One year I turned up to a summer school in Brighton, UK which hosted 100s of teenagers from around the world. My task was to teach English to a small group of bright-eyed Italians. All good, except I didn’t have the faintest idea what I was doing.
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My instinct was to be friendly and build a rapport with the students.
That way I could guarantee fun and foster a good spirit in the camp.
I was given a course book with the scantest instructions for newbie teachers, then I set about the task of teaching.
I quickly realized that having the kids on my side was key. We talked a lot, played games and their English improved.
At the end of the course, they said I was the best English teacher they had known and that they had learned so much English.
I was delighted and baffled- I didn’t know what I was doing and had spent a lot of time not working from the book.
Buoyed up the experience I took intense training in English teaching and returned to the school the following year.
This time everything was different. I had this list of shoulds from the methodology I’d been taught. Instead of making a lovely connection with the students, I felt uncomfortable and estranged from them. The list of shoulds was a barrier to my being myself, even though technically I was doing everything I was supposed to do.
The result was awful. The students were unmotivated and made little progress.
Surprisingly, I continued in the profession, teaching all year round in a school in Spain, believing that despite the lack of warmth in the class I was doing my job correctly.
I watched other teachers having fun and I was jealous and privately accused them of not doing the job properly.
I was unhappy and excessively tired and confused.
One day, sparked by desperation, I dared to wonder what would happen if I abandoned much of the methodology that was forming a barrier between the students and me. I had nothing to lose- exhaustion and my low state would lead to leaving the job anyway- so I cast aside much of what I’d been taught.
On the one hand, it seemed crazy. I mean, this methodology had been tried and tested by experts. It must be right.
On the other hand, it had turned me into a boring automaton who had a cold and brittle relationship with his students.
Inspired by a reckless sense of doom, I went in the next day and spent twenty minutes just chatting with the students (a big no-no). We talked about sport, different nationalities and life in general.
I smiled for the first time in ages and to my amazement, the students were superbly engaged and interested.
The lesson unfolded pleasantly and organically like things do when people are in harmony.
I was back in the delicious vibe of my Brighton days but more importantly, I had exposed and defeated the should bully!
Since then I have learned more about him.
At the lighter end of his terror, the Should Bully yanks you out of bed on a Sunday morning and has you scrubbing the floor and dusting the shelves when what you actually need is a rest.
And at the more sinister end of his torment, he has you striving to be the perfect employee, wife, husband, neighbor or student for the cost of being true to who you really are.
( In the case of the student he has embedded in your brain the perverse logic of five straight A’s or you’re worthless.)
He has the last word quashes your true impulses and directs your moves in relationships, jobs and important life decisions; his reign of terror is supreme.
Like a virus or some genetic deformity he spreads from generation to generation with the same list of Shoulds, and when you don’t conform to his tireless demands he grabs you by the scruff of the neck and immerses you in the toxic waters of guilt, unworthiness and self-loathing.
When it comes to combatting him, because he operates in the shadows it makes him difficult to locate and eliminate- you can’t fight what you can’t see!
And his most dastardly trick is to persuade you that he is the voice of reason or worse… he is you! This ensures that he goes undetected in your daily Things-To-Do List.
The Important thing to know is he can be defeated. The Should Bully’s kryptonite is intelligent questions. Under rational interrogation, he usually sinks to his knees and shrivels up like a vampire in the sunlight.
Here’s how to deal with the Should Bully
1. Learn how to identify the Should Bully.
Notice when you are carrying out tasks, embarking on life paths, jobs and relationships etc. How do you truly feel about them?
Note, I’m not referring to things we simply don’t like eg. paying the rent, doing the washing-up. The key is satisfaction.
Even some tiresome activities can have a sense of satisfaction once completed, but tasks ordained by the Should Bully tend to produce an inner sense of huffing and puffing, of laborious futility, stoicism, and sacrifice where the only reward is an escape from guilt and self-loathing, rather than genuine move towards satisfaction, pleasure, joy etc.
2. Once you’ve identified the Should Bully you don’t have to immediately have a head-on war with him.
You just have to start asking intelligent questions at a rate that is comfortable for you.
Imagine the Should Bully is telling you to follow a financially stable career, let’s say in banking, but in your heart, you know it brings you no joy.
Try these questions: Why must I follow this career? Says who? And let’s say the answer is (as it often does) points to a parent or influential relative or the voice of your entire culture, the next question is:
Is this person/entity such an authority on this subject or on life in general that their advice must be obeyed without question?
What would happen if you didn’t do this?
What’s the worst thing that would happen?
Does compliance with this bully bring happiness?
What are other ways of dealing with this situation that are in align with who I am?
Up to now you have blindly followed the should bully’s directives, but now for the first time you have a choice, and you can choose to do what is true for you not what was true for a parent or whomever.
Of course, maybe you’ll decide to follow the SB’s directive, in which case it will now be your decision and not something you blindly follow.
Freeing yourself from the grip of the should bully can be one of the most powerfully liberating things you can do.
It’s also a journey into discovering your true self, not the one constructed by your parents, culture and the wider society.
People who do this successfully go on to lead more authentic lives. Note when you put SB in the mirror it reads BS. Happy Hunting!