shoulds and musts



article menu

featured article
about us moodraiser blog

contact us

This article is excerpted from the book, Antivirus For Your Mind.


This is one of "22 virus definitions" (thought-mistakes that cause ineffectiveness and unnecessary negative emotions).

“I SHOULD be a nicer person.” “People shouldn’t treat me that way.” “The world should be fairer.” These kinds of statements are called imperatives. They are also called "should statements" by David Burns. Albert Ellis, who concentrated more on this thought-mistake than on any other, called it "musterbation". Ellis really hammered on this one, and for good reason. It is the source of a great deal of unnecessary negative emotion.

In an interview, Ellis explained how he gets himself out of an upset.

1. First he says to himself, “I’m creating this.”

2. Then he asks, “What am I telling myself?”

3. Finally he looks for commands and demands: “Things should not be this way, the other person should not act that way, I should not feel this way, etc.”

Ellis focused on shoulds and musts because he found by long experience that these really get people in trouble. It’s a good virus definition to go after first. Ellis was not only an innovator and teacher, but he was using this stuff on his own therapy clients since the 1950s. His long wisdom and experience showed him he could go right to the heart of the matter by searching for shoulds and musts.

Once you recognize the shoulds and oughts and musts you use on yourself, and once you realize they are merely preferences, it takes away the intensity of your negative feelings and you are left with mild disappointment, simple frustration, or concern — rather than sadness, anger, or fear.

Ellis began by assuming right off the bat that if you’ve got a problem, the source of it is "musterbation." For example, you might present a problem in a therapy session that you are ashamed or embarrassed about something. His very first assumption is that the source of your distress is you are thinking either, “I must be loved by everyone,” or “I must achieve greatness,” or both. And he would probably be right. From either of those two underlying musts, you can easily become embarrassed or ashamed when someone doesn’t seem to think you’re wonderful, or when you did something that wasn’t great.

Ellis would then teach you that there is no reason to continue believing you must be loved or achieve greatness. Sure, it would be nice, but it isn’t necessary to existence, and thinking it necessary makes you miserable.

See the complete list of definitions: The 22 Virus Definitions.

This article is excerpted from the book, Antivirus For Your Mind.

Author: Adam Khan
author of the books, Self-Help Stuff That Works and Antivirus For Your Mind
and creator of the blog:
Articles and Interviews
Learn about sustaining motivation, improving relationships, relieving depression, improving your health, reducing anxiety, becoming more optimistic, enjoying a better mood more often, earning more money, expanding your creativity, making better decisions, resolving conflicts, and much more.

Self-Help Menu
Want to learn to enjoy your relationships with people more? Do better at work? Feel good more often? Have a better attitude? Use the self-help menu.

Facebook and Twitter
We post on Facebook and Twitter a few times a week, focusing on helping you feel good more often.

Search For Anything On YMW
Type in any topic and find all the material on YouMe Works on that topic. You can also browse topics on this page.

Subscribe to Moodraiser
Get articles delivered to your email inbox free. Learn simple methods for lifting your general feeling of well-being right away, and improving your mood over time.



Explore This Site | Immediate Relief | Bite Size | Home | Contact
Copyright © 2001-2099 -
YouMe Works Publications - All rights reserved.