What and where is a gut feeling?
February 5, 2014 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Frequently on Askme people say to trust your gut or inner voice when it comes to relationships. What exactly does that feel like and how do you teach yourself that?

I seem to be missing that little voice inside that tells you when you meet someone new if they are a safe person or not. Lots of reasons I am working in therapy for but I hear people talking about this a lot and don't really understand it. I trust people automatically and assume everyone is good and won't take advantage/won't hurt me. Emotionally I missed out on a lot of lessons in life and am quite naïve when it comes to navigating new friendships/relationships. Because of PTSD I don't feel that connected to my body a lot.

I hear about teaching children to listen to that "uh oh" voice inside. Is this a place that you can feel in your body? Are there guides for teaching what it feels like and for adults? What does it sound like?

Man... Even phrasing this seems naïve but it is something I really am struggling with as I make new friends.
posted by kanata to Human Relations (31 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If I ever find myself trying to talk myself out of how I feel, that's a red flag for me. We're conditioned to "be polite" and not judge a book by its cover, and everyone is a special snowflake with redeeming qualities, but that conditioning can get us into trouble. So, if I find myself trying to rationalize or telling myself "this is silly, I'm sure it's fine" that prompts me to maybe re-assess. This also applies to not-actually-dangerous situations. Twice now, I've been dating a guy and, a few weeks in, thought to myself, "I've made a terrible mistake." Both times, he was a great guy, but just not for me. I stuck it out for a few months more, but I could have saved myself a bunch of time and heartache if I had just listened to myself and not tried to talk myself out of what I felt.
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:31 PM on February 5, 2014 [14 favorites]

I believe there is a book about this feeling and using it called The Gift Of Fear. I've never read it because the opening few pages were already way too disturbing for me, but it seems to be popular.

I think the feeling comes from subtle cues in the way someone acts toward you, what they say, how they look, etc. They are the underlying clues and subtext that help us interpret what's happening. Some people are probably better at picking these up in general. I know some people (guys especially) who won't be able to notice or pick when someone is angry or sad unless they say or do something direct showing it. But I can pick that up really easily. So it's probably like that, only you are picking up if someone is being dishonest or has ulterior motives.

I think your gut feeling is about avoiding pros and cons lists, avoiding deep logical evaluation and it's going on how you feel alone. For instance, to use a non-scary example, if you were thinking about two apartments to buy, if you really think about it logically, you might say apartment A is more affordable, the commute to work is shorter, it is larger, but apartment B just feels better -- you have a gut feeling about it and you can see yourself living there, even though on paper it's not the better apartment at all. That is gut feeling.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:34 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think maybe I misunderstood the question. You're looking for a gut feeling on guys who won't turn out to be douche-bags or cheat on you, etc.? I'd say what I described applies to some degree, but The Gift Of Fear is about avoiding being a victim of crime, so that doesn't apply. My bad.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:51 PM on February 5, 2014

The Gift of Fear is a good book and deals, in part, with how to determine if other people are dangerous.
posted by dfriedman at 9:00 PM on February 5, 2014

I wasn't actually meaning dating but more about the world in general and not putting myself in situations naïvely where I get taken advantage of or hurt as a victim of crime..

All I can really compare it to a child learning to listen to the gut feeling between good touch and bad touch.

So learning that as an adult but about people so that I can get better at who is safe to be with... Or if I am at a party or on a street that may be unsafe...
posted by kanata at 9:05 PM on February 5, 2014

I would say that we call it a "gut feeling" not because of any particular bodily sensation, but because we can't quite place it. It's not logical, so it isn't coming from our brains. It isn't warm, so it isn't coming from our hearts. It's a hunch, a suspicion, that we often try to talk ourselves out of. That feeling when you meet someone and, for reasons you can't quite enunciate, you just don't like them, don't trust them, don't want to be near them. That's OK sometimes. Sometimes it's OK to be nervous in a strange situation. That's why the title of the oft-recommended book is what it is - fear is a gift. We can't be ruled by it, but we shouldn't ignore it either.

