“There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”— Albert Ellis, Ph.D.
“Musterbation” is a term coined by psychologist Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational
Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Musterbation refers to our tendency to set expectations –
that we must accomplish something. Similarly, we tend to use “should” and (less frequently)
“ought” statements to convey our expectations – of ourselves, and of others. For example: “I should go to the gym today.” “She should know better than to leave dirty
dishes in the sink.”
We are all guilty of using these statements (to use Ellis’ language – of ‘musterbating’ or
‘shoulding all over ourselves') in normal, everyday conversations and in our own inner
dialogues. But, these kinds of thoughts are less than helpful, and don’t usually make us actually change anything! Should statements generally reflect something we have been taught to value, something we think we need to be doing in order to be successful. Oftentimes, we haven’t actually examined if this value holds a place in our life or what we would like it to look like. It can be helpful, at times, to take a mental step back and ask ourselves about it. Why should I be doing this? Who taught me that I should be doing this? Our answers to these questions can help us determine our next steps.
The ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ can get us in trouble when applied to other people, too. Using the example above (“She should know better …”) can help us see why. If I am annoyed that my roommate left dirty dishes in the sink, because she SHOULD know better, I might feel frustrated about it and handle it based on my assumption that she knows she shouldn’t do that. However, the crucial word there is "assumption". We, as humans, are all raised differently, have different life experiences, come from different cultures, and internalize different lessons. While we might think that everybody knows how to clean a house – they don’t! Or, that everybody should know how to use their manners – even though ‘manners’ may look different from person to person. These concepts look differently to different people because of a number of factors, and thinking that they should know something only leaves us in a bad spot.
Sometimes, even if it’s uncomfortable, we have to investigate our assumptions. Ask somebody what clean means to them (particularly, if you are living with them) or how they would feel supported. Communicate your own needs and desires. Ask yourself, internally, when you hear the “they should…” statements, the same questions: why should they? How do I know, that they should or actually do know this? This practice can take some getting used to, but examining our language (spoken and in our thoughts) can be beneficial to us. Kaci Crook is a Mental Health Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. She works with individuals and couples. In her work, she incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Mindfulness. To request an appointment, click "Schedule Now" at the top of this page.