Freshen up your mouth

(and clean out your ears)



All, always, never


Ambitious, diligent, hard-working

As much as I would like

Bad karma

Behind on things, things are waiting for me


Better safe than sorry

Bitch, jerk


Caring, uncaring

Catch up, get caught up


Comfortable, uncomfortable


Common good


Considerate, inconsiderate, sensitive, insensitive



Cooperative, uncooperative, stubborn, agreeable, disagreeable

Deserving, not deserving, worthy, unworthy

Difficult, hard, struggle, tough


Discrimination (racism, sexism)

Do my best (try my best)

Doesn’t work, is not working

"Don't care what others think"

Don't worry

Duty, obligation




Enough, not enough, good enough, not good enough


Err on the side of caution



Expectation, hope

Failure, success

Fair, unfair, just, unjust, justified, unjustified



Generous, tight-fisted

Give me a minute, I'll be back in a minute

Giver, taker

Giving back

Good, bad, right, wrong, sin, dark side

Good of the family

Helpful (unqualified words)

Hope, expectation


Honest, dishonest

Honor, honorable

I already know the right answer...

I won’t look good to others

I want/need to prove that...

I don't have enough time

I don't have time for...

I don’t understand why...

I’ll do whatever it takes

I'll get back to you

I'll see you soon

I'll call you later

I'll try my best, I'll try hard

I’m just trying to explain

It's their loss


Improve, improvement

Independent, dependent, self-sufficient

Information, education

Integrity, lack of integrity

Later (decide, do)

Lazy, hard working, diligent

Living up to your potential

Long way to go

Loser, winner

Love, hate

Loving, unloving

Loyalty, disloyalty


Many things waiting for me

Marriage, divorce


Mature, immature

Maybe, perhaps, if I have time


Must, must not, have to, got to, putting off

Need, not need

Need to catch up


Never give up (never quit)

No pain, no gain

No matter what, whatever it takes, somehow

None, no one, never

Normal, average

Not enough time

Not ready


Patient, impatient


Persistence, quitting


Polite, impolite, good mannered, ill mannered




Proper, improper, appropriate, inappropriate


Punctual, late

Racist, prejudiced

Ready, not ready, not the best timing

Reasonable, unreasonable, stupid

Rejection (being rejected)

Respectful, disrespectful

Responsible, irresponsible


Right thing, wrong thing (doing the)

Selfish, unselfish, greedy






She knows better

Should, should not, supposed to

Sin, virtue




Stupid, ridiculous

"Telling it like it is"

Things to do

Things I have to do

Too (as in too hot, too angry, too fat)

Too many things to do

Trust, betrayal

"Trust me"



Use somebody



Waste, recycle

Wasting time

Weird, strange, crazy


Worthy, unworthy

Why did you..., I don't understand why...


The most common reason for toxicity

The use of any word or phrase that has either a laudative or a pejorative connotation is toxic because the use of such a word can imply a "should" or "should not," and is thereby potentially "fighting with reality." Consider the word "marriage," whose connotation is laudative. To get married or to maintain marriage is "good" and to avoid marriage or to end a marriage (divorce) is "bad." Whenever we characterize something with a "should" or a "should not," we blind ourselves to its costs, benefits, and risks. The worst marriages are those in which the parties think marriage is "good" and should not be broken up. The most bitter divorces are those in which the parties think divorce is "bad" and someone must be blamed.


"Shoulds" and "should nots" can set us up to lose

As Byron Katie said, "When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time."

Fundamentally, all toxic words (when used as such) obscure reality.

Over generalizations

A word can also be toxic because it is often used inaccurately in over generalizations, as with "always" or "never." Examples: "I asked her out twice. She's never going to say 'yes'." or "You're always screaming at me."

Get concrete and specific in your language

A third reason for toxicity involves words that are vaguely used or not well qualified, as in "hard," "not enough," "unfair," and "integrity." Example: "This is going to be hard." What specifically about doing this might occur as "hard," especially if you break it up into steps??

Missing qualifiers

A word can also be toxic because of missing qualifiers:

"I need this." Need in order to get what result?

"You should be responsible." Responsible in order to have what results?

"I won't look good." Look good in order to get what results?

"I'll get back to you." By when?

The above list of toxic words and phrases above is incomplete. In fact, almost any word can be used toxically, especially when spoken with irony or sarcasm. Once you begin to get a feel for what makes a word toxic, you'll develop an ability to spot toxicity on your own. Be careful that you are gentle with yourself and others when exploring the toxicity of words!

Review the previous words and phrases. Ask yourself how you might use each toxically. Also ask yourself how you could either avoid using the word or use it in a non-toxic way.




