We’re always told to trust our gut and follow our hearts, but really how often do we? Intuition gets a bad rep in the western world. We’re taught to think logically and make lists of pros and cons to decide every detail about our lives, but emotions aren’t illogical. All emotions are a reaction to information in our brain. They aren’t dumb responses that should always be ignored or reasoned away, they are appraisals of what you’ve just experienced or thought about in contrast to past experiences and knowledge. Gut feels are just the same. They are part of what scientists call the “predictive processing framework”. In basic terms, it’s constantly collecting and comparing sensory information and current experiences against stored knowledge of past experiences and using this to predict what comes next. It’s a useful function for keeping us safe and stopping us from experiencing the same traumas again and again.
The problem is, because our culture doesn’t really respect these emotions and intuitions we aren’t taught how to listen to them. How do we know when to take them seriously and when they are just getting in our way? On my most anxious days, I get a bad feeling that something is going to happen and I can’t explain it. I just know that something bad is going to happen. I used to let it take over and it would be a huge struggle to get showered and dressed, most of the time I couldn’t get out of bed. These days, I know how to turn it off and it very rarely takes a hold of my head. I’ve also been in situations where, if I hadn’t listened to my feelings then something bad would have actually happened. Those moments when you see a car crash before it has a chance to happen. Then there are occasions when I get a vibe about something that I ignore, and I regret it. I’ll never forget the first time I met this girl when I was at a bar with my ex. I had a bad feeling about their relationship from the start, but she was his student so I tried to ignore it. Lo and behold, 6 months later I found out he had slept with her and a year on from that they’re still together. If I had brought up that feeling I had honestly with him in the first place, maybe I could’ve saved everyone a lot of pain.
It’s tricky to be honest about these feelings. The amount of times that I have been made out to be crazy or just a mad over thinker simply because I expressed my feelings. It’s hard to be honest and say that you’re not 100% comfortable with something, when you have no cold, hard facts to back it up. People don’t take you seriously. I can understand that sometimes, these feelings are based on very specific experiences that are only individual to that situation so aren’t actually relevant in this new situation, but that doesn’t make them less valid. The cheating example, for instance, is a very common one. I know so many people who have been cheated on in the past that are maybe over cautious in picking up on things that could lead that direction again. I think it takes reassurance, patience and a built up trust to restore those autonomic reactions to healthy ones. But often, we’re met with defensive/aggressive responses and treated like unreasonable and jealous psychos.
I’m at a real crossroads in life lately. I have a hundred different options in front of me and it’s going to take listening to my heart to get me where I need to be in life. What I don’t need is people who will make me doubt myself for doing that. If I get a bad feeling about something, why shouldn’t I be listened to? It’s not always bad feelings though. Sometimes you are just drawn to people, places or doing certain things. So, equally when I have a good feeling about something, maybe I should learn to trust my instincts, be honest and go for it anyway. Not everything in life is logical and that’s okay. I know it can be hard to jump in with both feet when you have no hard copy list of the reasons why you should, to fall back on. It’s okay to want to let go of control and switch your brain off occasionally. It’s also okay to not be completely confident in every single decision you make. It’s definitely part of the step that I need to take in learning to live my life as authentically as possible. The worst that can happen is that I have more information for the future, learn from my mistakes and hone my intuitive feelings even further.