The Anxiety of Intuition
Photo Credit: studioalef/Getty Images
Is intuition a useful tool or will it lead you astray? Julie Peters weighs the answers.
Trust your gut.
This advice gets thrown around a lot—that we should be able to listen to a little voice inside that tells us that something isn’t right, or we need something different than what we’re getting. And yes—listening to our intuition is incredibly valuable. But what is our intuition, exactly? And what happens when our intuition lets us down?
Intuition is often spoken about as a deep inner “knowing,” some wisdom that has some mysterious access, somehow, to the truth about the world. Our bodies can, indeed, pick up signals from the world around us that our minds may not have rationally worked out, so it’s important to pay attention not only to what we think about a situation, but also how we feel about it. (Read more about the science of intuition here.)
The tricky thing about following our feelings, however, is that we might feel scared about something new, or attracted to someone who might be bad for us, or safe with someone who is manipulating us, or oblivious to danger in the environment.
Our intuition is essentially created from the experiences that we’ve had in the past and the information we’ve picked up from our families, our environment, and our good and bad experiences. When we get a gut feeling, we’re not getting a little shining hit of truth, necessarily, we’re just getting some extra information from our subconscious about how we feel.
Intuition Can Get Too Comfortable
That could be a good thing, but it also could be a problem. Our intuition will always want to guide us toward what feels comfortable and away from what feels uncomfortable. Usually, that’s a good thing, but some things in life feel comfortable not because they are good but simply because they are familiar.
For example, we tend to choose romantic partners based on our gut feelings, not based on any kind of rational thought process. We just “know.” But what we know is whether or not someone “feels” right to us, and that feeling usually comes from whatever we learned about love dynamics as children. People who would be kind and supportive to us might “feel” wrong simply because we’re not used to it, and the unfamiliarity makes us feel uncomfortable.
Another problem is how easily our intuitions are manipulated. Because intuition is non-rational, there’s no set of facts to compare it to and confirm our choices for good or ill. Advertising is an industry that makes its bread off of manipulating our intuitions, teaching our subconscious, for example, what it means to be pretty or feminine or masculine or a good parent. Many a cult leader has cultivated a merry crowd based on manipulating intuitions.
Our intuitions can hold fear of the unknown, fear of the unfamiliar, and fear of whatever we’ve been taught to fear in the culture we live within. Our intuitions can also, however, hold a sense of courage and adventure that wants us to move past those fears and try something new.
So what do we do with the confusing messages of our intuition? Do we ignore them and try to simply live from our rational minds?
Not at all. It’s vitally important to let our guts teach us how we feel. But we want the mind and the gut to be in communication with each other, to measure how we feel against what we think. Allowing our intuitions to call the shots on a day-to-day level is generally a pretty good idea, but when it comes to big life decisions (or consistently unhelpful patterns) we need to get our minds on board. Along with, perhaps, the minds of our closest people (and maybe a good therapist).
For more about intuition, read Ram Dass’ story, “Exploring the Power of Intuition.”