How can I discern if it is the Holy Spirit talking to me, my own spirit talking to me, or the Evil Spirit talking to me? We can deceive ourselves and St. Paul tells us “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light”. 2 Corinth 11:14
Thank you for your question. Recently, my spiritual director, an orthodox Catholic priest, told me that discernment of spirits is one reason to have a spiritual director. Spiritual directors can help us discern which spirit is informing our minds. 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 says, “For to one is given through the Spirit…the ability to distinguish between spirits.” Although spiritual directors in the Church are absolutely necessary, the problem here is obvious. Most folks don’t have a spiritual director. However, all Catholics have access to a priest or deacon. Therefore, if you have hit a wall in your discernment, reach out to one of these good men. Just make sure you go to one who is grounded, intellectually and willfully, in Christ and in all the Church’s teachings.
Additionally, I found the following from St. Ignatius on Wikipedia: “For Ignatius of Loyola, there are two signs to judge: evil spirits act on the imagination and the senses, and the good spirit, upon reason and conscience. Then, they can be judged by their mode of action and by the end they seek. The discernment of spirits is part of everyone’s spiritual journey. No one who is trying to make spiritual progress should attempt to do so alone – a spiritual director is required. A director assists a Christian in examining the motives, desires, consolations, and desolations in one’s life. Objectively, one can know what is right from looking at the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins in a thorough examination of conscience. But the broader picture of one’s life is often not so clear. A Christian should, according to St. Ignatius, share everything with a director who can see things objectively, without being swayed by the emotions or passion. Discerning whether the good spirit (the influence of God, the Church, one’s soul) or the bad spirit (the influence of Satan, the world, the flesh) is at work requires calm, rational reflection. The good spirit brings us to peaceful, joyful decisions. The bad spirit often brings us to make quick, emotional, conflicted decisions. A spiritual director can assist both by personal experience, listening with care, and giving an objective analysis. Ignatius lays out his 23 rules for the discernment of spirits in his Spiritual Exercises manual for those who direct others through retreats.” Be sure to ask God for help discerning as well.
Clearly, no one wants to bother a priest or deacon every time they need to discern the origin of an inner voice. Therefore, one must study the Catechism and the Bible. The Catechism will give you guide rails for reading Scripture and states the Church’s teachings in clear, typically concise, language. By having a thorough understanding of the Church’s teachings, one gives oneself an objective standard for discerning spirits. For instance, if a spirit (good, evil, or your own) is telling you that you should never give alms, CCC paragraph 2247 addresses this and it quotes Jesus’ words about giving to one in need. Accordingly, you have a sure standard against which you can test this voice. In this example, you would know not to listen to this voice. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God…”
Personal story. A few months ago, I competed for a supervisory position, but I had some qualms about whether to take it. The odds of me getting this job were very good. So, I wrestled with it by prayer, reflection, and talking with my wife about it, but I could not make a decision. Consequently, I went to my spiritual advisor and explained the situation to him. He advised me to withdraw my application. I withdrew my application the next day. A few days later, the idea to build this website manifested itself in my mind, soon thereafter, I was asked by the diocese to teach a theology class, and a few weeks after that, a Catholic e-magazine asked me to start writing for them. I would have never been able to do these things had I taken that job because it would have required too much time.
I hope this helps. God bless!