In our internal struggles between “good” and “bad” choices, we all have temptations to devilish behavior at times. We generally label something as “bad” or “wrong” if it goes against what we think we should do. This “should” voice can be very strong—it’s our conscience, or super-ego. It develops from individual personality structures, and external influences, including parents, schools, laws, religious teachings, and social and cultural expectations. Often, we feel guilty or ashamed if we make the devilish choice, and ignore the angel on the other shoulder. Other times, we may feel exhilarated or freed, depending on the situation.
Jenny was a 48-year-old mother of two teen-age children. She was married to her husband for 20 years. He worked very long hours and Jenny did everything to care for the children since they were born, and to manage the household. When Jenny was little, her mother did the same thing, and Jenny learned by example to prioritize her children, husband, and household over herself at all times.
One month, Jenny did two things that felt very devilish:
(1) She went out of town to a spa for a weekend with two girlfriends. It was expensive and indulgent. Jenny enjoyed the weekend very much, but felt extremely regretful and guilty about taking time for herself away from her family, and about spending money on luxuries for herself. Her “should” rule is: you should spend all of your time, energy and resources on your children and your household, and should not spend anything on unnecessary indulgences for yourself.
(2) Jenny had a sexual and emotional affair with another man. They spent as many secret moments together as they could arrange. Jenny felt exhilarated and energized when she was with this man, but horribly guilty and ashamed when she was back with her family. Her “should” rule is: you should be faithful to your husband and not be intimate with other men.
Jenny’s two actions both caused her to have conflicting feelings. In each instance, the enjoyment of the event was contrasted with bad feelings about violating a “should” rule. Her choices felt ego-dystonic, or inconsistent with the person she perceived herself to be. To an outsider, the actions may seem to rate very differently on the scale of devilish behaviors, since having an affair is generally perceived as more culpable than a spa weekend. However, to Jenny, they both violated the internal rules she tries to follow in her daily life (though maybe to different extents).
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