The Pitfalls of Wishing & “Shoulding”


Wishing is a form of self-will. It is doing nothing, while expecting others to change. It is expecting situations to change magically to your liking. Wishing is “seeing the potential” in others, but not seeing the person as they are, imperfections as well as assets. It is not accepting another’s authentic self. It is deciding, for yourself how the world should be if you had made it. Wishing is as useless as worry and just as productive at the same time. Both produce stress, anger, resentment, fear and helplessness. Both also provide the loss of motivation and procrastination.

There are many reasons why we wish. We wish things were different because the truth is not to our liking. The truth would cause us to have to change. The truth would force us to acknowledge reality. When we think we want something “better” for another person, what we really want is that which is better for ourselves. We want that attractive person to be more compatible, or fall in love with us to meet our own desires and needs, which is simple selfishness. There is nothing wrong with asking to have our needs met, what is in error is to expect another person to change to meet those needs.

The process of magical thinking in a child’s brain could be explained as the process of when a child experiences stress or discomfort, the neuropathway takes that thought and joins it with the “solution” of wishing it away. This produces a coping mechanism, which eventually becomes hard-wired in the brain and is very difficult to change. When an adult “wishes things were different” they are accessing the same neuropathway and same response system that was instilled in them as a small child. That is why magical thinking is considered “immature” and “irrational”. Fortunately, science has discovered ways to change neuropathways with psychotherapy that includes mind, body, and spirit work. Bessel Van der Kolk has written a book on it, The Body Keeps The Score. However, this is still an evolving science and much more needs to be uncovered.

Another phenomena in human behavior is how we process emotions. Specifically, I want to discuss the topic of shaming or “shoulding” ourselves and other people. “Shoulding” is a shaming statement. It makes a judgment. It is denial; what I am feeling or sensing is wrong or false. Shaming is used to manipulate others to get what we want or desire without being vulnerable enough to ask openly for it. Shoulding is used to avoid responsibility. It is controlling and unaffirming. It is judging yourself or others as “wrong”. You make up your own reality or create an alternative reality for someone else in the process. It is abusive and harming. It leaves long-lasting scars on people of all ages and has long-term consequences for entire groups of people.

Furthermore, shame is an emotion that has a visceral reaction in the body. It causes the person experiencing it to want to escape the feeling, by any means. "It feels like dying". People will do anything to try to avoid feeling their shame because it is so painful to feel. It is often felt physically, in the neck, throat or pit of the stomach. Humiliation has a similar visceral reaction and often produces the same desire to run from it. Sadness also has physical and visceral reactions such as crying, wailing, to convulsing in the midst of deep despair.

Is there hope, or a solution to wishing and avoidance of shame? I have found that becoming your “true self”, your "deep down" self holds the answer to this question. Once we can let go of the idea that we can be intrinsically bad or defective we can become open to healing our emotional scars. Take for example, embryo’s and infants. Neither are intrinsically bad or defective. If they unable to thrive they die, but there is nothing in DNA that creates “badness”. Our deep down selves are innocent, untouchable, and original. Self-discovery and self-acceptance (not self-esteem) are the solutions.

When we open our minds and hearts to other possibilities, we can let go of having to be right or be in control. We can accept what is present before us (reality). We can accept our feelings, our first reactions, our intuition, the truth, the separateness of another person, the things we don’t like (even begrudgingly). We can begin to ask “how” and let go of “why”. How promotes imagination and why promotes problem-solving. One engages your heart, the other your mind. People cannot argue with the heart, but with the head, there is a counter argument for every thought ever thought. How is self-reflective. It asks, how can I learn to accept this person, place or thing? How can I ask for what I desire? How can I live life differently? How can I be my authentic self? How can I be of service and love other people? It taps into the human ability to be naturally creative.

Identifying sources of distress is in the job description of every therapist. As I begin the unfolding of my own vast personal experience over the past 50 years of my life, I have discovered many words of wisdom that I desire to share with those people who are also on the journey with me. Go in peace, and take what you like and leave the rest. Live life, live in reality, for they are intrinsically safer than living in fear and ignorance.


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