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First personLife

Shut out the noise of the ‘shoulds’

By June 25, 2021June 27th, 2021No Comments

Emma Kelly on how to create boundaries, be loyal to yourself and say no.

It may be because I have been deep diving Grey’s Anatomy lately (again), or because, let’s face it, Shonda Rhimes is almost a deity, but the American producer’s quote that “the word ‘no’ is a complete sentence” is something that is resonating more and more with me in so many aspects of life, particularly this past year; slap bang in my mid-30s, slap bang mid-pandemic. 


One of those aspects being saying ‘no’, either figuratively, or literally, to the noise of the shoulds that life and society can throw at us. And there are MANY. 

Boundaries seem particularly relevant recently. Establishing boundaries can be quite a difficult thing to navigate for some, while coming naturally to others, but every person is entitled to their boundaries and entitled to protect them. Our boundaries are the things we are okay with and those we are not okay with. If you respect and are conscious of the boundaries of others, be sure to also include your own boundaries in that awareness. 

I recommend starting small, just take note of how you speak to others and how others speak to you. This is where I found the ‘shoulds’ come into it.

We are ruled by shoulds around almost every aspect of our lives. So many sentences begin with ‘what you should do is…’ and ‘everyone should…’. These expectations can often be intrusive to our peace of mind; something we do not need. While a lot of the time these ‘shoulds’ can be well-meaning, their impact can add stress and anxiety to our lives. Your time, your headspace, your emotional and physical energy, is as valuable as anybody else’s. 

It’s time to gift ourselves acceptance and peace and say no to the outside noise about what others think we should do and be. 

There’s a truly lovely effect that can occur from identifying your boundaries and the shoulds you want to ignore. You can become more attuned to others, but most importantly, you will become more attuned to your own needs, and learn how to be loyal to yourself. 

In my own experience, the area I noticed the most change was in how I am treated and how I treated myself, as a person in a body that is very privileged, but still not an ‘acceptable’ body type – a fat body. 

But we hear these shoulds about every aspect of our lives, from how we should conduct ourselves to attract a partner, to what we should do with our body hair, how we should prioritise our time, how much we should work, when we should allow ourselves to rest, what we should and should not use/eat/wear etc… (oh, hey P*triarchy, I totally saw you there). 

It can be overwhelmingly noisy and stressful to hear and adhere to all of the arbitrary shoulds and yet so many of us spend our lives doing it, wearing ourselves out in the process. 

The first step I have found in this process of pushing back on this kind of thing is becoming aware of how often I say the word ‘should’. Just notice, but try not to judge yourself for it; it is something we grow up with, and are used to in so many areas of our lives. 

When I started to notice this in myself I began being quite intentional with my language, and with what is my place and not my place to say to someone. 

Even with things like recommending a book, or something we are all familiar with, the unsolicited Netflix recommendation, what perhaps once was ‘you should watch XYZ…’ could, if you need to share, instead become ‘I really enjoyed XYZ, maybe you’d like it if you’re looking for something to watch.’

Try applying this rewording to other areas and think about your choice of words. The more we become intentional with our words, the more we set the bar for how we will allow ourselves to be treated. What we choose to say and our choice of wording is an important component in how we communicate and put our expectations not only on others but also on ourselves.

We can often confuse being direct with being rude, particularly as women. We are conditioned to be gentle in our responses, generous with our time and submissive to expectation. 

This past year, some of us have had room we’ve never had before to reflect on many of the shoulds, particularly around social obligations, and found what suits us. It’s important to acknowledge here also that this year has seen many people stretched beyond capacity and it has absolutely not been a year of relaxed mindfulness, hotel spa music and gentle reflection for people, but a year where a lot has been forced upon us. 

In my own life, it has been a mixture of both. I finished my undergrad and found myself facing commitments coming out of my metaphorical earholes, things I would have tended to jump right into. I have learned to take my time making decisions, and mull over whether I can truly fit something in, and if I really want to be a part of it, and can still give myself time to recharge. 

Learning to recognise that when I’m asked to be involved in something I can just say ‘that sounds great, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,’ or, if I know it’s not something that I can commit to, saying ‘thank you, but I just can not commit to that at the moment’ is important to me.

And yes, just not wanting to is reason enough.  

While many may have learned this a long time ago, it’s quite new to me and so many other people, but in most cases, you can always take some time to consider and carefully phrase your answer, even when your initial reaction is a hard yes. And sometimes, as Shonda tells us, ‘no’ is a complete sentence.

You can follow Emma on @emmascottagelife