When people think "I must", "I have to", "I should", "he should", or "people have to" it can become a problem.

It's studied by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but I don't know the name for this kind of problem.

This is the explanation in another language (translated in english): link


3 Answers 3


You could be referring to two different things.

1) This is an example of an intermediate belief. Cognitions can be thought of as three levels: automatic thoughts (which are the first thoughts that pop into our heads), intermediate beliefs (which often take the form of rules, attitudes, and assumptions), and core beliefs (which reflect our deepest levels of thought and core values).

An example is:

  • Situation: Not understanding part of a lecture
  • Automatic thought: I'll never learn this! I'm an idiot! Why bother trying?
  • Intermediate beliefs: (which can take the form of should or must statements)

    *Attitude: Failing at anything is terrible

    *Assumption: If I challenge myself, I'm sure to fail. If I do things that come easily, I'll succeed.

    *Rule: If I can't do this easily, I should just give up.

  • Core belief: I'm incompetent

2) The statements you mention are also examples of dysfunctional thoughts (also called cognitive distortions), specifically all-or-nothing thinking (seeing things in black or white) or "imperatives" (should or must statements).

  • These errors in thinking are our tendency to draw invalid conclusions or selectively pay attention to evidence to support our thinking.

  • Example of all-or-nothing thinking: If I don't get a 100% on the test, I'm a failure. If she doesn't return my phone call immediately, she hates me. (That second example is also a bit of jumping to conclusions).

  • Example of imperatives: Making any mistake is terrible; I should always do my best. If I ask for help, I am weak; I must be completely self-reliant.

Search these terms for more information: Intermediate beliefs, dysfunctional thoughts, cognitive distortions


Beck, J.S. (2011). Cognitive Behavior Therapy. 2nd Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! But in Italian there is a neologysm for referring to that group of dysfunctional thoughts / cognitive distortions. We call them "dover-izzazioni" where dovere can be translated as "must" or "duty". In english the word could sound as "shoulderization". In the meaning of the subject thinks he or others should (must) do or avoid something. $\endgroup$
    – Revious
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I misunderstood your question. I'm not aware of an English neologism for that concept. Perhaps the folks at the English Language & Use stackexchange would be able to help? $\endgroup$
    – user30295
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 23:10

In NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming), these are called "modal operators" of necessity.


I've found out that the name given by Albert Ellis is must-urbation



The compulsive insistence that things ought to be a particular way.

  • $\begingroup$ You mean impulsiveness? $\endgroup$
    – azam
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ @azam: no... it's must-urbation it's not impulsive $\endgroup$
    – Revious
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 16:59

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