There's my answer, at least. Does that make sense? I apologize if I'm over-simplifying, the "connected to my body" comment made me want to emphasize that it isn't a necessarily a distinct physical sensation. It's unease.
posted by maryr at 9:06 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dfriedman has it about spotting dangerous people but I was worried posters would think me paranoid if I talked about learning about dangerous/predators as an adult.
posted by kanata at 9:08 PM on February 5, 2014

This is something I struggle with too. What is helpful for me is taking tile to sit down and think about how I feel about a person or a situation. I like to do this in the afternoon or evening and I just sit on my couch with my cat and I think. Sometimes I write things down. I limit myself to 15 or 20 minutes and I just ask myself how I feel and what's going on - like a friend might. And then I listen.

I hope this helps. All the best.
posted by sockermom at 9:22 PM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

A gut feeling can be anything from an instinct to a conclusion one draws without hard evidence. It's a sense, an intuition, a belief; and unless you hear a voice along with those thoughts in general, there's no reason to expect to hear one with something that might qualify as a gut feeling (AppleTurnover gives a good example in the apartment analogy).

I've struggled with dissociation due to PTSD, so I know it can be terribly frustrating to wonder if there's a mind/body connection that's gone missing, but I'd say no, one does not necessarily feel this in a particular place of the body; it is a thought. That said, the actual, physical gut contains loads of neurotransmitters, so it's not unusual to have physical sensation there when strong emotional thoughts occur--it's just not something you should worry about missing, imho.

I know this doesn't address the question of how to tell whether people are dangerous, but maybe it addresses some of the more basic curiosities you mentioned.

Do you often spend time with new acquaintances outside the company of other friends? I'm all for learning to trust yourself, but in the meantime, it may be wise to meet new people in the company of someone you already know well. Then compare notes. It's not gossipy to say, "He seemed nice, but but maybe I'm missing something; what do you think?" If a friend got a "bad vibe" ask if they are able to pinpoint anything that contributed to that. (I'm usually an open-book type, but I do not recommend telling anyone who hasn't proven him/herself trustworthy that you struggle to judge these things accurately, because some people do take advantage of that sort of thing.)

You can learn more and more about social cues and clues, so hang in there.
posted by whoiam at 9:24 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone whose intentions aren't clear makes me feel a little jittery and 'off-balance', to a greater or lesser degree. I felt this with my wrong-for-me ex the first few times I met him, but ignored it.

When I've been around people I have interpreted, or believe, on some level, to have some kind of greater power than I do in a situation, even when I'm not consciously aware of the rules of that situation, it's been kind of like this. Usually that's had to do with gender dynamics, but I've felt it other times. There I also described how I feel around safe people, which is, fine, and like myself.

Immediate physical danger (e.g. seconds before a car going off the road), I've felt literally viscerally, in the stomach. Like I'm lurching, or just missed tripping on a stair.

When I was almost sexually assaulted (got out of it, thankfully), I felt a kind of 'wrong!', in my stomach, but more of the jitteriness, as if my nerves were ringing -- very aware and 'on'. And actually, reflecting on that occasion: I'd been stranded, in the very early morning, at a bus station far from where I was going to stay, in a city I'd visited once but which was mostly unfamiliar to me. People were supposed to be there and weren't due to a confusion in communication. I waited in vain, and was stuck with the last taxi driver available. He'd said his trunk was broken, and asked if I put my things in the back seat, in an apologetic but somehow overly offhand manner. Maybe it's a cultural thing, I thought.

From the beginning of the situation, my 'spidey sense' went off a bit -- by which I mean the jitteriness I mentioned. I hesitated before agreeing to the ride, and my steps to the car were slow. What was happening didn't fit the script in my mind for what should happen. But it wasn't a big deal, right? "Trunks can be broken", I told myself. I couldn't get to where I needed to go any other way. It seemed silly to question him. I discounted my objections and told myself to hurry up, and got in the car.

After that, the conversation content was normal, but I felt that slight buzzing, still. At some point, he started driving out of the city. So this was obviously wrong, and I started asking him questions (like, "where are you driving"?). He stopped the car, made his move; I took a risk in being very aggressive in my defense ("I'm a Canadian citizen. I've already registered my presence with the police, people are expecting me at this place, if I'm not there it won't take long for people to find out I'm not there and you are very findable"). Which could have gone wrong, but didn't. (He eventually drove me to the right place, insulting me the whole time.)

So there, the physical sensations were in line with a normal fear response. The tingling and jitteriness probably correlated with blood flow to the limbs, faster BP, a more attuned nervous system.

The things I did wrong, there, were dismissing my own logic and expectations. We approach every situation with a script, and that comes down to knowledge and experience.

