Should and Shame

How we talk to ourselves (and others) matters.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

I hope to never tell someone or myself what they or I should be doing. Even when said with the best intentions the phrase “You should be . . .” sounds judgemental and bossy. “Should” is a shame word. If we say we should be doing something, it means we are not doing that thing. “Should” implies doing something wrong, a lack, a failure. “Should” is dripping with shame.

“Should” as defined in the Oxford Dictionary:


  1. used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.

I’ve heard the phrase toxic shame bandied about. Is there any shame that isn’t toxic? Apparently, yes. Not for me, though. Shame is crippling, immobilizing, incapacitating, paralyzing. Nothing good comes from shame.

Synonyms for shame (by Grammarly) include:

  • Remorse
  • Embarrassment
  • Guilt
  • Disgrace
  • Humiliation
  • Stigma
  • Crime

There are no positive connotations to these words. They are all toxic.

What if we removed “should” from our language? What if we stopped saying “should” to ourselves and to others? What if we replaced it with “might”? “Might” expresses possibility or permission.

“Might” is a positive word. Instead of lack, failure, something wrong might implies potential.

Synonyms for “might” (by Grammarly) include:

  • Authority
  • Influence
  • Control
  • Vigor
  • Brawn
  • Power

The difference in the way I react to these two words in the same sentence is telling.

I should be writing = I feel guilty for not doing something I am obligated to do. I freeze in shame. I spiral downward into negative emotion. I do not write.

I might be writing = I feel eager to change what I’m doing to something that holds possibility and potential. I am energized. I feel in control and motivated. I go write.



Jonica Bradley (Am I paranoid or RU following me?)

Writer/Painter/Poet/Believes in magic/nature/prays to unicorns/goat expert/bee farmer/mental health advocate/C-PTSD/human rights advocate/coolest person ever