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Should Statements

In Therapy

A child makes should statements when he focuses on he thinks thing should or ought to be rather than the reality in front of him.

Should statements can be personal standards of behavior, standards for other people, or expectations about the way the world functions. Should statements, when contraindicated by an unforgiving reality, can lead to other Thinking Errors like labeling, all-or-nothing thinking, or catastrophization.

  • A child’s friends are too busy studying one night to hang out. He believes that good friends should drop everything for their buddies, and labels them bad friends.
  • A usually well-behaved child makes a mistake and disappoints her parents one night. Because she believes that she should be better than that, she begins to believe she’ a failure.
  • A child thinks that real families should be like the families on TV, and when his fails to live up to that exacting and unrealistic standard, he begins to believe his family is dysfunctional.

In Critical Thinking

For the most part, should statements are instances of wishful thinking: the child thinks reality is a certain way based on his or her desires and doesn’t come down from the clouds to see it as it is. Wishful thinking, contrary to the connotation of the word “wish,” does not have to be a positive misrepresentation of reality. It is rather any time someone sees the world as the way they want it to be or think it should be rather than it is.

Wishful thinking is problematic because is involves drawing conclusions about the world based on faulty premises. Rather than drawing one’s conclusions from the way the world is, one draws conclusions from a fictional version of the world that exists only in one’s own head. Wishful thinking isn’t necessarily bad reasoning in and of itself; it is the formation of faultu assumptions that can lead to bad reasoning. Wishful thinking ignores evidence in favor of a preferred ideal view of things, and the view is often made even prior to evidence and reasoning take effect; we call such views a priori (Latin for “from what comes before”), because they are assumptions made absent or before any actual experience.

  • And older man looks back at his life through “rose-colored glasses”–remembering things in a far more positive light and believing that everything has gone downhill since then.
  • A young woman has a “perfect man” she is looking for, and is unable to find him among all the guys who don’t live up to her ideal standard.
  • A man has a view of how people of other races “ought to” act: in deference to him. When people go against this view, he gets angry and believes they are acting out of line.
  • Somebody who doesn’t keep up on international news believes that there are no real problems outside of the United States, and so there is no need to worry about the rest of the world.

Bridging the Gap

Should statements can be difficult to break through. Often, a should statement is a core principle of the way a child constructs her worldview. If she believes that all teachers should give A’s for effort, it’s hard to explain to her that her should statement is faulty; it is an assumption she has made a priori, as a first principle. Rather than being a product of her reasoning, it informs her reasoning. Such a priori should statements are wishful thinking in action: the child believes the world is one way in the absence of evidence, while the world believes itself to be another (so to speak).

“All people should be nice.” “I should be perfect.” “I should be as skinny and pretty as the girls on TV. ” “My parents shouldn’t ever have a fight.” All of these should statements are assumptions a child makes because she thinks the world ought to be a certain way. She may not actively wish for the world to be that way, but her a priori assumptions in the face of an unyeilding reality show that, beneath it all, she does; when she is met by an outcome that does not conform to her should statement, she is resistant to reality and instead gets disappointed or frustrated that reality is not as it “should” be. If she was not comitted to a desire that the world should be as she conceives it, she would simply take the contrary evidence in stride and reconfigure her worldview. It is by a resistance to contrary evidence that she demonstrates she is engaging in wishful thinking.

Perhaps the first tactic to take when linking should statements with wishful thinking is to ask “Why?” Why should people behave in that way? Why should the world work in that way? Why should you be like that? The child may not at first admit that she has no rational or evidential grounds for her should statements, but the seed will be planted. Where before she never even thought to question her should statements, she now possesses the idea that they might not be as solid as she once thought, and perhaps they, too, like all other beliefs, should be a posteriori (“from what comes after”) , or formed after the evidence is examined with an open mind.

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