Gut vs. Brain
I’m borrowing this topic from Jemar Tisby’s recent newsletter, which borrowed it from this post by his friend, here. The crux of it all is that our intuition is there for a reason, and it’s smart. So why do we so often try to have an intellectual debate with it?
The reasons are more complicated than “because ACOA*,” but that’s not a bad place to start.
Here’s just one way it can play out: when you’re a kid and the key adults in your life are in denial—of the addiction/problem or of their codependence or both—you grow up questioning your own perceptions. Kids, from infancy, look to their caregivers when disturbed to know if things are okay. Think of how often you hear parents out in the world saying to their young kids, “You’re okay, you’re okay!” when they fall, are scared, are upset about something. Which is good in normal circumstances!
But what if you’re not okay? What if the things going on in your home and in the family’s life are clearly very un-okay, but the overwhelmed and in-denial parents keep saying and/or acting like things are fine? Your childhood sense of reality can get interfered with, in both mild and extreme ways.
A memory of something that happened more than once: me, my sister, my mom, my dad sitting around the dinner table. My dad is drunk. I’m across from him—mom to my right, my sister to my left. He eats with his eyes closed rather than see us seeing him. The rest of us stay at the table…passing salt, filling water glasses, eating our dinners. My gut feeling is that I don’t want to be there and this whole thing is wrong, but mom isn’t moving, older sister isn’t moving. We eat our dinners.
I don’t blame my mother for this. This is probably how her mother handled my grandfather, or it was the best she could do in the moment it was happening.
Nonetheless, incidents like this start to train you to ignore your gut. You stay in situations you want to get out of, you let an inappropriate or even threatening conversation continue, you may even expose yourself to physical injury. Basically, you stay a helpless-feeling child instead of claiming your adult right to extract yourself from situations where your gut is screaming that it isn’t safe, or even simply, I don’t want to.
If you grew up with religion and addiction, you may have gotten a double-shot of this. Many versions of Christianity teach you that can’t trust your gut. That your gut is essentially depraved or evil—it is “the flesh.” Unless, that is, you believe you’re tapped in to the Holy Spirit, in which case your gut is always right, even if it’s leading you to harm others or yourself.
So now, here in adulthood, there’s a good chance we frequently second-guess our intuition, over-intellectualize (or over-spiritualize) decisions, and put ourselves in emotional or physical harm’s way more often than the average healthy bear.
That being said, our intuition may in fact need fine tuning. As the post linked above says,
Depending on the type of home you grew up in, your senses may be more highly refined than others, or more dull. An unfortunate consequence of abuse is that it tends to either dull our senses or make them hyper-alert. I often refer to the amygdala as our body’s sonar, able to depict possible threats in a primitive way, but not always good at defining the level of threat.
That’s a whole ‘nother topic! Meanwhile, I like the writer’s suggestions for staying in touch with your body and intuition, and it seems to me that checking in with, listening to, and engaging with intuition in a more loving and trusting way is part of the reparenting we now get to do.