Interview With Special Guest: The ‘Should’ Family

Interview With Special Guest: The ‘Should’ Family

I was thrilled to be able to interview the Should Family! I sat down with I Should and I Shouldn’t, who brought along their cute little kids They Should, They Shouldn’t, It Should and It Shouldn’t. 

Great to meet you all, properly, although I have hung out with each of you tons of times over the years. 

Gosh Siobhán, yes, you spent so much time with my partner ‘I Should!’ Crikey, I thought they were going to leave the family to shack up with you instead, they were with you that much. Until I realised you just had a lot of ‘I Should’ thoughts.

“I should be doing X, I should have finished Y, I should be further along by now, I should be able to do this, I should have more self control, I should be able to…and on and on and on”

“I Should be, I Should do, I Should have, I Should….” that was you! 

Ok, ok, I think we get the picture. Let’s get started. Your family name ‘Should’ is extremely common in English. What does it mean?

The main meaning of Should is used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticising someone’s actions. 

That’s the formal meaning of our name, anyway.

We would also add …”commonly used to unfairly and unnecessarily criticise oneself”

We’ve actually been looking into our family tree recently. The original meaning of our name, dating back to the year 1200, simply meant to ‘owe’ and over time, an element of guilt was added. 

I see. So what is your job? 

Well, you could call us a word, or a thought. Or a notion. We like to think of ourselves as a suggestion. 

Fundamentally, we are a word. We are part of a suite of approx 172,000 words, ready and willing for any human to use us as they wish.

Being a word is pretty fun. We get to hang out with so many other words! It’s so exciting to see what kind of team we’ll be working with to create sentences, thoughts, questions, speeches, ideas, songs and poems.

Humans are infinitely creative and use lots of words in many different ways. 

Unfortunately – and this is where our job gets a bit more technical – many humans misuse the Should family.

When this happens, we need to collaborate with our good friends and strategic partners – Feelings. The Feelings we work most closely with are Resentment, Sadness, Shame, Guilt, Frustration and Anger.

For this task, we identify when a human is ‘using’ our word – Should – in a way which is unhelpful, misinformed or just plain silly. Then we team up with one of the Feelings we named above and send them in there to let the human know that the way they are using ‘Should’ is not cool, productive or even needed at all. 

I don’t understand. Can you give an example?

Sure! So, you probably know that all words are just that – words. A neutral collection of letters. But, over time, the humans make certain words have a lot of importance. But this importance is completely made-up and often only hurts the human. 

That’s where Feelings come in. They are so awesome! Feelings help the human notice they are innocently using words and thoughts all wrong by generating a little sensation. We love working with Feelings! 

Sorry, you asked for an example didnt you?

Yes, please.

So on a regular day, we are used in an innocent, benign way like: 

“It’s going to rain this afternoon so we should go for a wander in the park now and get coffee after”


“We should see if we have enough mushrooms for the risotto”

But then, we are used in a different context which is – as I mentioned before – unhelpful, untruthful, misinformed such as: 

“I Should be on the housing ladder by now”

“I Shouldn’t be putting my toddler in front of the iPad so often”

“They Should have called me by now”

“They Shouldn’t have made the decision without me”

“It Shouldn’t have turned out this way”

“It should be easier than this” 

When these unhelpful, mistrustful, silly ways of using a member of the Should family occur, that’s when we team up with one of the Feelings we mentioned, to let the human know. 

Ok, I think I get it. So you lot are just words for a human to use how they like, and if they are innocently using you in an unhelpful way, your team up with a Feeling to notify them?

You got it! 

Why would a human be accidentally misusing ‘Should’, though? 

We love this question! We see that it comes down to two things: 

  1. The human is using Should, as a sense of obligation, for a thing that is not really ‘theirs’, or 
  2. The human is using Should to resist reality.

What? Can you explain? 

Yep! The first misuse of Should is around ‘obligations’ that others, or society at large, want or don’t want. Not the human. The human doesn’t even realise it’s happening. 

