Asking the "Should I...?" Question

In our Facebook Peer Support Group, I see a lot of us asking “Should I…?” questions of each other. For example, “Should I try this?” “I wonder if I should do that?” “Do you think I should think this way?” Actually, this is one of the reasons why being in a peer group is so great. We are talking with people who ‘get’ what we are going through and collectively have tried a lot of different things. Therefore, many people can share personal experience they have had with a treatment or a decision.

However, without coming out and saying WE SHOULD NOT EVER USE “SHOULD” (see what I did there?), I’d like to suggest that we rethink what we are actually saying to ourselves when we ask the should question.

The Assumption

Inherently when we ask that question, there may be an assumption that there is One Right Answer. Furthermore, we hope that maybe, someone, somewhere, somehow, might know that answer and provide to us so that we can follow their advice.

The Problem

The problem is that sometimes what we are struggling with very conflicting messages in our head:

I think I know what the answer SHOULD be (“I probably really should do this because it’s good for me, a lot of people recommended this”) and our REACTIONARY answer “I really don’t want to do this because it triggers me badly (with a fight, flight, or freeze response)”.

woman, face, bullying

The Trigger

This conflict between SHOULD and DONTWANNA sets off a trigger in our heads as we end up in this ping pong spiral thing. 

For example: I should, but I don’t want to, so it must mean that I’m terrible (lazy, stupid, rebellious, whatever we got labelled when our perspective was considered just an excuse not to do what we were supposed to do). 

Or: I know I probably should do this, but my body and brain keep telling me that I don’t want to do this, maybe I should suck it up, why can’t I suck it up, I must be weak, oh, I’m weak, that’s it, I can’t because I just am not good enough, ah, that all makes sense now, I’m just not good enough. Whew. I got my answer. The answer is that I am just not good enough to get this right.

What If...?

What if there is no One Right Answer, but rather a few possible options that can address both the INTENTION of the should question as well as the protectionary REACTION from the emotions that come up that cause us the fight, flight, or freeze response? 

Maybe if we took just a little bit more time to sit with it… check out our feelings… in order to see if we can come up with something better than fight, flight, or freeze?

What We Are Doing

Whenever we ask “Hey, you – even though you don’t know me as well as I know me, I want to know your answer to “Should I…?” we are essentially doing three things:

  1. Assuming there is one right answer. And if we ask enough people, one of those answers will resonate with us, but it came from someone else, not myself.

  2. Asking someone else to take the responsibility of figuring out the answer so that we don’t have to. If it doesn’t work, it’s not because I decided to try it (and failed).

  3. Trying to avoid complicating with matter with our messy feelings!

What We Can Do

  1. Remember the overall intention, direction, theme or healing goal. Rather than focus on finding the one right answer, remember the overarching goal. (In my case, heal enough so that I can function in this crazy world.)
  2. Be curious about our feelings. What are we feeling? Why are they saying what they are saying? Where did they come from? Are they accurate? Do they help? Are there other opposing thoughts that I’m not actually paying attention to? In my case, I have thoughts that tell me I’m great, but I don’t listen to them. I pooh pooh them. Whereas the thoughts that tell me I’m a loser, I listen and feed them. Why? Where did that unconscious habit come from?
  3. Find the one tiny little baby next step that moves me in the general direction of my healing journey. It could be as small as opening my eyes. Maybe it can be slightly more ambitious, like taking a shower. Perhaps I could put a sheet of paper on my desk – and if I have something I need to do, just write it there instead of stressing about it. Or watch one of Linda’s videos. Perhaps I could hug someone. Just pick one little thing. And do it. Then pause and pat myself on the back and pick another one. And another one.

The Benefits of Focusing on One Next Step

  1. You get immediate gratification! There is immense satisfaction in writing something down on a to do list and crossing it off, even if it’s just in your head.

  2. You started moving in a direction! The first step is always the hardest, but once you get going, momentum can help you keep going. Not always, but often.

  3. Nothing to rebel against! I hate it when someone gives me good advice and expects me to take it. I don’t know why, but I hate it. On the other hand,, if it’s MY idea… and it’s NOT that hard… and I DON’T have to to it… I weirdly want to. When I want to do something, which is a strange feeling in and of itself sometimes, I lose myself in doing it. I don’t even feel time passing when I do it. It no longer feels like work or a “should” thing.

Focusing on the Right Thing

James Clear is the author of the Atomic Habits. It’s a brilliant book about why good habits are hard and bad habits are easy and how it’s NOT about will power. Really, it’s about creating the right environment and making the change slow and sticky. It’s about why we have to stop blaming ourselves for bad habits and building our good habits slowly slowly slowly.

He tells us how to figure out where to focus: “For the beginner, execution. For the intermediate, strategy. For the expert, mindset.”

Why the "Beginner Execution" Means One Next Step for People with Cptsd

  1. Firstly, Life is hard. That is to say, “normal” stuff is super hard for those of us recovering from Cptsd. We already are harsh enough on ourselves, we don’t need should statements to give us more stress. We really get exhausted by our triggers and we get triggered by things we should do but can’t.
  2. Secondly, if we are at the *beginner* stage of healing, start with *execution* (one next step), not with *strategy* for the *intermediate* stage (what is the answer) or the *mindset* for the *expert* stage (this needs to be fixed).
  3. Finally, only one person can solve our problems. And that is ourselves. With this in mind, find your tribe of people who get you. Get support. Learn to care enough about yourself to try. Remember: failing is okay. In fact, factor that in. Set your expectation to fail. When we fail, learn. Lowering our expectations is not coddling ourselves, it’s meeting ourselves where we are until we can slowly raise the expectations.

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One Step at a Time

What I particularly love about this Facebook Community is that when one of us asks “should I…?” a wonderful, understanding group of peers help us practice asking questions of ourselves. This leads to an opportunity to explore our feelings in a safe place. Sometimes people may share their experience with that situation by telling their story “For me… this happened” which models to the OP how to practice thinking about some of the risks.

A peer support group that is available 24/7 because there are Admin and Moderators from around the world makes it a great safety net, especially when the swirling mess of feelings and words start their onslaught at 3 am in the morning!

One day at a time, one step at a time, one thing at a time. After 10 things, celebrate 10. One day you will say, whoa, that was 100 steps, 1,000 steps, 1,000,000 steps.

You’ve got this. 

Let’s heal together.

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