A benign maybe

“Maybe” is a benign and useful word in many contexts.

Let’s look at those first before explaining its toxic use.

To soften a suggestion

Maybe can be used as a polite way of making a suggestion: “Maybe we could go sailing together tomorrow?”

To indicate uncertain knowledge

Maybe can be used to indicate uncertain knowledge: “Maybe it will rain tomorrow.”

To specify conditionality

Maybe can be used to indicate conditionality because the decision is dependent upon a condition: “Maybe I will exercise tomorrow, but it depends upon whether or not I’m invited out to dinner.”

To be polite (with dangers)

Maybe can be intended as a polite way of saying “no,” although this use may cause problems if the hearer is unsure of your meaning and consequently creates an unfounded expectation based upon your “maybe,” as in, “Maybe I’ll be able to come to the party.” Consequently, this use of maybe could end up being toxic to your relationship.

Toxic maybes

The toxic use of the word maybe is exposed in the following example: “Maybe I will start my diet tomorrow." This maybe is toxic because it implies (to yourself and to others) that you don’t have the power to say (and to follow through on) either, “I will start my diet tomorrow” or “I will not start my diet tomorrow.” When you say “maybe,” you are lying (by implication) to yourself and/or to another, consequently giving away your power.

Polite in the short-term, but rude in the long-term

Another example of a toxic maybe is “Maybe I will attend your class on Sunday.” This could be an attempt at politeness (as mentioned above), with no intention to attend the class. It can be toxic in two ways, not just one. First, it denies the power that the speaker has to say clearly, “Yes, I will attend” or “Thank you, but I will not attend.” Secondly, it will likely give the hearer some unfounded hope that the speaker will attend.

Choosing courage to not use a toxic maybe

Yes, it will probably be a choice to courage to say clearly what you will do or will not do...and to put whatever structures may be needed in place (if you say you will start your diet tomorrow) to ensure that it happens.

Speakers, listeners, and thinkers, beware of the word “maybe”!





Cyanide for the mouth

“Should” and “should not” are the most deadly and pervasive toxic words in the English language (as well as for their synonyms as they occur in any other language).

Benign ways to use should

Before we examine their toxicity, let’s note the ways in which should (and should not) are used benignly.

To get the results you want

“You should put the soap in before you start the washing machine.” This type of should simply implies that, in order to get the desired washing results, you need to do things in a certain order.

A prediction

“You should be able to catch the train on time.” This should implies that something is probable for you, given the effort.

A deal

“If you should change your mind, I’ll be waiting for you.” This should indicates something that will be available to you under certain conditions.

Ambiguous shoulds

Sometimes the use of the word “should” can be ambiguous, with some interpretations benign and others toxic. “I think I should exercise tomorrow.” Benignly, this means either “I intend to exercise tomorrow, but, if I don’t, I won’t blame myself.” or “If I exercise tomorrow, I will get some results I want.” Toxically, it  means, “If I don’t exercise tomorrow, I will blame myself.”

From time to time, you may find a few other ways to use the word “should” that are benign.

Meet the cyanide of toxic words

The toxic use of “should” and “should not” involves actual or potential blame or criticism, either 1) towards oneself or 2) towards others or 3) towards the universe or God.

“You should keep your promises.”

“You shouldn’t cheat on your wife.”

“I should do my homework.”

“You should fight for your country.”

“You shouldn’t swear in front of your grandmother.”

“I should get what I deserve.”

“Life should be fair.”

Should is implicit in most toxic words

Should is implicit in many other toxic words.

Here are several examples:

Caring: I/you should be caring.

Deserve: People should get what they deserve.

Duty: I/you should fulfill my/your duty.

Failure: I/you should not fail.

Taker: I/you shouldn’t be a taker.

Honest: People should be honest.

Integrity: I/you should have integrity.

Marriage: I/you should stay married.

Persistent: I/you should be persistent.

Selfish: I/you shouldn’t be selfish.

Should is verbal violence

It sets us up to lose

In a certain sense, should has no meaning other than to indicate that one or more people (or God) will blame whoever does not do what they (or you) want you to do. Should is verbal violence. Should also resists (fights with) reality. It puts us at odds either with ourselves or with others.

Should jails us and blinds us

Moreover, it often blinds us to being aware of the costs and risks of the shoulds and of the benefits of alternatives that may exist to our shoulds.

Should assaults the integrity within ourselves

Let’s take one example and tease it out.

Imagine that I said to you, “You should keep your promise to exercise today.” Spoken toxically, this means, “I and/or others will blame you if you don’t exercise today and I am letting you know this.” The use of should or should not perpetuates the battle between my-now and my-next. My my-next is hoping for cooperation with your my-next by threatening your my-now with blame if you don’t exercise today. It shows lack of consideration and respect for what your my-now may want and need.

