Guilty Pleasures

Have you ever noticed that children do not understand the concept of a guilty pleasure?

Sunday afternoon found me in the bath tub after the completion of a daunting to-do list. I decided to do this bath right – I had the window open to listen to the rain, a glass of wine and a newly downloaded Kindle book. I had no rush, no worries.

As I lay back into the scented bubbles, enjoying the feeling of my arms floating, cradled by the warm water, I was taken back to my childhood.

I used to spend hours in tubs – both of the hot and bath varieties – savoring the slippery denseness surrounding my buoyant frame. I would stay in the waters until hunger or a completed book drove me out, never feeling guilty for wasted time or feeling pressure to accomplish something more meaningful. On the nights I spent at my dad’s apartment in my childhood, he would knock on the bathroom door to check on me about every 30 minutes. Many nights, he made it to four knocks before I finally emerged from the tub.

I understood the concept of pleasure. But I never thought to associate it with guilt.

So why does that change? Why do I now feel guilty or lazy when I indulge? Why do I judge myself?

Part of it is out of necessity. When we are young, our parents and guardians act as our voice of reason, limiting our overindulgences (“You can only have two cookies”). We do not have to self-limit; it is done for us.

But, at some point, that regulation has to shift to us. We have to learn how to work before play and eat our broccoli before our ice cream. We become the care takers and the needs of others are placed before our own. Without that mental management, we would all be living in our parent’s homes, eating Oreo’s all day and playing video games. Well, except for me. I’d be in a bath tub with a book. And probably broccoli.

The problem is that, at some point, many of us get too good at using that internal voice. Not that we always obey it (Ever had an internal argument about if you should eat that dessert? Yeah, who won?) but that we usually feel guilty when we do not.

We indulge. But we don’t necessarily enjoy.

That dessert tastes much better when you’re not berating yourself for eating it. The hope is that the internal monologue of guilt will keep your willpower in check. That if you feel bad about the behavior, you will avoid it in the future. Reality doesn’t work that way. Rarely does guilt about an indulgence keep us in check. We just act as though it does. The reality is that our cravings for whatever the indulgence are more fully satisfied when we fully give in to the experience.

So what’s the answer? How do we balance our need for self-regulation and yet still enjoy our indulgences without guilt?

I know that I am going to let my parental mind set my guidelines and then turn control over to my inner child to enjoy the experience.

All I can say is that it’s good my Kindle has limited battery power. Otherwise, I may never get out of the bath:)

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