“You should,” Part 1

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

A few days ago, I received a request to write about the nature of the word should, must and have to. So . . .

I imagine that this is a very important topic for many people. However, it is such a huge topic that I will split my posting into several, so as to keep the length of each reasonable (likely there will be four posts).

First, the words should, must, and have to all mean roughly the same thing, with different degrees of insistence. They are basically the rules of social boundaries, and as such, are very important for group cohesion. They keep people bonded together. However, as human beings, we are very subject to the pressure of shoulds; they become words of tyranny.

My primary training as a therapist was in Gestalt Therapy, and it is still my basic philosophy. It is from Gestalt that I first was exposed to the concepts of Sailors (for those who do not know me, it is one of the metaphor-concepts that I commonly use — think of as ship where the sailors are in mutiny).

In Gestalt, shoulds are an aspect of the boundary between self and others. If we are to grow effectively as human beings, it is our responsibility to digest them (not just swallow them), so as to become authentic. In Gestalt, there were considered to be four primary disturbances of boundaries: introjection, projection, retroflection, and confluence. Introjection swallows the shoulds of others, but does not digest them — thus, Introjectors (those for whom introjection is the primary defence) live trapped by the rules of others. Projection displaces the shoulds; projectors shift their own internal conflicts onto others, and thus projectors are trapped unaware of their own internal conflicts. Retroflectors turn the rules against themselves, and divert the conflicts into themselves, usually as headaches, gut pain, muscle tension, etc. Those who use confluence fuzz the boundaries and thus are either silly, or somehow unreal, to themselves and others.

Murray Bowen, one of the founders of Family Systems Therapy, developed the concept of self-differentiation, the ability to maintain a sense of self in the presence of others (and thereby resist the pressure of shoulds). He developed a scale (0-100) for this ability, and believed that no individual was consistently able to score higher than 70%. Ed Friedman, one of my major mentors, was an early student of Murray’s; it is from Ed that I learned the concept of emotional triangles (the second metaphor-concept I commonly use — see the third post for triangles — very important in the issue of shoulds).

Originally posted to Facebook, 20160609

To be continued.

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