Stress Mastery: Three Silly Shoulds, Part 1—“I Shouldn’t Be Feeling This Way”

by Doc Orman, M.D.

This week, I’m going to be focusing on three very common internal causes of human stress.  These are three common “should” statements/beliefs that often make us feel bad, but that have little to do with reality.

Here are the three topics for this week’s blog posts:

“I Shouldn’t Be Feeling This Way.”

“I Shouldn’t Have Done What I Did.”

“I Should Have Known Better.”

Looking Back Is Not The Same As Being In The Moment

The basic problem with all three of these “should” statements is that they all represent conclusions that we draw…after the fact.  This is not the same as being in the moment, when whatever we are looking back at actually happened.  Another problem they all share is that they contradict the truth about how human beings function.

Take the statement/belief/conclusion “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” for example.  We notice that we are feeling a certain way (actually that we WERE feeling a certain way just before we reflected upon our feelings).  Then, we automatically conclude that we shouldn’t have had this precise feeling.

What does this conclusion say about our understanding of human emotions?  Is it really possible to have had an emotion different from the one we truly did have?  Yes, in our imagination we can picture ourselves feeling differently, but feelings are determined entirely by our bodies.  Whatever emotion you are experiencing is precisely the emotion that got triggered in your body.

We may not always be conscious of the triggering events that set off our emotions. And we are usually not aware of the unconscious cognitive assumptions that automatically became activated in our bodies to produce our emotions. But if you are feeling an emotion, these two prior events must have occurred.

When you understand human emotions in this way, you are never not feeling exactly as you “should” be feeling.  You may not like the way you are feeling (or were feeling) and you may “wish” you were feeling some other way, but that’s not how human bodies work in general…and it’s certainly not how your body works, since you already experienced the emotion in question.

How Does This Silly Should Statement Add To Our Stress?

The basic truth about life is that things happen, our bodies react automatically (way before our conscious reasoning clicks in) and however we feel is exactly how we should be feeling at every moment in time.  To want, desire or expect yourself to have had a different feeling in that exact moment is an unrealistic expectation that can add to or further complicate your “stress.”

There is never a good reason to “beat yourself up” for how you automatically reacted and felt.  Sure, we may want to change our automatic reaction patterns going forward, but this is not an easy thing to do.  It is possible, but it usually takes a great deal of effort, practice and repetition.

In the meantime, I suggest you adopt an alternative way of thinking whenever this internal cause of added stress rears its head—assume that however you were feeling is exactly how you should have been feeling, given the way your body was conditioned at the time and the triggering events (both external and internal) that caused your feeling to occur.

NOTE: For more information about my unique approach to eliminating stress, please visit


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