Tyranny of the SHOULD — a must read!

This post title comes from a chapter title by the same name in Karen Horney’s 1950 classic work, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization. Karen Horney, MD, was one of the most influential psychoanalysts and feminists of the last century. My mentor, Albert Ellis, PhD, received training from her institute and further developed her concept of “the tyranny of the should” into the cornerstone of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), which he originated in 1955.

This post aims to show that “the tyranny of the should” is one of the most important concepts in all of mental health, and why I introduce it to new clients early in REBT.

Conquering your own tendency to escalate desires into demands is necessary in order to consistently experience emotional well being and rational behavior.

I maintain that if REBT clients successfully liberate themselves from the tyranny of their own shoulds, they will enjoy 60-70% overall improvement in their emotional and behavioral health.

How to Musterbate

First, be born. Then grow up thinking that you really MUST get what you want and desire in life, and SHOULDN’T get what you don’t want. Thinking so will allow you to have a meltdown when you’re disappointed. It will also allow you to consider your disappointment to be awful, that it shouldn’t be, you can’t stand it, and that someone should be angrily blamed. Or you can create anxiety and perfectionism by DEMANDING perfect performances from yourself rather than merely wanting to do your very best.

Insist that Life should be on your terms, as if it was designed according to your specifications. Declare that things you don’t like or want shouldn’t be merely because you think so. Deny that cause-and-effect exists in the universe and, therefore, everything is just the way it should be, not how you want it to be. Be sure to think that you need approval and must not receive disapproval, that you should make other people happy, that you must always be at your best, and that Life shouldn’t be so hard and disappointing.

How Not to Musterbate

Watch out for your rigid, absolutist, demanding and commanding thinking most often revealed by use of the words SHOULD, MUST, OUGHT, HAVE GOT TO, and NEED. It is the deep, demanding meaning of these words that creates emotional disturbance.

If I think to myself, “I’ve got to make it to my appointment on time and must not be late (for that would be awful),” my anxious disturbance will be far greater than telling myself, “I want to be on time, but don’t have to; it’s disadvantageous, but not a horror!”

Strive for “semantic precision,” which means using language accurately, factually and realistically so you can be rewarded with appropriate emotional reactions to adversity.

Remind yourself that wants don’t equal needs.

Most everything beyond food, water, air, shelter and protection from physical harm constitutes a want—not a need; a desire—not a demand. Keep your thinking flexible (not rigid) and preferential (not demanding) for the optimal acceptance and emotional well being that I call Rational Living.


Emotional Freedom Is Liberation From The Tyranny Of Our Shoulds


The STRESS Doc, Richard E. Madden, earned his MSW in Clinical Social Work and his PhD in Electromedical Sciences. He is licensed in New York State as a Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) for the direct practice of psychotherapy with individuals, groups, couples and families. REBT/CBT is a modern, efficient and results-oriented approach toward achieving unconditional self-acceptance, frustration and discomfort tolerance, emotional control, elimination of self-defeating behaviors, mood management and improved love & work relationships. Dr. Madden defines this relative freedom from self-imposed emotional distress and self-defeating behavior as “rational living.”

All content copyright ©1975- Richard E Madden, PhD, LCSW, Rational Living Made Simple. All Rights Reserved.