It’s the most natural thing in the world.
Before we form words to comment on our impressions, before we offer the appropriate smile, before any of our suitable responses, we react – to a gesture, a glance, a tone of voice. There are inconsistencies in what is said and the actions that follow. There are red flags that warn us and we don’t pay attention. Intuition is kicking in, but we don’t trust what we feel. We ignore our instincts.
In my experience? Bad idea.
“There’s something that doesn’t fit,” a friend tells me in a brief conversation. She’s talking about a cousin she sees rarely, but each time they get together, she senses that something is off.
The words say one thing. The actions, something else.
My friend is vaguely uncomfortable, always on guard, and she wonders why that is.
Listening to our Intuition
“You’re heeding those little voices,” I say. “You’re listening to your intuition.”
And she agrees, though she wishes she didn’t feel this way, and they’ve never been close enough for her to get at what might be the problem.
We move on to other subjects but I can’t let go of the issue – trusting our gut. Or rather, choosing not to trust our gut – often to our detriment.
In case you’re wondering, Intuition is defined as
a perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; a keen and quick insight…
I think of it as knowing, sensing, and reacting to what is unpleasant, dangerous, or somehow dissonant. A person rubs us the wrong way, and not necessarily with what he does or says, but voice or gestures may put us off. We’re responding through our senses – sight, smell, hearing – despite the fact that we’ve learned to back away from our “animal” instincts that can provide us with important information.
As for the dissonance, it’s a matter of saying one thing and doing another, or the way the words are spoken that simply doesn’t ring true. While these inconsistencies aren’t necessarily damaging or destructive, they should register – consciously – and not be dismissed.
Why Don’t We Listen to Intuition in Relationships?
I think of my dating years, my marriage, my post-divorce coffee encounters. I often overlooked what my gut was telling me, when I would have done better to have listened.
I wanted to believe what I saw or heard. I wanted good company, good times, and I was vulnerable. I also understand that a lack of self-esteem chipped away at the confidence of my convictions.
Of course intuition isn’t always about warning signs of trouble. Your gut can tell you something wonderful is ahead, and I’m a firm believer in these positive responses as well as the negative.
It’s an interesting contradiction that while it took me many years to listen to my gut in romantic relationships – where was my “woman’s intuition?” – as a mother, I paid close attention to that special “sixth sense.” Yet the intuition we don’t question in our role as parents, we frequently discount in other contexts: We accept the boss’s explanation for why there is no raise; we nod in affirmation as the man across the table rationalizes his third divorce.
When Intuition is Off Base
A Psychology Today article I came across suggests that we ought not to listen to intuition – in some cases. At the very least, we need to balance it with our more analytical side. After all, it’s the “perception” of knowing rather than knowing. In “Understanding Intuition and How the Mind Works,” lecturer in psychology Dr. Michael Hogan explains that intuition can be deceptive. He writes:
… it has become fashionable to argue that intuitive methods of thinking and deciding are superior to analytical methods. This is a seductive argument, given that intuition is often assumed to be faster and easier than rational deliberation…
…there are dangers in following intuitions based on the idea that they simply “feel right”…
Dr. Hogan goes on to reference a rather famous “Invisible Gorilla Study” (fascinating), and point out that attention, memory, knowledge and other factors in how the mind works can undermine our ability to accurately process what’s happening right in front of us.
In other words, intuition is fallible.
Heeding the Inner Voice
While I understand Dr. Hogan’s points, I believe we would be wise to give intuition its due. As it is, it may take years to acquire the self-assurance and experience to go with our gut.
But we live in a world in which our schedules are frenetic, multitasking shreds our attention, and we’re bombarded with a steady stream of conflicting visual and textual messages. Besides, everyone has an agenda. Listening to the inner voice that says “slow down” or “check this out” may prove very helpful.
Should intuition be our only input when making a decision or choosing who to trust?
Hardly. But I return to my friend and her wariness around her cousin. My gut tells me that if she probed further, she would find her need for distance justified.
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