Examples are: I Should be working harder. I Should call my mother more. I Should have saved more money by now. 

The human didn’t decide these – they are ‘pre-built’ obligations created by many other humans and repeated so often they are no longer questioned. 

Are you saying humans shouldn’t be working harder, calling their mothers or saving money? That’s another member of the ‘Should’ family right there.

Not at all! We aren’t here to tell the humans what they Should or Shouldn’t do. We are more a reminder that the human gets to decide. Should’s are a suggestion.

Let’s say the human has an ‘I Should’ thought about calling their mother. They could notice the ‘I Should’ because it would come with one of our Feeling friends – maybe Guilt. The Feeling let’s them know they needn’t use Should in that way. Call their mother, or don’t. It doesn’t need to be a big deal. They could talk to their mother about how often they would like to chat to each other. There are plenty of options available to the human which don’t need to come with a feeling of Guilt. 

OK, I think I get that. What about the other misuse you said: resisting reality?

This is such a fun one when the human sees more about this! If someone is using a member of the Should family, it often means something is happening, or not happening, that is against what ‘should’ be. 

The Resentment, Anger, Sadness, Despair and many other Feelings are a sign of that. 

If the human can just be with what is, rather than thinking things should be different, they will have a much more peaceful time. 

An example we see a lot is around relationships. “They Should help around the house more if they care about me.”

Well, they aren’t. So there you go. 

That seems a bit harsh – just ‘deal with it’?

I don’t mean it like that. Using the Should that comes with a feeling – say Annoyance – alerts the human there is a misuse here. That can remind the human they have choices. Maybe speak to their partner, for example. 

We want to remind people they have choices. We want people to see Should thinking as suggestions or ideas.

OK. You all seem pretty nice. Why is the Should family so disliked?  

[Sighs] Oh, this makes us pretty sad. We’ve seen resistance, anger and fear against us increase so much. It makes me worry about sending the kids out sometimes, the way they can be treated! 

I don’t mean to blame the humans because I really love them, but WOW – they really have over-complicated things by misunderstanding what our colleagues, Feelings, mean.

What do you mean by that? Misunderstand what?

Humans innocently but mistakenly think that the Feelings we work most closely with – Anger, Resentment, Shame, Sadness, Guilt mean something bad about the human. 

But those Feelings are only there to alert the human that they are using Should in a way which is hurting themselves – and they don’t need to! 

I understand that. So how can the humans see the Should family in a more helpful way? 

Simply see us as suggestions rather than obligations!

I’d love the humans to know that if we are coming with a Feeling, that Feeling is a simple clue that they are misusing Should and to take a fresh look at the context. Are they believing a made-up obligation? Are they resisting reality?

I want the humans to see that we are just a little family of words. Use us as you wish! And we’ll be there with our Feeling team to let you know if you’re off track. 

To see this, and understand when we come with a Feeling like guilt or sadness or inadequacy, means you may want to take a fresh look at how you are using Should, can really make it a lot more fun to hang out with us. 

What’s your view on people replacing you with ‘could’ or ‘will’ or ‘might’ Are word swaps helpful?

Oh, we don’t mind! Anything that helps our favourite humans have a nicer time in the world. We love language swaps and games and experiments so that people can have a more expansive experience. 

If a human wants to try some word swaps, we recommend approaching it with playfulness and curiosity rather than a hard strategy. 

Afterall, the ‘aim’ (if there even is an aim!) is not to eliminate us Should’s – it’s more to understand us and come to see our use as a clue that the human might be investing in a belief which is not true to them. 

What do you mean by ‘investing in a belief which is not true to them’? Can you give an example of that?

Of course! A popular use of ‘I Should’ is around so-called milestones or achievements. So a person may have many ‘I Should’ thoughts around things they should have, do, or be ‘by now’. 