Unknown situations might set off alarm bells in the absence of danger. Some people are unreasonably afraid of strangers, due to stereotypes and lack of experience and so on; in panic, the alarm system responds in a pathological way. If you've had false alarms, your cognitive interpretations of scenarios are inappropriately triggering your natural response system. In that case, it might take some unpacking of past events to try to parse what you thought, what the reality might have been, and where you erred in your assessment.

But from the perspective of self-protection, I think it is ok to quicken (or slow) your step when your spidey sense goes off, and work it out later.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:46 PM on February 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

For me, the more subtle gut warnings come as images or overlays on how I see the person when I first meet them. I'll see the person as they are but also have a faint image of them, say, hunched over and looking snarly, or enraged, or whatever impression I get. It's so fast, and I quickly move on to giving them the benefit of the doubt, but I've learned to notice the more intense ones.

Another way I hear the gut warning is when my brain kind of echoes what they just said. Like someone might say, "we better go around that mirror. When you can't see me in it, you'll know I'm a vampire," and this set of voices in my head will start chattering "did he just say he might be a vampire??" "That's not good. Is there any good kind of vampire? No." Or, my brain will just replay that portion of conversation slowly: "you'll knowww I'M A VAMPIRE." It's like some part of my mind telling me: "pay attention to this."
posted by salvia at 10:00 PM on February 5, 2014

This is something I really used to lack, and the only way I've found to develop it is just meeting and interacting with people and "listening" to how I feel. It's like a feeling that was always there, but I just couldn't hear it very well, or when I heard it I dismissed it as oh you feel weird, it's you. And it's taken a lot of trials and errors to be able to hear it more clearly and realize no, it's generally not just you - the intuition you have about people very often foreshadows their actions. And it used to be a very fuzzy, broad-strokes, "good/bad/meh", and now that I've learned to listen is much more specific and nuanced.

And now that those feelings have happened enough and I have a wide enough variety of people I've interacted with and vibes I've felt, I now feel fairly confident acting on a vibe when I recognize it.

All I can advise is really trying to listen to your emotions. They're in there in your mind somewhere, and they're not always going to have a lot of words or reasons to explain them rationally. Your rational mind just needs to learn to accept those emotions as real, and integrate and make decisions with them as a big part of the picture.

Go spend time with a soulmate and then with someone who's just an arms-length acquaintance. How does it feel different - not rationalizing, oh I like talking about this and that, but how does it feel? And try to build off that ability to recognize how you feel.
posted by crayz at 10:04 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you ever written the answer to a math problem, certain that you've gotten it right, but when you look at your answer you cock your head a bit and think "that can't be right..."

Have you ever written a word that you know how to spell, as far as you know, but you look at it and there's something about the font or the spelling or the spacing and even though you're pretty sure you spelled it right you can't help but think "wait, is that right?"

Have you ever walked out of the house having forgotten something, having no idea that you've forgotten it, but suddenly something makes you think to double-check the pocket you are fairly certain you already checked?

It's that, really. It can be that simple. Obviously there are some people -- most people, maybe -- who experience it as a larger physical effect as well, but sometimes it's just that momentary hint, where your brain puts two and two together subconsciously and just enough of that reaches the surface to jog you into a feeling that perhaps things aren't exactly the way you feel they should be.

That doesn't mean there will always be a problem, of course, and some people struggle with listening to that voice far too often, so much that it becomes negatively impactful on their lives. You don't have that problem. Perhaps your voice is really quiet, and you need to learn how to listen to it. Perhaps you're just too quick to trust. Dunno how to fix it, but that's how I'd describe it.

To give you an idea of how subtle it can be, but also how helpful: I was once backing my car up into a parking space. I'd looked around, I'd cleared everything, and I hadn't seen anything of concern. I was backing up quickly -- too quickly -- into the space, and suddenly I just hit the brakes. I can't say exactly why; perhaps I heard a sound reflected, perhaps I realized I was going too fast, perhaps something was in the corner of my eye through the side mirror -- but I stopped just as my outside mirror hit the concrete post I didn't know was there. Instead of ripping my mirror off, it just left a centimeter-long scrape, and it was all over before I knew I was reacting.

When you're driving a car, you spend a lot of time reacting quickly to small inputs, so you're more likely to listen to that voice, but that's something you learn over time, and that you're practicing every time you drive. The "something's off" inner voice isn't something that gets as much practice, and social responsibilities/fear of standing out often stop us from reacting quickly to those little voices...so much so that we ignore them and move on.

