Thursday, June 20, 2013

Trusting My Gut

Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

Today my mom was called by someone whose scam apparently is trying to access the bank accounts of folks on social security. It’s beyond comprehension that there are people out there who not only feel ok about stealing from others, but who specifically target those least able to weather financial loss. He managed to convince my mom to give out some information (enough that they’ve opened a new bank account just to be sure) before she listened to her gut and hung up.

One of my mom’s initial thoughts was that next time she hopes she will trust her gut sooner. I absolutely agree that we should all listen to our gut far more than we do. I believe our gut is a fairly reliable judge of the information it gathers for us all the time.

But it is more complicated than simply deciding to listen to our gut. Personally, I was trained very well from very early on to ignore my gut. I was consistently taught that authority figures, men, social customs and norms, and even peer expectations were more valuable than my own feelings. I can remember the anguish I felt in my gut as battles were waged between what my gut knew, and what was expected. I can remember that anguish so clearly because it is a battle that continues to be waged every day.

Learning to trust my gut has started with learning to hear it. My impulses to please others, do what is expected, not make waves, and be inoffensive, are so strong that they supplant my gut feelings before I’ve even noticed that I have any feelings of my own. The older I get, the more practice I’ve had at peeling back the layers of conditioning that subvert my own feelings.  And without a doubt I’ve gotten better at noticing how I really feel. But noticing how I feel, hearing my gut, takes time.

If someone makes a suggestion that I feel compelled to agree to, that is my signal. If I’m paying attention I let them know I’ll need to think about it first. Depending on the emotional weight of the suggestion, it can take hours or even days of deliberate focus to discover how I really feel about it.

I am grateful that I learned a valuable skill as a young adult. I worked at a movie theater, and was shocked to find that a coworker had been scammed out of $60. A man asked for change for a $20, then repeatedly changed his mind about what denominations he wanted the change in. As the man was leaving, sensing that something was wrong Debbie asked for $20 back and then another $20. He would have walked away with $100! My coworker was a sharp and savvy young woman, but he was a pro. Part of his strategy was that he tried to rush my coworker. He created a sense of urgency, which triggered a nervous response in her. I can imagine him acting a bit impatient, perhaps condescending, and Debbie second-guessing her sense that something was wrong in order to not appear to be stupid or risk inconveniencing and/or irritating him.

That experience imprinted on me; it made a lasting impression that Debbie had been taken in, and alerted me to my own vulnerability. Ever since, if someone generates a sense of urgency or impatience, I typically respond by slowing down. Whether or not they are trying to scam me, my best option is to take extra time to be sure of myself. This has been an enormously useful tool; however it relies on having a plan in place rather than relying on my brain to work through the intricacies of a manipulation in the moment.

In recent years I’ve started easing off on my pursuit of perfection in favor of taking stock of who I am, my potential and my weaknesses. I’ve learned to accept that I have a lot of layers to dig through to get to my truth, and that I can’t do that under pressure. So I’m finding strategies that do work. I already have the one mentioned above that happens automatically when someone tries to rush me. On a daily basis I have remind myself to request time to think about others’ requests. I don’t make promises nearly as quickly or as often as I used to. And in those instances where I make a promise before uncovering how I really feel, I’ve learned to quickly back out of that promise.

For many years I believed that the only choices were either be gullible or be cynical. As a young person I was absolutely gullible, and I hated myself for it. At the same time I resented that this hard world took advantage of those who didn’t learn to become cynical; I resented that the only way to not be gullible was to become cynical. But I no longer believe that the choice is only between gullible and cynical. Those are the two extremes. Learning to hear our gut, trust it, and act on it, that’s a way to be neither gullible nor cynical. And for all of those who have succeeded in this, I envy you. But I see another middle ground; finding personal strategies that work even in the moment when we aren’t sure what our gut is feeling.

I prefer to not be gullible. I also prefer to not be a cynic. And while it would be awesome to always trust my gut and operate from a place of self-assurance, that isn’t my reality. I suppose you could say that I’ve learned to accept the ultimate message from my gut: I’m ok the way I am, and it’s ok if I don’t always do it perfectly.

Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!


  1. Kjersten,
    I think your blog is fantastic. It is so well written that, when it rings true personally, I feel I am nearly thinking it myself. And, it does ring true for me.
    Thanks for having the courage, writing skills and motivation to write!

    1. Jenny, thank you for your feedback! It is my belief that the human experience is something we all share, regardless of labels (like PTSD). It is absolutely my hope to write things that ring true to others.