Thursday, October 6, 2011


Many people use the phrase, "Trust your gut" to imply that an emotionally healthy person is strong enough to trust how they feel and stand up for themselves. I agree in part but with some reservations. If "trusting your gut" means trusting the emotions from the Natural Self (see prior blogs), then I agree. The emotions from the Natural Self are pure and are the voice of the truth within.

But that is not the only source of emotion. There is also the emotions from the Family Self that contain all the unhealthy elements and human weaknesses of the parents who engineered the rules of the family. The primary emotions of irrational fear, guilt and shame are part of your "gut" as well. Those are the emotions that can't be trusted and form the basis for unhealthy choices and imbalances in relationships.

The key to "trusting your gut' is discernment. Discernment is a process of examining one's emotions to determine where they came from. This is no easy task as it requires you to separate the competing emotions in the middle of the fear that gets triggered when the internal emotional battle begins. In addition to fear clouding the issue, the relative strengths of the emotions of the Natural and Family Self create another point of confusion. The emotions of the Natural Self like joy, sadness, anger, rational fear, are low level experiences. They don't feel loud inside. They are calm and natural. Emotions from the Family Self are loud and tough to ignore. They overpower the calmer emotions and scream loudest to be heard inside your mind. They confuse you with their strength because it is easy to believe that if you feel so strongly then it must be right. Difficult to discern at that moment is that what you may be feeling says more about how right it was to your mom and dad than actually how right it is for you. You would first need to check with the truer emotions that talk a softer talk to find out if there is truth in the stronger reaction. If they don't match, trust the calm voice within. It is often the source of truth. The other becomes loud because it is mixed with the fear of breaking the rules under which you were raised. It is a truth according to mom and dad and not necessarily yourself.

A third point of confusion that corrupts discernment is telling the difference between thoughts and feelings. If you are angry at someone, and say "I think you are a jerk", you can't defend it by calling it a feeling. I have heard many of my patients do exactly that. They defend a thought, a conclusion, or a character attack by saying "That's just how I feel and you can't deny me my feelings". The person is correct in that feeling states change over time and can't be treated like facts. However, it is equally confusing to defend a thought as a feeling. Calling somebody a "jerk" is not a feeling state like mad, sad, guilty or afraid. However, it is equally confusing to defend a thought as a feeling. It does not promote good communication or problem solving and typically results in more anger and hostility.

To summarize, trust your gut after you have discerned where the emotions originate. There is truth in your gut if the reactions come from the Natural Self. If not, ignore your gut especially the louder it screams. Truth never needs to scream. It stands alone and waits for you to listen.