Mental Filtering
February 13, 2021
Knowing Yourself in Recovery
March 2, 2021

'Shoulding' Yourself

Living with 'shoulds', telling ourselves that we 'should' be doing something - doing more, doing it differently - puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves . Today we look at this cognitive distortion, 'Shoulding' Yourself, from Key Four: Feel Your Feelings, Challenge Your Thoughts in the 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder Workbook. 

'Shoulding' Yourself: Telling yourself that you have an obligation to do something different from what you are doing.

Kristie had a whole bunch of 'shoulds' that she was living by every day and she shares with us how she overcame the prison-like life she was living to pursue freedom.

10. How to stop 'shoulding' on yourself

When I went to treatment, I was the Queen of ‘should’s’. I had ‘rules’ that I truly believed everybody ‘should’ prescribe to.

Rules like - It should be everyone’s moral obligation to place the shaping and sculpting of their body as the number one priority in their life.

When I went to treatment in America, I was met with compassion, but more importantly, curiosity. I was asked questions like:

  • Where is this written?
  • Who believes this?
  • Is there anyone who doesn’t?
  • Where have you heard messages like this?
  • Are they trustworthy sources?
  • What significant events/memories do you have that reinforced this belief?’
  • Are there any significant memories/events that suggested the opposite that you may have minimized?
  • Is this a rule you would like to bring your daughter up with?
  • Can you have the life you want, and hold this belief?
  • Who benefits from this rule?
  • What would they lose if the rule or ‘should’ wasn’t there?
  • How would you benefit if the rule or ‘should’ wasn’t there?
  • How is this ‘should’ a reflective of your black and white thinking?
  • If you were to think in the grey, how could you reword your ‘should’?

It wasn’t a one item checklist and suddenly I was prepared to change my mind.  It was a process of constantly questioning, examining, learning and reflecting.  

To the question, ‘Is this a rule you would like to bring up your (imaginary) daughter with’ I famously replied ‘Absolutely!  She needs this rule to be protected.’

In the past, I had been met with responses like, ‘Kristie, you obviously aren’t willing to change, come back when you are ready.’ The response I got this time, was lifechanging.  ‘Do you need this rule for yourself, so that you too are protected?’


‘Ok, now we know where to start.’

‘Rejection sensitive’ is a term often used to describe people with eating disorders.  I was rejection hypersensitive!  I was almost willing to die rather than experience the shame of being judged on my body. In examining this fear, I found several things helpful.

The truth that I am judged, constantly, and it doesn’t bother me.  The reality is that people will judge me for my gender, my skin colour, my profession, my height, my history, my accent, my clothes, my religion, my financial position, my friends, my knowledge, my choices, AND my body.  The only one of those I cared about at that point, was being judged for my body.

I used to be a judge of other people’s bodies.  The judgement came from misinformation, seeing other people do it, comparing myself...a hundred reasons.  Once I became curious about my own judgments and began to educate myself, it was as though someone had pulled the curtain back from the window and I could see for the very first time.  

To my amazement, I was completely, absolutely, 100% wrong.  My judgments came from ignorance.

I learned that I could no more change the size of my feet and live a free life than I could change the size of my body and be free.

I could squeeze my feet into a pair of shoes one size too small, but I would forever be reminded by the aches and blisters that my natural foot size was a comfortable size 9 ½.  

I could restrict my food, and exercise my body religiously, but the constant negotiations about food in my brain, lethargy and hunger would be an ever present reminder, that my natural body size and shape, was not this.

I had to choose between the body I wanted and the life I wanted.  For fourteen years I had chosen the body but eventually I conceded that choosing the body also meant choosing chains.  Choosing life was choosing liberation.  If I wanted to be truly free, I had to place life as my number one priority above everything else.

Today, I have the body I want...because it affords me the life that I have.  I could shrink the size of my body, but it would shrink the size of my life.

The most important thing I learned was that judgements don’t have a place in my life anymore.  I could have flipped the ‘should’ statement to read, 

‘It should be everyone’s moral obligation to place the quality of their life as their number one priority.’

To do that however means that I take away people’s right to free will.  There are people in the world who will choose the size of their body over the size of their life.  They are allowed to do that...and I will choose not to hang out with those people in my free time because they are not aligned with the values I hold dear. 

It would be like hanging out with people who believed money was the most important thing in the world.  Their worlds don’t interest me in the same way looking into someone’s eyes does.  What interests me is what keeps you up at night with excitement?  When was the last time you laughed until you cried?  What does your heart long for and are you brave enough to go for it?

In my recovered life, I choose not to have ‘should’s’.

In my recovered life, I have choice and I have freedom.

I choose a recovered life every single day.

What does your heart long for, and are you brave enough to go for it?

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