Incidentally, would it hurt you to intentionally and deliberately make choices as if new people are not trustworthy, even if you totally trust them? "I'm sure you're awesome, and I totally trust you, but I don't do x with anyone until I've known them much longer than I've known you", and things of that nature. Get three estimates on every repair. Things like that.
posted by davejay at 10:08 PM on February 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

These books on "focusing" might be able to help you. The practice is all about learning to listen to one's bodily felt sense. Both books have fairly straightforward instructions about how to open a dialogue with this bodily way of knowing. It's a little much to go into here, but the basic idea is to closely attend to your body sensations either right now as you are or in relation to a particular concern/relationship etc. As you attend to them, you attempt to find a word/image that describes a particular sensation. Some words/images better capture the bodily sensation than others. A more evocative word/image tends to lead to some kind of shift in the bodily sensation, often a sense of relief, a bodily "That's it!" One both usually feels better and these words/images tend to provide really valuable information about one's experience. Ultimately the idea is to create some kind of inner clearing/peace/safety, after all the bodily sensations that have long been clamoring for attention have all been attended to and taken in explicitly as some kind of information through these words/images.

As you know, traumatic experiences can make this sense of bodily grounding difficult. The body itself feels unsafe, especially if it provided information that was overwhelming or that others invalidated. I.e. a child witnessing domestic violence is told by his mother "Everything is fine." Does he trust his own feelings of terror or does he accept what his mother says and discount his own sense of things? If you are able to reopen communication with your body, process some of its past experiences, and learn to trust its information, I think you will have a better sense of who you feel safe with or not. But seriously, Ann Weiser Cornell does a way better job talking about all of this than me. I am still a focusing novice. Best of luck to you, I think that learning to listen to one's body (felt sense) is a crucial path to healing - especially from trauma. :)

The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing
posted by amileighs at 10:09 PM on February 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

The noisier your head is, the less you can hear the quiet voice of intuition. Intuition doesn't shout at you, doesn't nag at you. It's very small and it doesn't repeat itself.

It's not something to locate and comprehend, because, being subconscious, it's way squishier than that. In fact, your intellectual aim of locating and identifying intuition creates mental turbulence which drowns out the very thing your'e looking for.

Standard advice for quieting mind: yoga, tai chi, exercise, nature, meditation.

Also, it's the thing that shows up when you're not looking for it. It's not a faculty like the 5 senses. If you have a real, bona-fide in-the-moment problem, you won't be searching for intuition....you'll be acting on it, without self-consciousness, naturally and automatically and without cognition. It's the fountain of "eurekas", epiphanies, and inspirations that seem to come from out of nowhere.

Does that ring up anything for you? If so, that's a starting point. But it's a feeling thing, not a thinking thing. Many people have driven themselves mad trying to get a handle on eurekas, epiphanies, and inspirations, though there's no handle to be gotten. To feel more, you, again, need to quiet mind.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:11 PM on February 5, 2014

Oh, should also mention the "other" kind of inner voice: the one that nags you day in and day out and never quite goes away. You're in a relationship/have a job/are in a circumstance where everything's fine as far as you know, and yet...you have doubts. You can't name the doubt, you can't quite figure out why you even have a doubt...but it's there, late at night, or when they say a certain thing, or that funny smell. Something you just can't get your brain to stop mentioning here and there. A nag. Listening to your inner voice can also mean listening to that part of your thought process that keeps nagging you that some nameless thing is wrong, in case you can't name it but it's still totally a wrong thing so you should get help naming it or at least look closer rather than dismissing it.

From a relationships perspective, that might be the voice you need to find.
posted by davejay at 10:12 PM on February 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I really really like davejay's answer! I want to add that a related feeling you might have is when you find someone, or a situation.... Weird... Or bizarre.... You know when you remark to yourself: what????

It's the knowledge that things aren't fitting together in the way you expect.
posted by misspony at 10:15 PM on February 5, 2014

davejay's taken a different tack than I have, above. He's more talking about accessing unconscious, generally, rather than intuition, specifically (at least in my view). And for that, there's a great example. Have you ever noticed you were hurt/injured, some time after it happened? E.g. you look down and your knee's bleeding? At some level you can dimly realize you've been aware for some time of the injury. It's been a nagging sensation, but not quite....what's the word? Conscious!

