In our day and age it can be almost impossible to justify following your gut instinct. We’re so conditioned to treat it as lacking in logic, or being too emotionally based, or of being too reactionary and not based on facts.
Is this how instinct actually works?
That’s a complicated question. First of all, no, that isn’t how instinct works, but that is how triggers work.
Triggers are places in your past emotional life where you have received trauma and when they’re touched by someone else’s words or actions, you react from a place of pain, fear and overwhelming emotions. They’re a good indication that you need healing in that particular area.
Instinct, on the other hand, is a deep sense of knowing the truth behind a situation.
Figuring out which one it is that you’re dealing with is one of the hardest challenges in life because it requires you to tap into your deeper self and face truths which you might find very confronting.
You cannot embrace your instincts and still indulge in the process of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when you feel your instincts tell you a truth which you don’t want to hear, and you employ “logic” to argue with yourself to tell yourself a lie.
The lie usually is created to spare you from pain, but it’s a band-aid solution. A lie cannot remove the truth, it can only temporarily quash it. Eventually the truth will keep popping up and you’ll start playing whack-a-mole to keep it at bay.
Why are we so afraid of short-term pain and willing to endure long-term pain in order to avoid it?
Living from a place of truth, where you have embraced your instincts and stand by them is difficult. Other people often question or even undermine why you have made the choices you did based on “insufficient evidence”, as though you’re required to prove yourself.
Except that you aren’t. You are not required to provide justification for a No. No means… No.
You don’t need to justify protecting yourself. Anyone who questions whether you do, is an abuser. They use this as a pressure point to see if you’ll cave or not.
The second pressure point an abuser will use is the guilt of you potentially causing them pain. Except they have no qualms about causing you pain, don’t they?
A third pressure point is social rejection. Sometimes ending a relationship will put at risk other relationships and this activates our herd mentality where in some circumstances, being ejected from the herd would mean not being able to survive in the wild. This no longer applies in western culture, but can be a very real fear in other parts of the world.
Realistically, losing any relationship just because you don’t want to be treated badly anymore is not really a loss. Those people are not looking out for you and don’t have your best interests at heart. You can easily replace them with better friends.
The fourth pressure point, is of course the pain of grieving a relationship which also brought you shame. We’re wired to avoid shame at all costs because of social rejection, but this isn’t social rejection; this is rejection of ourselves.
We may believe that because we allowed ourselves to be abused, that means we somehow deserved it. If you’re ever questioning this, ask yourself; if this was my four-year-old self being abused, would I go to that child and tell them that they deserved it, or would I them up, give them a hug and say “I’m here to protect you, everything is going to be ok.”?
If you ever find yourself buying into the idea that you deserve abuse, visualise this scenario. You’ll find it just doesn’t hold any water. The idea was implanted by abusers in order to keep you compliant. The shame doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to them. They know this, they just refuse to take responsibility for it.
Overcoming the Pressure Points
No one is going to save you. You have to save yourself.
Anyone who can overcome this set of obstacles, free themselves of abuse, and refuse to buy into it any further isn’t just extremely brave; they’re fucking amazing.
The sheer strength of character required to do this, and the determination to not give in is possibly one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in life. However, the satisfaction you will feel once you have achieved it will keep you going.
Once you have come into your own strength, understood how powerful you can be, and exercised your autonomy, using your instinct as an ally will become easier.
Like any other skill or muscle, you have to use it regularly to keep it fit and in tune. Remember, our instinct isn’t a fear or overwhelming emotion like a trigger is. Instinct is a deeper knowing and an innate sense of truth which can guide you if you allow it.