Listening to the Devil on Your Shoulder

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.QUIZ: What Mood Are You In?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.MORE: The Surprising Secret to Hotter SexJenny’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).As you become an adult, you need to figure out which “should” rules to keep, and which to let go or revise. You can think about where the rule came from, and if it still serves a purpose.  For example, if Jenny’s family struggled financially when she was young, the first rule above may have helped conserve resources.  It may no longer be financially necessary for Jenny to deny herself an occasional indulgence.  In addition, Jenny’s current cultural and social norms may be more encouraging of self-care and individual nurturing, than they were for the previous generation of women.  So, if Jenny re-evaluates the first “should” rule above, she may discover that it no longer accurately represents her perspective on right and wrong choices.QUIZ: How Satisfied Are You With Your Life?The second “should” rule above is more likely to hold true for more people.  Since it originated to protect marriages and families, especially according to societal and religious norms, most couples will feel that it still serves that purpose.  Even if Jenny decides to end the affair and keep this rule for herself in the future, she (and her marriage) can still benefit from figuring out why she decided to have the affair at all, since she knew it was going against her “should” rule.Re-evaluating your “should” rules, to make sure that they reflect your own true perspectives, can help you make decisions that are fully your own, and that don’t trigger guilt when it’s not warranted based on your individual internal guidelines. This way, your choices can be your own, based on your personal perceptions of right and wrong.  Though these perceptions will likely incorporate other influences, only you can make the final determination.  If you’ve established your set of “should” rules, and you still make a devilish choice, that choice is telling you something about yourself.  Violating a “should” rule, especially a big one, is significant.  It can help you move forward in self-awareness and understanding, and help you make more active decisions in the future, if you can figure out why you did what you did.MORE: 5 Guilt Free Ways to Indulge Yourself

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