Saturday, May 16, 2015

Stop Shoulding On Yourself

How many times a day do you “should on yourself”? I do it more times than I can count. I beat myself up for all the things I should be doing – like mundane chores or the bigger stuff – the stuff that we are expected to do or the stuff that feels like the right thing to do – like do a favor for someone or lend someone money or take care of someone’s problems. We put so much pressure on ourselves to live up to our own expectations as well as everyone else’s because we worry about what others will say or think. We fear judgment.

It feels selfish to put ourselves first and do what we actually want to do versus what we think we should do. But the majority of us have been conditioned since birth to “do the right thing” even if it means it’s not what is in your heart. We are taught to sacrifice our own emotional needs in order to please others. We learn early on in life that our needs are not as important as someone else’s. We believe that it is better to look good in someone else’s eyes than to feel good in our own hearts. We are burdened with guilt if we choose to follow what we want to do instead of what we think we should do.

In the book “The Gifts of Imperfection”, BrenĂ© Brown addresses the need to set boundaries. She states that it is essential to have boundaries in order to successfully practice acceptance and compassion without resentment. This makes so much sense to me! Think about it…when we do things for others coming from a place of “should”, we end up feeling resentful. We feel used and taken advantage of; we become judgmental. But hey…we did what we should have done; we made ourselves look good on the outside and feel bad on the inside.

It’s not easy to set boundaries and re-train our brains to believe that shoulding on yourself is not the measure of a good person. But believe me when I say, you are not selfish for taking care of your needs, listening to your heart, and following your spirit.


Fall/Winter 1992

My dad returned in October from his trip to Argentina to learn that I no longer lived with him in the apartment down the street from DJ’s house. He wasn’t too pleased that I had bailed on our lease but I didn’t care. Truth be told, I was much better off living with my sister in a big house than with him in a tiny ONE-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a sofa bed. 

Things between DJ and I were rough during this transitional stage in my life. His job with varying shifts and the diminished frequency of our visits really shook up our relationship. We fought a lot and didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.

I had also started putting my sister’s needs above mine, as well as ours as a couple, and my relationship with DJ suffered as a result. For example, I was still going out with him every single weekend but he’d drive 25 miles from his house to come pick me up (even for the dates that involved a party or gathering at or near his house – And he’d drive me back at 2:00AM or whatever time it was over. A real saint, I tell ya!). But what usually happened when he came to pick me up was that I would linger and take a very long time in making my exit – about one or sometimes even two hours after he arrived. I don’t think Serena was ever aware of how hard it was for me to leave her behind every weekend. My guilt was huge because I felt that what I “should” be doing is keeping her company; NOT going out and having fun while she was alone at home.  Sometimes during that hour or two of “lingering” DJ would end up doing some “Honey Do List” items too since there was no longer a man of the house. 

During the first week of December, DJ was driving to work at 5:30AM and crashed his truck into a parked car on the street, due to low visibility and heavy fog that morning. The accident was a godsend because he ended up resigning from his job shortly after the crash. It was the final straw in a long list of reasons why that job was not worth it and one less thing to interfere in our relationship.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were especially difficult for me that year. I was torn over what to do about Serena. Ever since my mom had died in 1986, holidays had never been the same in my family. We were no longer a united, tight-knit family like we had once been with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.

From the time my aunt kicked me out of her house in February 1991, I was never again invited back to their house for Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve dinner. (Actually, my relationship in general with my aunt, uncle, and cousins was never the same, so it’s really not shocking that I wasn’t included in holidays.)  At some point in the late 80’s, my sister and her husband had also stopped going for holidays to my aunt and uncle’s house for reasons of their own. Instead, Serena and her husband celebrated holidays with friends.  And I had been adopted by DJ’s family for the holidays the year before.  Meanwhile, my brother and his family, as well as my dad, had continued to celebrate holidays with them.

Being a recent widow that year, my sister had no desire to see anyone or celebrate the holidays in any way. She was too depressed and didn’t want to spend it with the friends she’d been celebrating with for the previous five years. All she wanted was to stay home. I felt like my duty was to stay home and keep her company, but she insisted I go with DJ’s family. So I did. But I felt that what I “should” have been doing or that the “right” thing to do was to stay home with my lonely sister. It wasn’t anything that Serena said or did that made me feel guilty. It was my own inner voice of what a “good person should do”. My inner voice would say “Jackie, you are a bad person for leaving your sister. What kind of person does that?! How could you? You should feel ashamed. She’s all alone and it’s your fault!”  What my heart wanted though was to be with the man I loved. I didn’t want to be alone at home depressed alongside my sister. 

Thanksgiving with DJ's family
I love how the scrunchy appears to just be sitting
on top of my head. Also, was the Georgetown gear
craze just in CA or was it all over the US??

The Georgetown Twins on
Thanksgiving Weekend
out with DJ's cousins at Shoreline Village

In the Latino culture, the most sacred holiday is Christmas Eve. It is a night full of traditions as well as great importance in families. In Argentina, midnight is celebrated like New Year's Eve with a champagne toast and hugs and kisses all around. After the toast, we eat specific foods like Italian Panettone, Spanish Turron (almond nougat), and raw walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds. And then we open gifts. Of all my childhood memories and traditions, this is the one I treasure and miss the most.

My journal…December 1992

“Christmas Eve was really depressing. I cried a lot. Especially over my mom. I miss her so much. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Being with DJ’s family was really hard because I kept thinking of how my family used to be and wondering what if it won’t ever be the same.”

My brother and sister-in-law invited DJ and me, as well as my dad, over on the 25th for dinner. (My sister didn't attend.) Although it was nice to be together with everyone, that date doesn't hold much significance (and zero traditions) for our family. 
Christmas Day Dinner at my brother's and sister-in-law's
I hope blanket jackets make a comeback someday. I loved that thing!

I realize now that even though I did what I wanted to do and not what I should have done that Christmas, I still wasn’t happy, because of my expectations of what Christmas Eve should have been. There was still a "should" so no matter where I spent the holidays, I was still bound to feel that big, gaping hole in my life, of missing my mom and the family unit I had once had.


What I have learned all these years later is:

When you drop the expectations…
When you stop comparing…
When you stop fearing judgment…
When you listen to your heart and follow your spirit…
When you do what YOU want and not what others want…
When you set boundaries…
When you believe that your needs are important and have value…
When you stop practicing self-criticism and start practicing self-love, self-compassion, self-care, and self-nurturing…
When you stop "shoulding" on yourself…
THAT is when you set yourself free to feel true joy.



  1. Totally, totally true. I have really been working on this one myself.

    1. It's so hard to do, but such a game-changer once you learn to release the guilt.

  2. "It’s not easy to set boundaries and re-train our brains to believe that shoulding on yourself is not the measure of a good person. But believe me when I say, you are not selfish for taking care of your needs, listening to your heart, and following your spirit."

    I've been working on boundary setting for some time. It's not easy, but it's certainly worth it because I'm worth it (and so are you). Thank goodness I finally believe that.

    With heart,

    1. Dani, I'm so glad you're on this path to realizing your feelings and needs are valid and that you are deserving of the same love and kindness you show others. You matter. xoxo


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