Finding self-love from under the pile of shoulds

“Tell the mind to be quiet, and follow the longing of the heart.” Ross Laing (MD, retired)

As many of you know, I am on a sabbatical of sorts. I have whittled my schedule down to about half of what I was doing before. During this time, I have seen how much I have confused productivity with worthiness, and approval with love. I am slowly untangling myself from these mis-takes.

I have become acutely aware of how many times I do things because I think I should. When I dropped this way of doing things, I suddenly felt lost. I spent many hours wondering what I was supposed to do. I often still do. But I don’t let myself just fill the space with what the mind says I should be doing. I am getting better at this.

How many times a day do we say we “should” do something?

I was watching a show this morning, and the guest was giving make-up tips. She said, “ I know I should use an eyelash curler…we all should, but I don’t.” Really?

Should creates so much shame. So much “not good enough-ness”.

I have often been at the cross-roads, wondering what I “should” do – about big and small decisions. Deciding whether I should eat this or that, whether I should spend my down time doing something “productive” etc. I have worked with this little edge for many years and I have seen the exhaustion, depletion and self-harm that comes from pushing myself too hard. I have been there. Maybe you are there too.

I have been in the process of gradually letting go of many well-established, and well-nurtured shoulds. Today I was sick. Feeling terrible. The shoulds came on strong, but this time, my heart was stronger. I protected my self-esteem with a roaring sense of ok-ness. When all else failed, and I couldn’t seem to accept my humanity today, I just stopped everything and gave myself unconditional love. This helps me every time. I somehow remember that there was a time in my life when I was loved, just for being me, in the same way that my children never had to earn my love. When we are born, we know this. As we get older, we can forget.

When I am not sure what to do, I now ask myself a simple question. But first I take a deep breath (or 3 or 4), I drop my shoulders, relax my jaw and tongue (yes, really, my tongue!). Before I proceed, am I acting from love or from fear?

This simple question keeps me honest with myself. When I act from fear, I am usually trying to do something that my ego says is important and it normally consists of proving something or avoiding something. Here are some examples of  my  “fear-based” actions/beliefs:

  • Saying yes, when I really want to say no, because I am afraid of disappointing people
  • Saying yes, when I really want to say no because I might be perceived as lazy or flaky
  • Not having friends or family over for fear of judgment of my space or how I look at home
  • Working harder than I need to in order to prove to myself that my work is good enough
  • Trying to be present for people or activities that I don’t enjoy OR that I simply don’t have the energy for (that includes my family). The fear is that they will feel abandoned or unloved.


So when I notice that I am acting from fear. I just take a pause. Stop, breathe…wait. Sometimes courage bubbles up and I can walk towards what I truly need (even with knees shaking, voice cracking). What do I truly need in this moment? What does this moment call for? Then I do it or I ask for it or I go out and boldy take it.

When I am acting from fear, often what I need is acceptance. I need validation. I need courage. It takes more time to live this way, but slowly we begin to feel a greater sense of freedom. We begin to see that most things really are choices, even if they are hard ones.

We need each other to help find the courage to make these life-affirming choices . Let’s be bold together. Let’s remind each other that we are already worthy and good enough. Let’s remember that love is our birthright. xoxo

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