Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Trusting your guts (or not)

One of the more mainstream ideas among counselors has been the idea of “trusting your gut…trust your feelings”. This approach has great merit especially in situations where someone is attempting to take advantage of you in some way or trying to get you to do something you might not ordinarily do and their argument seems convincing, at least on the surface. But something in your gut says, “Don’t trust this…this doesn’t seem right”. Often at these times you should trust your instincts or at least pay attention to your feelings and use them as information in forming your opinion. If you are feeling under pressure to answer or to act in a situation like this you can always buy time (and beg off) by saying that you want to think about it.

In the realm of relationships, while it is good to listen to your instincts and feelings it is also helpful to check out your perceptions by asking questions and gather information to either support or call into question the conclusions you may be jumping to. Often I hear stories where the person in a relationship gets an idea about something, or “just has a feeling” and acts as if this is THE TRUTH. Grant you, sometimes it is the truth but often enough it isn’t. Take, for example, the person who comes into your life and sweeps you off your feet professing undying love and fidelity. Since you want to believe that “You are the one” you ignore that this person has had a new relationship every month for the last year. You believe that with you it will be different and, overwhelmed by the excitement of love, you through caution to the wind only to wind up in the end (a month later) scattered among the other devastated hopefuls. Often in life it is smart to wait before you act and get more information, to see the forest and not just some of the trees. I am a big proponent of getting a grasp of the big picture rather than reacting to just the details or parts of the picture.

Another example. Suppose that you have been hurt in your last relationship or two and now you are tentatively exploring a new relationship with another person. Because you have been hurt in the past you are on guard against being hurt again. As a result you are sensitive (perhaps overly) to anything that remotely suggests disinterest, lack of sensitivity or rejection. In this example, say that the person does not return your call on a particular night and your reaction is to be hurt and furious as you again relive your earlier hurt. You conclude that this person is a jerk and now all your energy goes into removing them from your life. Your feelings, learned from your prior relationship now contaminate this relationship and literally prevent you from getting more information. But what if a parent of the person took ill and was taken to the ER, or they fell asleep and it was too late to call when they awoke.

What it boils down to is this: Your feelings, while very important, are but one piece of the decision making process. There are also your perceptions, accurate or distorted, your experience in similar situations, context of the situation, history or behavior in similar situations, your general emotional state and so on. Obviously, life is a moving and evolving and we have to size up situations, make decisions and take an action at some point but experience suggests that an informed decision using more than one source of information is usually the better and more successful course. You can always say, “Let me get back to you on that” and buy yourself time to think and not just react.

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