Should assaults our integrity with others

Another variation on should, not only perpetuates the my-now/my-next wars, it also adds fire to the my-me/my-you battles. “You shouldn’t be so selfish; you should think of what I want.” This should continues the my-me/my-you conflicts by saying that your self-interests should be sacrificed for my self-interests, instead of looking for ways for our self-interests to work together, both short-term and long-term.

Shoulding ourselves and others together

These are examples of shoulding others. We would not should others unless we were shoulding ourselves. We treat others as we treat ourselves.

Underground shoulds

Moreover, many shoulds are never spoken; they remain on the level of thoughts and thereby poison our lives silently, with no need to be spoken in order to pollute our lives.

Why do we should?

Why do we should ourselves and others? What benefits are we trying to get with our shoulding? Certainly, shoulding is often a deeply ingrained habit that has strong support from family, media, and culture. But, unless it did not provide (at least seemingly) ongoing benefits, the habit would be easy to break.

Shoulding can live only in a world lacking integrity

Shoulding lives in the world in which we believe that our my-now must be sacrificed to our my-next. It lives in the world in which we believe that our my-me must be sacrificed to our my-you. As long as we believe in these types of sacrifice, as long as we identify ourselves as our my-next and our my-you at the exclusion of our my-now and our my-me, our shoulding will continue.

Shoulding blinds us to better choices

In addition to the damage that shoulding causes by inflicting blame on ourselves and others, shoulding also creates damage by blinding us. It blinds us to the costs and risks of following our shoulds as well as the benefits of alternatives that exist to our shoulds.

Should had a stranglehold on my mother

Here’s a big example of should-induced blindness that I personally know about: My mother knew that she made a mistake in marrying my father within two days of their marriage. But she believed that she should be persistent. She was “persistent” for 41 years in an unhappy marriage before she finally got divorced. (When I was just ten years old, I remember thinking to myself how mismatched my father and mother were for each other.) After my mother left my father, every time I spoke with her, she would exclaim, “Why didn’t you tell me how happy I would be without him!?”

She was blind to the benefits, costs, and risks of the options available to her

Because of the should of persistence, my mother was blinded to the costs and risks that she (and others around her) incurred because she remained married to my father. She also kept herself in the dark about all the better alternatives available to her that involved not being married to my father. Her shoulds blinded her from exploring any alternatives. Shoulding keeps us in a dark, making it difficult to the navigate world. Without shoulds and should nots, our abilities to see and evaluate the opportunities, possibilities, and options of life are greatly enhanced.


But how can we un-should ourselves?

Freshen up your mouth

As a first step, freshen up your mouth. Whenever you want or intend something to be a certain way, don’t use the word “should” (or its synonyms). You might say, instead, things like this:

“I want this to happen.”

“I intend this to happen and I will take action to support that.”

“I request that you do this.”

“I think the country could be better off, if the president did this.”

“I invite you to do that.”

“I notice that I am frightened that will not happen.”

“If you do this for me, I will do that for you.

Use the NNI and MYI toolkits

Most fundamentally, however, shoulding will fade away naturally as you create and maintain integrity, both NNI and MYI. Use the NNI toolkit and the MYI toolkit to support this process. “How can my-now and my-next both win in this circumstance?” This is the question that is answered in the NNI toolkit. “How can my-me and my-you both win in this situation?” This is the question that is answered in the MYI toolkit. We need to ask one or both of these questions whenever shoulding raises its ugly head.

Make your shoulds align with reality

A final method to undo shoulding is to continue to use the word “should,” but only in a new way that aligns with reality. Here are examples.

If you find yourself being lazy, then say, “I should be lazy.” (since you are lazy right now)

If you notice you are a workaholic, say, “I should be a workaholic.” (since you are a workaholic right now)

If your friend lied to you, then say, “My friend should lie to me.” (since that is what your friend did at least once)

If your spouse slept with someone else, then say, “My spouse should have slept with someone else.” (since that your spouse did)

If you weigh 300 pounds, then say, “I should weigh 300 pounds.” (since that is what you weigh now)

These shoulds in no way limit you in taking actions to make changes. In fact, they lay the helpful groundwork of accepting where you and others are, which is the perfect place to make changes from.

Question the fairy tales

As long as we believe in the belligerent fairy tales of the shoulds and should nots, told by the wicked witches and warlocks of discord, we will continue to suffer the tortures of unhappy relationships, both with ourselves and with others.

Freshen up your mouth