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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
  Home  > Helping Professionals  > The Shoulds that Run Our Lives

The Shoulds that Run Our Lives

Many of us fool ourselves into doing things we think we want to do, when, if we were really honest with ourselves, we would recognize that we are doing them because we think we should. The shoulds that run our lives are the product of our estranged culture in which worth is not inherent, but something that must be earned. Unfortunately, the most typical way of earning worth in our culture is to gain power over others. We live in highly competitive situations, driven by shoulds that must be performed if we are to have value in the world.

Many of the shoulds that run us have been indoctrinated from early childhood. We took on the shoulds of our parents and teachers, ranging from the time we should get up in the morning to what we should do if we want people to like us. The first section of this book is largely about the shoulds the authors accepted as children and the difficulties and growth that resulted from our becoming conscious of them.

Helping professionals are prone to burnout because the message that we should help other people is a particularly difficult one to release. It is not only socially condoned but applauded. It causes problems when the should leads to our ignoring our own needs, and our dominance-orientation leads to our seeing other people as inadequate, and dependent upon us for their wellbeing.

In our concern to help we often overlook the obvious. We can only give as much as we have. If we are feeling empty, we cannot give our best to others, even though we may be good at pretending that we can. When we take time to tune into our hearts, we know that we are neither being true to ourselves nor to them. When we perceive others as inadequate and dependent, we reinforce their already low self-esteem and support them in maintaining the pain they are experiencing. In a truly helping relationship, both persons feel energized by the exchange and there is mutual respect for the inherent value and worth of each, even though one may temporarily appear needier than the other.

Most of us chose the helping professions not just because we think we should but because we care. In some way we have each felt the pain and suffering that abounds on earth, and want to help relieve it. We recognize and desire to heal the pain in others because we know this pain in ourselves. Finding (usually unconsciously) that it's easier to deal with the pain of others than with our own, we may fight valiantly to relieve the suffering "out there" while denying that same pain in our own hearts.

We forget that to heal others we must simultaneously be engaged in healing ourselves. We must first have what we would give. Yet we deny our needs. With so much pain out there, how can we take time for ourselves? We can. We must. It is only through our own healing - which requires valuing and being honest with our selves - that we can heal the world.


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