Sometimes, your gut instinct is wrong.
I know, I know— many of us have been told, in meme after meme after meme, to “always” trust our gut instinct.
We’ve been told that “our gut instinct never lies.”
I wish that was true.
But, as it turns out, our gut instinct is as susceptible to manipulation, distortion, and trauma as our rational brains are.
I understand why so many people, especially as they enter recovery, are so hell bent on embracing and validating their gut instincts.
For many people, it’s a process of reclamation. Many people, especially when they’ve been abused over the course of time, have been gaslit into believing that their gut instincts are always wrong. Understanding that this isn’t the case— that sometimes their gut accurately understands things that their brains aren’t quite ready to accept— can be an empowering experience for them.
Other people have had the experience of relying on their rational brains too much and ignoring their gut instincts— only realizing too late that their brains can introduce doubt and confusion in situations where gut level decisiveness might be more useful.
So, I get it. There are definitely good reasons to embrace our gut instinct, and to pay it its due.
The problem is when people come to OVER-rely on their gut instinct.
The problem is when people come to think that their gut instinct is “never wrong.”
The problem is when people lose sight of the fact that their gut instinct is not supposed to be the ONLY tool they rely on for decision-making.
Our gut instinct is supposed to be A tool to help us evaluate the world. Not THE ONLY tool.
It’s important for us to remember what happens to our bodies and brains when we’ve been traumatized over the course of time.
Trauma has a way of shaping our worldview.
Especially trauma that occurs over time, and in the context of close relationships.
We come to see the world through a kind of post traumatic lens…and that lens isn’t just limited to our rational brains or decision-making.
Trauma messes with our gut, too.
Trauma specifically has a way of mangling what psychologists call our “schemas”— our interlocking systems of belief about the world, ourselves, and the future.
Our schemas inform everything we think, feel, and do. They’re like the basic structure of the reality we perceive and act on in our heads.
When trauma has damaged our schemas— i.e., when it has convinced us that we’re no good, that the world is always dangerous, that other people are never to be trusted, that the future holds nothing for us— that damage isn’t just limited to what we consciously think.
That damage also extends to our unconscious beliefs and attitudes— those things that inform our “gut instinct.”
When you have a gut feeling about something or someone, it is informed by your schemas…and if you’ve been traumatized or abused, your schemas are likely at least somewhat distorted.
Understand: none of this is to say that we should never trust or believe our gut instincts.
To the contrary, our gut instincts often have valuable information for us.
But that information needs to be understood and acted upon in conjunction with input from other sources— such as our rational, thinking brains, our senses, and reality-testing from other people whom we trust.
Our guts are not designed to be the only way we make decisions.
That’s how we get impulsive, emotionally-driven decisions.
Respect your gut. Listen to your gut. Value your gut.
But also respect and value its role in your overall collection of decision-making tools.
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