I’ve been causing myself a lot of misery lately because of my beliefs about what I should be able to do versus what I actually do. And because I’ve been dealing with some acute pain lately, I’ve not been able to do very much. Or, at least, it seems that way at first glance.
As soon as I get a “should” in my head, it sets off an alarm. I recognize it as one of the distorted thoughts identified by Dr. David Burns in his book called “Ten Days to Self-Esteem.” In his view, bad feelings like depression or anxiety are often the result of distorted thinking. He lists 10 of the most common distorted thoughts, and “should” statements are one of the worst offenders. Often, when I question a distorted thought of this type, there is no good reason for having it. Just realizing that a particular belief is nothing more than my personal preference can give me a different perspective on the situation, and permission to ease up on my judgment of myself and of others. Dr. Burns’s advice is to substitute “I prefer” or “I wish” for “I should” to get a more realistic statement.
Getting back to my personal struggle: I tend to be an overachiever. I was always this way. Being raised by Depression-era parents with a strong work ethic, I learned that not working was a sign of laziness. It’s difficult for me (even with a formal diagnosis of a life-altering illness from well-respected members of the medical community) to let myself off the hook. Spending days not dressed until noon, doing little besides reading or surfing the internet, feels wrong to me. As a result, I often feel like a bad person, which leads to depression.
However, when I stop to define what “little” actually consists of, reality sets in. I realize then just how much I’ve accomplished in a day — simple tasks like taking a shower, making my bed, washing a load of clothes, unloading the dishwasher, calling a sick friend, taking out the garbage, fixing a meal, and renewing a prescription, which are often regarded as “nothing.” However, when itemized at the end of the day, items like these often add up to having accomplished quite a lot.
So, yes, I “wish” I could do more on any particular day. But given the reality of my health, I need to give myself credit for the things I actually do get done. Perhaps you do, too?
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