Full version Tyranny Of The Shoulds

Tyranny Of The Shoulds

This print version free essay Tyranny Of The Shoulds.

Category: Psychology

Autor: reviewessays 04 December 2010

Words: 752 | Pages: 4

The late psychoanalysis Karen Horney came up with the idea of the “tyranny of the shoulds.” She described the “tyranny of the shoulds” as being are the forces pressed on us by parents, peers, socio-economic class, teachers, career counselors, pop psychology, opinionated relatives and friends and the elusive ‘conventional wisdom’ (Richardson, 2006) . They tell us the many things we should or shouldn't do. These “shoulds” can be seen in anyone’s life, especially in the lives of college students.

Three particular “tyranny of the shoulds” that could apply directly to college students include, “I should get done with school in four years, I should make my parents happy as well as myself, and I should know how to balance school, work, family, friends, and stress.” These tyrannies apply equally to both men and women; however they could apply more to a particular man or a particular woman. Gender is not what decides how the tyrannies are distributed, but rather the person’s upbringing and values. If a person, regardless of gender, is brought up to value education he or she may be more prone to feeling that he or she must complete school within four years. If there is pressure from outside sources, i.e. parents, a student could also own this tyranny of feeling that he or she should finish undergraduate schooling in four years. The tyranny that states “I should make my parents happy as well as myself,” could also be distributed on the basis of upbringing and values. Typically females seem to worry more about making their parents happy than males, but it is stereotypical to assume that gender is the influential factor. Again, if a person is raised to value family approval he or she will more likely adapt this tyranny. The third “tyranny of the shoulds” that directly applies to undergraduate students, “I should know how to balance school, work, family, friends, and stress,” is again equally applicable to men and women.

All three of these tyrannies may seem irrational to anyone who does not engage in them, but very logical to anyone who does. When dealing with the inner conflict of any “tyranny of the shoulds” one is unaware of the irrationality. One only sees the need to strive for perfection. These inner conflicts are not usually conscious, but rather more of driving forces that motivate or discourage one’s actions and feelings.

I have finally freed myself of many “shoulds” that I have carried with me for many years. One in particular is the thought that “I should never get a bad grade or do bad on a test.” For a long time it seemed very unacceptable to me to get a ‘C’ or worse on anything school related. I also carried the “should” that “I should get good grades regardless of whether I learn anything.” Being in college has allowed me to realize that it is more important to learn material than it is to get a good grade on a test. With this realization I have been able to stop obsessing over tests and use that time to understand material. Of course for every tyranny I have lost I may have gained another one.

Personally I think that the only way to break the cycle of the “tyranny of the shoulds” is to become aware of them. The more awareness one has about these driving forces, the more likely one can change them. Knowledge is power. Once one has identified their personal tyrannies, he or she can go about making changes in his or her life to control those tyrannies instead of allowing them to control him or her.

Parker W.D. conducted research with over 800 students and parents to find out if there is a correlation between the “tyranny of the shoulds” and anxiety. Parker gave the students and parents the Adjective Check List, the NEO-Five Factor Inventory, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and the Brief Symptom Inventory to determine characteristics of perfectionism. Results found that a total of 32.8 % of the participants were categorized into a non-perfectionistic type, 41.7% were in a healthy perfectionistic type, and 25.5% fell into the dysfunctional perfectionistic type. Parent perceptions of the children were consistent with the students' self-perceptions. The construct of perfectionism was primarily associated with conscientiousness and secondarily with agreeableness and the “tyranny of the shoulds,” (John Hopkins University, 2000).


Richardson, Douglas (2006). Talk Back to Your Internal Committees. Retrieved on February 18,2006, from http://www.careerjournal.com/myc/climbing/19980424-


John Hopkins University. Perfectionism. Retrieved February 18, 2006 from,