NYC Therapist Talks: Therapy in NYC for Singles- Examining those shoulds
Relationship therapy isn’t just for people already in relationships. Have you ever thought: “It’s not fair- everyone has a date except me- I shouldn’t be so shy!” and “I’m 23, I shouldn’t be having all this sex- I should be in a long term relationship by now!”, etc. These are what rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) founder Albert Ellis would call “the tyranny of the shoulds”, also known as “shoulding all over yourself”.
Talking about shoulds can get pretty philosophical- but that's what therapy is about- your philosophy. If you say something shouldn’t be so, but it IS so, then you’re living in a fantasy world. I’d say as soon as you say something isn’t fair, then you’re probably also living in a fantasy world. An analogy I use in therapy is I make $20,000 a year. I SHOULD make 20 million a year. But DO I make 20 million a year? I don’t? Well there you go. You can want it. You can work towards changing your situation to accomplish it as a preference (not as a demand). But leave the should out of it. That's what we're trying to challenge in therapy- the negative beliefs that lead to you beating yourself (or other people) up.
In the should statement earlier “I shouldn’t be so shy!”, how can we deconstruct that one sentence to identify BS beliefs and change that thinking to something more productive and healthy? In therapy, we'd start off by saying- “Okay, it sucks that I don’t have a date (unconditional life acceptance). I don’t want to be so shy.” We can go on to say “I get that I have the trait of being shy, but I’m not going to beat myself down because of it (unconditional self acceptance). If I don’t want to be shy anymore, I can face my fear of me not pleasing people and learn to not really give two shits about whether people approve of me or not. I know I’m a valuable, lovable person who has something to offer, and though I want to be out there dating and meeting people, I don’t have to have a date on Valentine’s Day, or New Year's Eve or Friday or whatever- in order to prove anything to anyone. Maybe someone else will judge me for not having a date (unconditional other acceptance), but opinions are like assholes, and everyone has one, right?”. Therapy allows you a safe space to come up with your new thoughts, then the goal is for you to go out there and test your theories out!
To deconstruct the “I’m 22 and shouldn’t be having all this sex” statement is to open a whole can of worms. I’ve recently been assigning Ellis’ book “Sex Without Guilt in the 21st Century” in my counseling and sexuality classes as well as to my clients in therapy. According to Ellis, we can sum up peoples’ BS beliefs about sex in two words “sexual fascism”. There are so many cognitive distortions (BS beliefs) about sex! (Thanks for the business Freud and friends!) But in my opinion, I think they can still be broken down into what we talk about in therapy a lot- unconditional self acceptance, other acceptance and life acceptance.
Putting yourself at the center of the universe when it comes to sex, as with anything else in life, is probably not gonna get you much, but is a very religiously influenced self-defeating behavior- that my every move has monumental meaning and consequences. So the 22 year old damning himself for having the bad luck of too much sex- yeah… not so healthy. As a result, this beating up of the self probably leads to feeling out of control, guilty, anxious, etc which is going to lead to more self-beating (and not the good kind). Therapy can help you break the cycle!
So yeah, you’re single. Big deal. Want to go on a date? Walk up to someone and ask them out. If they say no, walk up to someone else. Want to have sex? Find a consenting partner, be safe and go for it. But for goodness sakes, stop shoulding all over yourself! Want to know more? Need some help implementing your new thoughts? Therapy isn't like it was 50 years ago. Check us out!