Stop “Shoulding”” Yourself

The following is from Lesson 13 in our curriculum, “Unbound,” a discipling and biblical counseling curriculum that provides a systematic, intentional approach to renewing one’s mind in order to experience heart-mind-soul transformation (Romans 12:2)

“Words matter. And usually, small words matter most.” This quote, from a professor and professional Biblical counselor, has already been shown to be profoundly true thus far in our journey. This lesson fleshes that out in some very significant ways.

We have already seen the importance of understanding the difference between “worthy” and “deserving.” We have discovered how powerful saturating with Scripture is in contrast to memorizing. We have developed a deep understanding of the distinction between “real” and “true” when it comes to emotions.

The next key area for taking back ground that we’ve surrendered because of the disparity between the words we use and what they actually signify is in the area of “should.”

Simply put: Should = Shame! When we go around “Shoulding” ourselves (or others), we are laying on a burden of performance based on expectation; and expectations are usually rooted in a sense of entitlement.

As we will see in a later lesson, expectations are like the ceiling: People can jump up and touch it, but they cannot live there. When we “should” ourselves, we have an inherent sense of expectation for performing—usually flawlessly, and nothing else will suffice—that then becomes our gauge for worth and value.

Example: “I should be over this by now.” Really? You should be over this by now because why? Because, if you aren’t, then there is something wrong with you, something defective about you, something lacking in you? You aren’t living up to some expectation that you’ve been unable to live up to, so that means what?

Do you see the danger in this kind of thinking?

Interestingly enough, God never tells us we “should” anything. He says, “My people shall; My people shall not.” (think of “shall” and “shall not” as “ought” and “ought not.”)

When we are “shall-notting” the “shall’s,” and “shalling” the “shall-not’s,” we are out of step with God and need (key word) to get back in step with Him.

There are “ought’s” in the Bible, but those are the transcendent ethic that is rooted in the nature and character of God. We “ought not (shall not) steal,” because stealing denies the providence, love, and goodness of God which results from our not believing what God has said about Himself. We take matters into our own hands, thinking that God has made a mistake, or that He is failing to do what He said He would do, we have to handle it ourselves.

The Law (think 10 Commandments) is there for us to use as a gauge: It brings no salvation, it offers no sacrifice for sin, and it provides no forgiveness. It simply shows us where we are in correlation to God and His character. (For a deeper study and better understanding of this, read carefully Romans 2:11-23.)

Jesus had the strongest language and used the most terrifying of words when He addressed the “Should-ers” in the Gospels. He told the Scribes and Pharisees (the professionals in the Law, the professional “Should-ers”) that they were hypocrites, that they created rituals that superseded and replaced God’s Law, and that they were so busy “Shoulding” others that the people couldn’t bear up under the burden placed on them by those “shoulds.”

The most terrifying word in all of Scripture is the word, “Woe!” To the Should-ers, Jesus says over a dozen times, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees; hypocrites!”

That word, “Woe,” means, “Prepare for agonizing torment and doom!” It is a word reserved for God—and His prophets when they spoke to God’s people for Him—in warning about the punishment that was going to come upon them for their serial, unrepentant rebellion against Him and His Law. It was also used to express deep sadness over significant loss.

When we are Shoulding ourselves, we are setting a standard for ourselves that is even more stringent than what God sets for us. He never expects us to be flawless. Even in the often-quoted verse where Jesus says, “Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” the original word used there for perfect is not “flawless,” but “complete.” The sense here is that we are to fulfill God’s intent for our lives, just as God Himself fulfills His own intent for Himself.

So, what do we do instead of Shoulding ourselves (or others)? We trade out the word “should” for “need,” or “could.”

  • “I need to take better care of myself;” “I could take better care of myself.”
  • “I needed to have paid more attention to what I was doing. Because I didn’t, x
  • “I need to surrender these old memories to God and allow Him to bring me to a place of healing instead of rehashing them over and over in my mind.”
  • “I need to get refocused on my saturation work if I’m going to replace the lies I believe with the truth.”

You get the idea, of course. When we switch from “should” to “need,” the emotional content and effect of what we are saying changes dramatically.

Think about how filled your self-talk is with “shoulds.” Think about how shamed and shameful you feel whenever you talk to yourself that way. Does it produce the motivation to change? Usually, it does the opposite, producing a sense of toxic shame that quickly deteriorates into hopelessness and the rest of the dark emotions waiting for you in the “Pit of Gloom”.


