited – it’s advertising – not a tell-all biopic or a revealing documentary.  But, it’s more that I’m disappointed (uh oh, full circle, I’m using the guilt trip myself) in my fellow women and men who would use words and body language and innuendo to hurt and provoke others when it’s hard enough finding happiness and the “right” path for ourselves.

Building people up – building ourselves up – believing in ourselves and others.  It’s not easy.  But, nothing that’s important ever is.



2 thoughts on “A Mess of “Shoulds”

  1. Well-written post. In my opinion, Social Media is the best and worst innovation of our time. Being able to connect easily with family, friends and acquaintances is a wonderful thing.
    The flip side makes me wonder if it is worth participating at all. It can be a truly ugly place. The “unfollow” and “block” options are becoming my friend on a regular basis.
    Again, thank you for the thought-provoking post. If you don’t make mistakes, you can’t learn from them. That makes them life-lessons and not mistakes at all.

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