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How to Listen to Your Intuition

Two reasons you don't trust your gut and what to do.

Key points

  • Intuition is an important form of emotional data that can keep you safe and successful.
  • Intuition is not anticipatory anxiety, or a defense mechanism that kicked in because of a threat to your ego.
  • Intuition is, in the moment, a sensation that can signify the safety of an encounter.

Your intuition may signify an unsafe situation before it actually becomes harmful, emotionally or physically. It seems silly that we would not listen to a gut-level feeling, but two things often prevent us from embracing our intuitive side. First, you may have had a parent who shamed you for expressing a feeling that they did not agree with. Second, social graces can prevent a person from honoring their emotional instincts. By understanding these roadblocks, you may be able to circumvent them and embrace your intuition.

Before moving ahead, it may be important to note that intuition is not anxiety, and it is not an unconscious defense mechanism kicking in. For example, in bed the night before a road trip, your mind may be flooded with thoughts of a collision or losing control of your car while crossing a bridge. These anxieties are different from intuition because they precede the event, and stem from a terrifying past experience in a car. Essentially, your brain is attempting to anticipate and predict future trauma to avoid being blindsided by it again.

Intuition is also not an unconscious defense mechanism that arises to protect our ego when it is threatened by someone more successful, beautiful, or powerful. For example, we may immediately feel bad in a situation when someone far more accomplished enters the room. An underlying defense mechanism may intervene to shield our self-esteem. Instantly, we may dislike this person and see them as flawed in some way to make ourselves feel better. For example, “Her shoes are ugly.”

So, what is intuition? Intuition may be an emotional response, in the moment, that is not triggered by jealousy or anticipatory anxiety. The powerful feeling that washes over you is sudden and unexpected. It can either be good or bad. For example, a situation just feels right, or something feels very off.

For the sake of this discussion, we will focus on the latter. The internal alarm that sounds when something feels wrong may be triggered by two things. First, it may be a sign that there is something about the person that you are encountering that is not safe. You may be sensing an aggressive or nefarious energy emitting from them. Second, your emotional sensors may be picking up on the fact that the individual you are interacting with is attempting to manipulate you. Often a manipulative person is trying to evoke emotions within you like guilt, shame, and sympathy so you act on those emotions and give them what they want. It is possible that part of you senses this individual’s motivation.

Either way, intuition provides essential data that is imperative to consider. It may keep you safe and prevent others from successfully manipulating you. It does not require you to be rude or hysterical, it simply means you should immediately exit an unsafe situation and excuse yourself from a conversation with someone who is actively trying to mess with you.

Two things may stop you from listening to your intuition. First, you may have had an attachment figure who shamed you for expressing an emotion, intuitive or not, that they did not like. For example, Brian, 5, says to his mom on a long road trip to his grandma’s house, “Mom I’m scared at grandma’s house.” Irritated, his mom says, “How on Earth can you be scared at grandma’s house? It is so cozy, and she loves you. That is so hurtful.” Instead of honoring and exploring Brian’s feelings, she reprimands him for expressing a feeling that she does not like. Now, Brian is ashamed of how he feels, and after many experiences like this one, he may not trust his feelings, or intuition, at all.

Second, you may have had to put your attachment figures' feelings first when you were growing up because life had to be about what they thought and felt. If you dared experience and express something different, you were shut down. For example, Tonya says to her mom, “I don’t want to walk to school with Taylor.” Instead of helping Tonya unpack her feelings, her mom says, “Too bad. We all have to do things we do not like once in a while. You need to be a nicer person. Taylor’s mom is my friend.” Her mom’s curt response makes Tonya feel ashamed of what she is feeling. Tonya condemns herself for being “oversensitive” and “weird.” In order to be a “nicer” person, she disregards what she intuitively feels and habitually places other people’s feelings ahead of hers and people-pleases.

For these two reasons, you may be a person who downplays your intuition or disregards it completely. Knowing why you resist honoring your gut-level emotions may help you pivot and do something healthier. Your intuition is there to keep you safe. If the emotional gong sounds, you may be involved in an unhealthy predicament. Listen and act on the signal quickly. If you are wrong, everyone can have a good laugh about it in the future. If you are right, you are protecting yourself from abuse and manipulation.

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