There are two kinds of shame we experience in this life. First, there is righteous shame. This is the shame we feel when we have done something bad. This is the shame that causes us to blush; to be remorseful over the wrong we have done and the harm we have caused; and it brings us to the place of confession, repentance, and restoration. Righteous shame is the right shame for us to feel when we are guilty of wrong.

The second kind of shame we experience is toxic shame. This is the shame that says “I am bad” instead of “I did badly” or “I am wrong” instead of “I did wrong.” Toxic shame results from us taking the guilt that is someone else’s to carry.

We believe we are guilty, so we beg and plead for forgiveness, but it never comes –because we cannot be forgiven for something that we are not guilty of! We feel unforgiven and unforgivable because, technically, we are—God does not provide forgiveness for sins we are not guilty of.

In addition, toxic shame hijacks every other emotion, thought, and perception, attaching itself to those things like the HIV virus attaches itself to healthy cells and camouflages itself, wreaking havoc throughout the immune system and eventually destroying the one infected. Toxic shame operates that same way on a person’s emotions, thought processes, sense of worth, and their perceptions about God, others, and even themselves.

Anchor PointThere are two types of sorrow and shame for sin (2 Corinthians 7:10): One is from God and it results in repentance without regret (an ongoing sense of the heaviness of guilt) because we have received the forgiveness that God promises (1 John 1:9) as a result of our true repentance for a wrong we have done (true repentance comes simply because it is wrong and others have been wronged as a result).

The second is the type that is either self-focused (I feel regret over what this cost me) or it results from feeling shame for something we are not guilty of.

When we go to God and ask to be forgiven for a sin we have committed, the guilt we carry to Him is ours to carry. Jesus already paid the price for that, so forgiveness and restoration are now available to us.

But, when we go to God and ask to be forgiven for something we are not guilty of, He says, “No,” because we cannot be forgiven for a sin we are not guilty of. We walk around feeling unforgiven and unforgivable because—technically—we are: there is no forgiveness for us for sins committed by someone else!

There is more to this, but this is enough for now. This is where we need to start in order to understand how important it is to know the truth, and speak the truth, and live the truth. Remember, part of God’s economy is that we will “know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).


There is nothing God asks of us or requires of us that He has not provided what we need in order to accomplish it. While Jesus clearly states in John 15:5, “Apart from Me, you can accomplish nothing,” Paul assures us of something we all need to keep in mind whenever we think that what we are facing is too much: “I am able to do all [that God asks of me] through the one who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13; clarification added).

And as a final reminder of what we have already learned from our work with the “Ladder-Bridge of Faith,” Paul also tells us, “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

This means that, since we are free in Christ (Galatians 5:1-2), and since we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6-7), as we surrender more and more to the indwelling Christ (Galatians 2:20), our lives will more and more bear the fruit of a truly surrendered life (John 15:5; Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 8:29).

So, our point is: Stop Shoulding Yourself: Exchange “Should” For “Need,” or “Could.” The toxic shame of not living up to man-made expectations will be steadily replaced by a heart that is devoted to fulfilling God’s will more and more each day.


Soli Deo Gloria

Published by: Pastor Warren Lamb

God has granted me the honor of being adopted as one of His sons and of serving His people as a Bible teacher and Biblical counselor. My primary area of counseling expertise is often referred to as "high-end" counseling: survivors of trauma and abuse, especially childhood sexual abuse, church abuse, narcissistic abuse, domestic oppression, sex-trafficking, kidnapping, and sole-survivor counseling. As a survivor myself, God uses my own healing journey to help bring hope and healing to others (a la 2 Cor. 1:3-4). Abuse and oppression are NEVER okay with God! When it comes to oppression and abuse, there is no "Switzerland," no neutral territory - you either side with the oppressor or with the oppressed; there is no middle ground. To find out more, visit our website

Categories Abuse, Biblical Counseling, Counseling Issues, depression, Forgiveness, hope, sexual abuse, shame2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Stop “Shoulding”” Yourself”

  1. Hi Pastor Warren,

    Thank you for this reminder! Impeccable timing, as God always operates. 🙂

    Hope you and the family are well!

    God Bless,


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