Shame on Shoulds

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Assumptions with an Edge

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of the What Kind of World do YOU Want? series

Shame on you

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” ~ Brené Brown

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.” 
C.G. Jung

By the time most of us have learned to talk, we have internalized many of the expectations of each of our respective environments as if they were THE incontrovertible rules of life on earth.

Whether taught overtly or inferred, we have been, and will continue to be, shamed into compliance. Many too many houses of worship, self-proclaimed houses of God and Love, seem to believe that shaming a child will teach their most important lessons best.

Once we are old enough to go to school,
only the most shame-damaged dare.
The compliant cower uniquely.


While some of what was force-fed may well have proven itself useful enough, the way in which it was taught diluted the effectiveness it might have had in the absence of toxicity.

We wear our shame like Scarlett Letters, bosom branded – seared into souls. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, lack of entitlement, and self-loathing become the only tells, hardly disguised by half-hearted humor.

BITTER lemonade we all pretend is sweet enough.

The difference between guilt and shame is very clear . . .
We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we ARE.
Lewis B. SmedesShame and Grace

If we realize at all what has been committed against us, it is rarely until much later that we understand that the theft of self-esteem itself seemed too small a deterrent to those who intended to enforce their rules.

WHERE did we, as a society, as a RACE, get the idea
that shame would ever be anything BUT toxic?


Shame is lye soap washing words from mouths of babes.

  • The dart of an eye brings back the taste.
  • The words those lye-burned tongues will never say
    burn deep, and they are words of hatred, not respect.

And so it goes.

Shame passes down, like most abuse.

It’s painful to witness.  I feel impotent and miles away, no doubt Divine Design.

“Why does shame and self-loathing become cruelty to the innocent?”
~ Anne Rice, Merrick


But shame has long fallen out of favor.  Shame has been shamed into hiding.

  • It runs about incognito, distilled to its essence — better belittlement.
  • Poison needles in blowguns, barely a trace of damage left on the skin.

Shame lurks in language now – in code.

We know it when we feel its sting, but dare not speak its name lest we be
accused of over-reacting.

Heaven forefend!

The highly defended are highly articulate, with a menu of codewords to armor themselves against vulnerability. The rest of us armor with only a few – and primarily only one: should.


[noun] the way something is supposed to occur “when things are functioning correctly,” regardless of appropriateness to the current situation or individual;

[verb] communicating a personal world-view as if it were an undisputed standard of behavior; covert, indirect and manipulative – used subconsciously when the communicator is unwilling to express his or her preferences in an open and observable fashion; designed to enforce compliance through shame without taking ownership of the dynamic, remaining unconscious as a protective mechanism

[internalized] an adopted standard that is not in alignment with a person’s true values.

[used unconsciously] a nasty habit of language that keeps life small and mean

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, 1996-2001; from my upcoming ADD Coaching Glossary


Shame won’t leave our lives until shoulds leave our language

Using different words won’t do it all by itself — but no matter what else we try to do, as long as we continue to reinforce shame “under the radar,” we have no choice but to numb-out to defend against it.

And when we numb-out, it is that much easier to justify doing it to others – for their own good, doncha’ know.

We prefer to pretend that what we say doesn’t have shame’s impact on others, even as we KNOW that what they say has tinctures of that effect on us. And everybody does whatever everybody does to defend against an overpowering feeling of not-enoughness.

When we should on others, we invalidate ourSelves.  

We are enough.  YOU are enough.  You are more than enough.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else
is more important than fear.
~ Ambrose Redmoon

It takes perseverance and resolve to let go of a habit — but it takes courage to step away from the pretense of consensus to be willing to develop the habit of expressing your very own personal world-view.

“They” can hardly argue with THE WAY THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE, can they?  But they might not like what YOU, personally feel and say and think.  They might even close ranks and leave you on the outside.

But if you feel you must quote consensus, couching your opinions and preferences as absolutes, aren’t you already on the outside of YOU? Step inside – it’s oh so much warmer.

(But don’t take my word for it.  Scroll all the way down to the TED Talk links below;
click to hear it said with humor.)


  • I would prefer it if you would — vs. —  you should
  • It might be a good idea if I  —  vs. —  I should
  • This is what I’d like to do  —  vs. —  we should
  • I don’t like the way they handled that   —  vs. —  they should


Leave me YOUR relanguaging in the comments below – and let me know how you’re doing changing the habit.  I’d love to hear how others respond when you stop shoulding and start speaking your truth.

I’d REALLY love to hear what happens in your life when you stop shoulding on yourSELF!
Please come back and let me know.



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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

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