Many years ago, when I studied with Dr. Albert Ellis, I learned the five words that create stress, dissatisfaction, and ruined relationships. They are: NEED, MUST, SHOULDN’T, SHOULD and CAN’T.
These five words are like mental handcuffs. They keep you from feeling free, creatively exploring life, and, most of all, living with self-compassion. They create depression, anger, worthlessness, anxiety, panic, and grief. In addition, they catalyze procrastination, stress, and avoidance.
Some people think these words can be motivating, but that assumes the stick works better than the carrot. I have never found that to be the case. Kindness, patience, understanding, praise, appreciation, and gentleness are far more motivating.
These five words have incredible power to create stress in your body-mind. You might feel this consciously or unconsciously through various symptoms including: migraines, stomach issues, heart palpitations, hives, neck, shoulder and back pain, insomnia, and a host of annoying or painful conditions. You can also feel their effect emotionally through: anger, anxiety, depression, worthlessness, resentment, etc.
By habitually noticing the pervasiveness of these five words in your self-talk and conversations, you begin to recognize the incredible pressure they put on you and on everyone in your life, either directly or indirectly.
While it’s tempting to think you can simply replace them with their antidotes, it’s not so easy. The crucial first step is awareness.
How often do you tell yourself you need something you merely want?
Do you pepper your self-talk with musts? Can you see how this creates pressure?
What about all the shoulds and shouldn’ts constantly fighting for cranium space? Do you find yourself thinking or saying you, everyone, and everything in your life should be different from how you, they, or it are?
Does your self-doubt appear as “I can’t?” If so, where is the evidence you can’t just because you think something is difficult?
The five ANTIDOTE words and phrases are: WANT, WISH, COULD, I WOULD PREFER IT IF…, IT MIGHT BE BETTER IF…, I DON’T WANT TO DO X, Y OR Z.
As usual, curiosity is your best friend here. Start by asking yourself these questions:
Must I have what I merely want?
Do people have to do what I wish they would?
Do I truly need what I desire, or wish I had?
Are my real needs already being met?
Isn’t life, and everyone in it, exactly as it and they should be, whether it suits my wishes, or not?
All these words are different from demands on yourself, others, and society. Railing against the way things are is fruitless and creates misery. By changing your inner and spoken vocabulary you can actually change your brain. Your expectations of yourself and others relax a bit and life can feel a little easier.
Last but not least, this is self-compassion in action. If you find yourself having trouble accessing feelings of self-compassion, even if you’re using Kristen Neff’s wonderful website (https://self-compassion.org) or YouTube videos, try changing your words. It alerts you to how hard you can be on yourself while giving you concrete ways to change that inner narrative.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang