“Trust your intuition.”
“Listen to your gut.”
“Pay attention to your instincts.”
I never heard these kinds of statements growing up. Instead I heard messages like:
- “What will the neighbors think?”
- “Be nice.”
- “Don’t break the rules.”
- “Put on a happy face.”
The first time I ever heard someone say she made a decision by trusting her gut, I was probably in my early thirties and already divorced and remarried. I couldn’t understand how you even knew what your instincts were telling you, let alone that you could trust them.
Today, though, I believe you should always listen to your gut. Our instincts (and the feelings that accompany them) are often the truest guides to what is in our best interests. If I had listened to my gut back in my twenties, I would have saved myself at least one divorce, maybe two, and taken a different starting job, maybe a whole different career path.
I can remember at least two times when I ignored a strong intuition back before I knew anything about trusting my gut. I can still remember those feelings today and see how the social messages I grew up with kept me from honoring them.
During college I became friends with – and later began dating – a very kind young man. He was my first serious boyfriend, actually the only real boyfriend I’d ever had. He was a year ahead of me in school, and when he proposed at the end of his senior year it seemed logical to say yes. He came to visit me during my senior year, and I clearly recall the night before he left to return to his home and job on the East Coast that it felt like farewell. In hindsight, I see that as a gut instinct that the relationship was over. But I ignored it and proceeded to plan a wedding for a few weeks after graduation.
As the wedding date drew closer there were other signs, like my waning attraction and increasing dread. But the invitations had gone out, and I didn’t want to make a big scene, so despite those misgivings, we got married.
After I relocated to the East Coast, I interviewed with a prestigious accounting firm. During the initial interview I felt like I was in prison as I walked through a seemingly endless row of cubes in a sterile office on K Street. But when they made me an offer, I ignored that intuition and accepted. After the first week I was sure it was a poor fit, but I listened to my dad’s advice to stay for at least a year and give it a shot because it might get better, and if not, it would look good on my resume. I stayed eight years, but it was never a good fit.
That first marriage lasted five years, and probably would have lasted longer had I not met someone who encouraged me to pay attention to my feelings. My unhappiness manifested itself in an eating disorder and attraction to other men, both of which were signs it was almost impossible to ignore. Despite several attempts to work on the marriage, it was eventually time to let it go.
My second marriage lasted a good deal longer, but there were many signs along the way that I ignored or downplayed, such as the effects of my former husband’s progressive alcoholism on the marriage and our family. I finally began to get support for myself and began paying attention to my internal guidance. When signs of his infidelity surfaced, I chose not to bury my head in the sand, but instead honored my instincts and addressed the issue head on. This led to a few years of improvement in our relationship.
Eventually, though, alcoholism continued to erode our family life, as it always does if left untreated. Even when he said he had stopped drinking, my gut told me that wasn’t true. It took a long time for me to trust the answers I received when I paid attention to how I felt about staying in the marriage, but over time I did come to trust that my instincts were guiding me to divorce.
In the years since my divorce I’ve learned to trust my gut, and to do so more quickly when an intuitive thought or an instinctive reaction occurs. My gut saved my cat from dying and kept me from being raped. Instincts also told me to say “no” to a couple of men who asked me out, one of whom turned out to be a known sexual predator. And paying attention to my intuition kept me from likely harm when I decided to turn around on a recent climb up Pikes Peak.
The older I get, the more in tune I try to be with my instincts. Life is too short to deny my wants and needs by trying to live up to who others think I should be or trying not to offend other people or social norms (within good conscience and reason, of course). One of the best resources I’ve found for learning to trust your gut is a book called “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin deBecker, a security expert. You can read about the book and how to work with fear (a form of intuition, for sure) here.
Trusting my gut has not meant clear voices in my head telling me what to do or signs in the sky with messages meant just for me. It’s been a process of paying attention to my body, mind and emotions and learning to unpack the subtle clues these provide. Physical sensations of expansion (good) or contraction (maybe not so good) are one way of bypassing my thinking brain and its attempts to rationalize and make what seem to be logical choices. Sometimes logic holds sway, but sometimes I need to look deeper. For example, my rational brain and many of my friends were telling me I should go out with the man who asked me for a date even if I wasn’t interested in him, just for practice after my divorce. This made sense to me, but I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of being in this man’s company, so I said no. I found out a few weeks later that this man is a sexual predator who had preyed upon several women in the group where I met him; I found this out from a friend who had firsthand experience.
The more experience I gain, the more I have come to rely on my intuition to help me with decisions big and small. I give strong attention to those instincts rather than trying to explain them away. I think I should always trust my gut, and I encourage other divorced moms to do the same.