Learning to trust your intuition is an important part of becoming a strong person with agency—and good boundaries.
If you want to deepen your trust in your intuition, you need to learn how to tell the difference between your intuition and something that’s often mistaken for intuitive knowing: fear. If you grew up in an environment where trusting yourself wasn’t valued—in an authoritarian environment—it may be hard to tell the difference. Especially if you hear your intuition telling you “no,” it may feel like you’re giving into fear.
In reality, there are huge differences in how we experience fear and how our intuition works.
So how do you really know that gut feeling is really your intuition and not just your fear taking over? How can you be sure that it’s your intuition talking and not just wishful thinking?
In practice, your intuition and your fear have two different goals. Your intuition’s goal is to deliver information, plain and simple. Your fear’s goal is to protect you from getting hurt. It’s a worthy goal, of course, but it means that it will use all kinds of destructive tactics to get its point across.
Notice whether that little voice is just sharing information—or trying to protect you from the worst-case scenario.
I like to think of my fear and my intuition as being distinct individuals who live within me. I choose to befriend them (yes, even the fear) and make them my allies. But like any person in my real life, they each play a particular role and have different things to offer. Pay attention to the experience of hanging out with each of these individuals—the same way you would observe how you feel after hanging out with a friend or romantic partner.
In each, there’s a different feeling-tone, a different tone of voice they use. They might choose different words from each other (sometimes to convey the same message). My intuition is more laid-back than my fear. My intuition will tell me to try, to do my best, and to get back up after I make a mistake (or get rejected). My fear demands perfection and tells me that if I do the scary (read: vulnerable or risky) thing, that I will most definitely be eaten by a sabertooth tiger and mocked until the end of time.
(Author’s note: neither of these things has ever actually happened as a result of what my fear told me not to do.)
Notice how the experience of hearing each of these voices lands in your body.
How do you react to these on a physical level? On an emotional one. While it might not deliver the news or outcome you want it to, your intuition isn’t going to hurt your feelings. Your fear, on the other hand, has no shame about hurting your feelings.
If you hear the, “How dare you! Who do you think you are?” voice—that’s fear. Intuition will simply deliver the information that this isn’t the right thing for you, or that it’s not your time.
I like to think of my fear as a kind of surly stand-up comedian, making his name by mocking the tourists in the front row. Not a bad person, but not especially helpful in my journey to do something interesting and meaningful with my life. My intuition on the other hand is a helpful equal or mentor. I think of her kind of like a postal worker: sometimes she even brings me presents! And even if she only comes bearing coupons and bills, she’s just doing her job.
In short, fear punches down and intuition boosts you up. When you can hear the difference, you can start making wiser, braver choices.
Christy Tending is an activist, educator, and writer. She teaches online courses about sustainable self-care to students all over the world, and hosts the podcast Tending Your Life. She lives on occupied Ohlone territory (Oakland, CA) with her family. You can learn more about her work at www.christytending.com.
Image courtesy of Anna Tarazevich.