“I shouldn’t be feeling this way” is a common thought. The question is what to do with it.
Whether or not you “should” feel a certain way is less important than what you’re going to do with the feeling. You recognize that you’re angry or sad or envious or gleefully vindictive. Or maybe you’re not feeling anything at all in a situation that seems to call for strong emotion. What follows?
If you start dwelling too much on whether you should or shouldn’t be experiencing an emotion, a few things usually happen:
- Your stress levels go up more. An additional layer of stress settles over a difficult situation.
- You feel guilty, inadequate, unworthy, or strange.
- You get distracted from thinking of ways to best respond to your emotion and to the situation you’re in.
It doesn’t help that sometimes other people tell you what you should be feeling. They may want you to feel love or happiness or grief, and when you don’t meet their expectations, they don’t react well.
Focusing too much on the “shoulds” isn’t helpful. You feel a certain way. Rather than beat yourself up over the feeling itself, think about what you can do with it.
Maybe what you need is to just keep going about your daily routine. Other times, you may need to talk to someone you trust or reach out for urgent help. In many cases, what helps is to write, draw, go for a walk, listen to music, garden, read, knit, ask for a hug, work on a project, or sign up to volunteer in your community. You may need to develop habits of thinking and behavior that help you with overwhelming emotions. (For example, people often feel calmer and more level-headed when they disconnect from social media for a while.)
Brooding on “should,” however, doesn’t help you change anything. Standards of “should” may be arbitrary or based on ideas you don’t have to subscribe to. An unusual reaction to something isn’t necessarily a sign of a mental health issue (and if it is, beating yourself up over it won’t help). Experiencing emotions that are ungenerous or crude doesn’t mean that you’re compelled to act on such feelings or that your feelings will never change. Also, you don’t have to feel a certain way simply because of your sex, race, or other demographic characteristics. Even if the people around you all express the same kinds of emotions, the reality is messier. They aren’t all feeling the same way, definitely not all the time.
“But I shouldn’t feel this way…” Whether you “should” or “shouldn’t,” the fact is, you do. So what do you do next?