The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Moving from ‘Shoulding’ to ‘Wanting’ through Therapy

September 3, 2019

The Stories We Tell Ourselves_ Moving from ‘Shoulding’ to ‘Wanting’ through Therapy

From an early age, we begin to learn stories. We hear stories about wizards, princesses, monsters, and gentle giants. We admire characters with great superpowers, and fear evil villains.

We also begin to write our own stories. Sometimes they are filled with more hardship than we ever learned from books. Our stories focus on what we feel we should be doing or feeling. We then feel discouraged that we can’t have a fairy-tale happy ending.

Therapy allows us to pick up our pens and erasers to rewrite our personal stories. We learn new vocabulary. We invite flexibility to create alternate endings. We move from ‘shoulding’ to ‘wanting’. We learn to accept and love the main character: ourselves.

New Vocabulary: Stop Using ‘Should’ and Start Using ‘Want’

The primary narrative I witness from clients in my sessions is one of shame and guilt. It usually sounds something like, “I know I should be more outgoing”. “I should want to be with this person.” “I should get up and meditate in the morning.”

“Shoulding” is a negative practice of telling ourselves all the things we think we should be doing to make ourselves better, happier, and more fulfilled. It is an unhealthy practice at best, and potentially very harmful if not checked and stopped.

When should is the primary driver of our story, it creates an experience of tremendous shame and guilt. Shame and guilt trap us in a cyclical story, keeping us farther from the resolution we desperately seek.

When clients are “shoulding” themselves, we pause, and I ask them to change the should, to “want”. “Want” allows us freedom of choice. Want is fueled by motivation, not demand, to change. Want helps us regain control of our stories.

Flexible Thinking

Having a fixed mindset is like writing our story in permanent ink. We find it difficult to draft alternative endings. Our stories sound similar to this: “I’m not going to feel any better, I should just get used to this,” “I’m always going to feel this way,” “I can’t forgive myself for what’s happened in my life.” Our stories become black and white.

A full life is not mutually exclusive from pain. Therapy allows us to integrate our pains and our joys. I might ask clients if they can imagine holding both anger and forgiveness. Our stories become fuller when we invite healing from our hurt.

Self-Acceptance and Love

Through therapy, we restructure the confining narratives of shame and guilt to explore the possibilities of healing, love, and acceptance. We begin to tell ourselves “I am worthy of my care,” “I accept the loving compliments of my partner,” and “I am wonderfully human.”

When our narratives are open to new possibilities from ourselves and others, we can experience compassion towards all parts of our stories and live more fully integrated lives.

An Invitation to You

If you’re finding yourself “shoulding” all over yourself, I invite you to consider how our therapy practice can help you address that. We offer two ways to support our clients to move in that direction: individual therapy and group workshops based on the research and work of Brené Brown. We invite you to join us at our next Daring Way™ group workshop which starts September 19, 2019, or contact our office for a free phone consultation to discuss individual therapy.

Moving towards self-acceptance and love can come in many ways. Our practice aims to empower individuals and couples to achieve fulfilling, authentic lives by learning to retell their personal narratives in constructive, healthy ways that have fewer shoulds and a lot more wants.


Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life – Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset – Robert Puff P.D

Self-Compassion – Dr. Kristen Neff

Rising Strong – Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW

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About the author
Shelby Remillard

Shelby is passionate about empowering her clients to live fully and authentically. She helps her clients develop and practice coping and self-soothing skills to help foster self-compassion. Shelby believes that when we can be compassionate to ourselves, we are able to be more compassionate to others.