Those What Ifs and Should Haves

By: Andrea F. Palmer, MA, LPC, NCC

Maybe you can pinpoint the reason you are disconnected from others, but what about those
pesky thoughts that perpetuate you staying disconnected and on an island away from
people? We want connection. We want to belong. Most of us want to do life with others.
However, our internal voice often stops us.

The great news is that our brains are moldable and can be retrained to improve our inner
voice, that constant self-talk. If we can improve our self-talk, we can also enhance our
connection with others and feel less isolated.

The What Ifs

Ever psyched yourself up for an outing, event, or social gathering only to talk yourself out
of it with a “what if” statement like one of these?
What if my toddler throws one of his famous tantrums that turns heads?
What if my nine year old can’t control his hyperactivity and they judge my parenting?
What if they’ve heard about the recent choices my teenager made?
What if I just don’t fit in with this group of women?

Those “what if “ statements are really good at keeping us in the dark and prohibit us from
doing things that will help us connect. Can you hear the anxiety in the “what ifs”? I often
remind clients and myself that most of our “what if” thoughts do not come true.

If one or two of them does prove true, we will survive it. I often ask clients, “What’s the
worst thing that can happen?” and ask you the same question. When we frame it that way it
does not seem as scary. If you are sure one of your “what ifs” will come true, like your child
being defiant or having a rough moment, prepare yourself for it and have a plan. In spite of
the “what ifs” swirling in your head, go to the play date, meet up with moms for coffee, or
attend the event. You will likely find that you have a much better time than you thought.

When we recognize our “what ifs”, we also have the power to stop living in the “what ifs.”
One of my favorite quotes is from Corrie ten Boom. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its
sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” Take it from someone who knew suffering and
may have felt isolated during her immense hardships. Don’t let those “what ifs” steal the
strength you have today.

The Should Haves

Ever talked yourself out of going to another event or staying connected with a group of
people because of the “should have” thoughts that followed afterwards?

I should have kept quiet when they discussed that controversial topic.
I should have been less vulnerable and kept my conversation on a surface level.
I should have worn something else.
I should have used a different parenting approach in front of them.

Can you hear the anxiety, self-defeat, and even shame in those “should have” statements? In
cognitive behavioral therapy, we call “should statements” a cognitive distortion. This
means it is an unhealthy pattern of thinking sure to produce negative emotional results.
If you got out of your house and connected with people, you succeeded. You did something
healthy and maybe it was vulnerable, so don’t let the “should have” statements rob your
joy. Brene’ Brown reminds us, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be
seen.” If a moment is awkward or you could have done something differently, take note and
move on. Replaying it in your mind a hundred times probably won’t make you feel better.
Retreating and not engaging because of a perceived negative moment will not produce
healing either, only more hurt.

Encouragement for Introverts

As an introvert, I understand thinking about connecting, doing something social, or even
sometimes picking up the phone to call and check on a friend out of state feels like too
much after you’ve been interacting with your family or people at work all day. You need to
be alone to recharge, and that’s okay. Consider setting a weekly or biweekly goal for
connecting with others. If you don’t have a group or people you consider “your people,”
start working to build one with a couple of people you trust or can learn to trust. When I
became pregnant with my first child, I did not have a network of close mom friends who
lived near me. My close friends were in different seasons of life or located hundreds of
miles away. I had to seek out new people, connect with others, and build friendships. I am
so glad I did the legwork to build friendships with other moms who have children similar in
age as mine. These women have been such blessings in my life. When you start milling
through the “what ifs” in your mind, remember connecting and meaningful relationships
are worth it.

Charge to Extroverts

How great is it that you get your energy from being around others! Your love for people
and energy can be magnetic. Continue to be mindful not to let those “what ifs” and “should
haves” get you down. Your energy is needed. I would encourage you to invite others in,
especially those who you know might reach out on their own. Be an includer; no one wants
to be on the outside. If you are an extrovert who finds yourself in a season of loneliness or
isolation, I would encourage to reach out and make the connection with a trusted friend.
You will likely be glad that you did!

Final Thought

I encourage you, introvert or extrovert, outgoing or shy, to make one stride against
isolation and towards connection this week. Call that friend out of town. Invite someone
over. Arrange a play date for your kids so you can spend time with another mom. Attend
something social. Check on a friend who you know has had a hard time.
When those pesky “what ifs” or “should haves” come to mind, picture a red stop sign in
your brain, stop the thought, and show up anyway. The more you do this, the less
consuming those thoughts will become.

Blessings,
Andrea

 

 

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