How to Stop Shoulding Yourself    

23 Dec 2020

Nobody ever “should”s themselves as much as a survivor of emotional abuse.  That happens for a reason. That reason is not because there is anything remotely unworthy about those of us who have walked through the long, dark tunnel of abuse, Rather, abusers use shoulding to brainwash us into feeling terrible about ourselves so that they can retain their power over us.

The more an abuser shoulds you, the more you end up shoulding yourself in the foot. It takes a heavy toll on your emotional health. So, today, I want to share with you one client’s story on their journey out of shoulding in the hope that their breakthrough will help you, too.

Jay’s journey into shoulding

Jay, not her real name, is a delightful person – although, predictably enough, her narcissistic –ex- partner would beg  to disagree.

Her whirlwind romance with this person lasted all of ten minutes. He saw her, loved her, sketched out their wonderful future life together, moved in with her and… turned into her worst enemy. Everything she did was wrong and selfish. Allegedly.

He repeatedly told her that she didn’t “love him enough” to do right by him. That is, of course, a relatively elegant way of saying, “You will have to prove that you love me far more than you have ever done, before you can hope to be lovable.”

The relationship ended badly, of course, but not before Jay had acquired a ton of damaging emotional baggage that included an acute sense of failure.

Whenever Jay felt down and looked back at the relationship, she did a lot of “shoulding”.

“I should have done more to be a good enough partner” she would say.

In reality, she had already done far more for her partner than any half-way decent partner would have a right to expect.

Still, Jay’s shoulding was remarkably resistant to reason, empathy and support until we took our work together in an entirely different direction.

How I discovered my limits

Our conversation had reminded me of an event in my own life when I realized that I was very close to the limits of my ability to function. Issues around the health of a loved one had left me just about holding on to my sanity by my fingernails.  I brought it up with Jay because there were distinct parallels with her own situation.

I had an important decision to make to protect my sanity.

In an ideal world, I might have gone for a different decision or gone about things in a different way.

Just to be clear, nobody else suffered because of the choice that I made. It was not equivalent to the Narcissist’s rationale, “I couldn’t help it: I had to…” that is used to justify their abuse of you.  It was more a case of “In an ideal world, I would be able to up my game, disregard my personal feelings and trauma and carry on as usual.”

Accepting your real world limits

However, in my real world circumstances, given how harrowing the circumstances had been, I just knew that I had nothing left to give. I had reached the end of my resources and I had no choice but to accept my own limits.

Until that moment, I hadn’t even known that I had a limit there – or anywhere else.

Jay has one of those faces on which you actually see the light dawn.

As she listened to my story, the light dawned that she had not been able to “should” herself into going the extra mile for her narcissistic partner because she had reached her human limits.

Toxic people should you into invisibility

You see, toxic people use “should” to manipulate you into believing that you can never do enough, be enough, or sacrifice yourself enough. They should you into becoming invisible.

In their ideal world, your capacity for service – to them – should be unlimited.

But in the real world, you have limits – just like everyone else. (Let’s not even talk about where a Narcissist places their limits.)

Every time that you should yourself, what you are actually saying is,

“If I were only perfect. I would be able to not feel normal, human emotional fatigue, I could be the Energizer Bunny (UK Eveready Bunny) of relationships – especially difficult, one-sided toxic relationships.”

You are not the Energizer Bunny

Shoulding yourself is beyond imposing an unrealistic expectation on yourself. It is expecting yourself to be the Energizer Bunny.

You cannot do that.

Nobody can.

And nobody has the right to demand that of you – and that includes you.

So, next time you fall into that old pattern of shoulding yourself, either go out and get yourself an Energizer Bunny suit to run around in for the rest of your days. Or else, remind yourself that you are human, you have perfectly normal, human limits – and respect yourself and your limits.

Especially at this time of year, please honor yourself and your limits and nake that an integral part of having a wonderful Holiday  Season.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

3 thoughts on “How to Stop Shoulding Yourself    ”

  1. What an awful experience.

    Unfortunately, you married into a very toxic family. I can understand how all that sticking together made you doubt yourself.

    just hope that you are now free – or becoming free.

    Warm wishes for your healing and happienss,



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