Let’s say someone is having repetitive thoughts like “I Should be a senior manager by now. I should have a larger home. I Should be able to afford more holidays…”

It’s very possible that those aren’t the person’s true beliefs. I have seen this time and time again. Western society in particular values the pursuit of financial and material goals but – in my experience – many, many people don’t want this ahead of more satisfying, fulfilling employment and well-rounded lives. 

However, it very well may be that the person DOES want a promotion, larger home and longer holidays. It’s possible to be working toward those goals without the horrid Feeling that comes with using a ‘Should’ to imply they ‘should’ already have them.

Deciding if someone really wants the thing they are ‘Shoulding themselves’ over is fun to explore with a word swap.

Like, ‘Society thinks I should have got promoted by now’ or ‘My parents think I should have a larger house by now’ or ‘My husband thinks we should be able to take longer holidays by now’.

This kind of ‘opens up’ the human to the way they are using Should. 

Cool. I know I have done that. In my previous job I would catch a Should thought and swap it to “the capitalist culture of western society thinks I should start that report tonight”

Exactly! Very good.

What could a human do if they feel like you are a bigger part of their lives than they may want?

Noticing that the Should family is a bigger part of their life than what they want is amazing in itself. Just noticing habits of thought and language starts to change everything.

Many humans have a lot of ‘Should’ thinking in certain areas. Popular areas are family and relationships or productivity. A simple way to take a fresh look at the use of Should in these areas is to notice the Feeling and use it as an invitation to get curious around those topics.

In preparation for this interview I counted the number of Should family words in a client session. The lovely client used Should words 19 times in just 80 minutes. Is that excessive use of you?

It’s not really up to us to say if that’s excessive use. It’s up to the human. If they felt pretty horrid, then that’s the clue. 

Best thing about your job?

Oh wow – we love the lightbulb moment humans get when they realise that the only thing making them feel bad is believing their own use of ‘Should’, and that they don’t have to! 

Worst thing about your job?

Probably when people get upset when we visit with a Feeling. Humans hate the Feelings! Particularly when we bring Shame. Shame is a dear friend of ours but is so misunderstood. 

People believe experiencing the Feeling of Shame means the human is a bad human. But it’s not that at all. 

I would love for more humans to come to see Shame and the others as the kind alert that they are using ‘Should’ in a silly and unhelpful way. That’s it. So freeing. 

Who do you most hang out with and why?

Oh goodness me! We’ll hang out with everyone! But the humans that tend to use us the most are People Pleasers and Perfectionists. I know you aren’t so keen on labels, Siobhán, but we’ll just use those tags for now for ease. 

Why do you think people pleasers and perfectionists are most likely to misuse Should?

I’ve asked myself this many times, and fundamentally I think it’s because they are nice, ambitious, lovely people. They want the best for themselves and they want connections with others.

I want those people to see that they get to to pick what this looks like for them. 

Many perfectionists, for example, think they cannot advance in their career or hobbies unless their output is perfect. This isn’t true. People pleasers think they need the approval of others to be connected to them. This is also not true! Once they start exploring these notions, their experience can open wide up. They could do this with you Siobhán and the coaching conversations you offer. 

Thanks for the plug. What’s your favourite food?


Is joy a food?

Of course! If you haven’t smeared joy on some lightly toasted fresh bread, then you haven’t lived Siobhán. 

Er, ok. Anything else you want to tell the lovely people out there?

The Should family are not a problem to be solved. You don’t need to get rid of us. Infact, you can’t! We’ll be popping in and out forever, so it would be wonderful to be friends. 

When we bring our Feeling colleagues with us, come to see that the Feeling is a kind alert and we’ll all get along just fine and have some nice times together. 

Thanks for coming on today, Should Family! Probably see you when I’m putting your interview in the newsletter and using you to tell myself I should have done it sooner. 

Haha thanks for having us Siobhán. Yes, we’ll be sure to watch out for you doing that and we’ll bring along our friend Inadequacy to alert you! 

What a nice family. What did you think of what the Should’s had to say? Do you think you can start to change your relationship with Should’s? Or not? Let me know here.