That's a taste of unconsciousness. It's not a mystical dreamworld over the rainbow. It's just where foggy, vaguely formed unarticulated stuff queues up until the busy conscious mind can make time for it....or until the issue reaches a threshold (e.g. the knee really starts hurting, so you need to pay attention).

If you have a real bona fide problem on your hands, you've reached that threshold. You don't need to search for a mental message about your bloody knee; at a certain point, your conscious mind will push you entirely there without any effort on your part. It becomes conscious, and you just KNOW.

Same as you solve a puzzle (eureka!), or suddenly think of the perfect word for a poem, or if subliminal queasy factors in a given situation aggregate and arouse a fight/flight reaction. You don't need to go looking for this information. If you're searching for intuition, that means you don't have a real problem requiring this faculty. So....if you're looking for it, you don't need it. If you need it, you won't have to look for it. But if you quiet your mind and get a bit more familiar with your unconscious processes, you can get slightly earlier warnings! :)
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:22 PM on February 5, 2014

I don't know if it was a rhetorical question but I do feel like I am doing something wrong if I don't openly trust someone right away. That actually brings up a bodily sensation of ducking. I can recognise in my body when I am doing something against my nature.

I was hoping that there was a body sensation that I could recognise in myself about other people. I have been told by some people that I should just assume that all people are out for themselves upon first meeting. I don't want to do that as it hurts to not trust others and see goodness in people. So I was looking for clues I could recognise to know if this person is OK to be open with emotionally or go some place with.

I am sorry if this all seems lame. It really is like I am a child when it comes to trusting me people and it gets me taken advantage of or in weird dynamics with people or probably unsafe situations. Traumatic childhood left me behind the learning curve in picking up cues from myself.

Thanks for all your thoughts. They gave me lots to ponder.
posted by kanata at 10:49 PM on February 5, 2014

Like sockermom suggested, can you think back to, maybe write about, one or two specific times when you trusted someone, and were right to? And then do the same for a time or two when you made a mistake? As much as you can remember -- things that were said, things that person did, what you did and how you felt, maybe moments of doubt, like davejay talked about, and moments of feeling good?
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:05 PM on February 5, 2014

Note: "trust everyone" and "assume the worst in everyone" are the extremes, extremes that nobody should subscribe to. You subscribe to one of those extremes, which is likely why people are suggesting the other extreme, to illustrate via contrast, not to suggest you actually swing that far over. I doubt you could if you tried. It would be like somehow making yourself see white as black.

You need to aim for the other extreme only to pull yourself away from the one you're at. The goal isn't to see white as black, but to see that true white is rarely encountered, and most white is either an off-white or even a light grey. Even very trustworthy people have a point at which they'd lie, and most people have more than a few. That doesn't make them horrible selfish people; it just makes them human.

So don't trust everyone. Trust is to be earned, through time and experience. Don't assume everyone is untrustworthy, either. Just: assume that most people are mostly trustworthy, but that you can't know for sure until you've really gotten to know them over a long period of time, so keep them at arms length to protect yourself until you're sure.
posted by davejay at 11:36 PM on February 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

The Gift of Fear is well worth a read. The most useful point I found from it was this question, "how does this person respond when I say no?" Or, if I assert my boundaries what does this person do?
Someone who wishes you harm is going to have to cross boundaries to hurt you, so very carefully pay attention to saying no. Do they back off, or do they press you? Try to persuade you? Steamroll over you?
Especially if you've just met them.

In terms of what it feels like, it won't be a body sensation located anywhere in particular. Gentle practice in listening to your feelings can help. This can be as straightforward as asking yourself, what am I feeling, and then naming it.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 12:44 AM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've had a lot of trouble with this too. The thing that has worked best for me was to have a close friend (in this case, my boyfriend) that I could bounce ideas off of. He has a very attuned bullshit detector and will support me in doing what I need to do to protect myself.

I can say to him, "I think that guy was trying to scam me" or "Do you think she really meant to snub me?" I know it's hard if you don't have someone like that in your life (I haven't, for most of my life), but it's really a good way to attune your detector. So if you have a friend that can fulfill this role, you may be able to attune your internal sensor better over time.
posted by 3491again at 1:45 AM on February 6, 2014

I feel a sensation of unease right behind where my ribs meet that I think is my "gut" sensation. I don't think it's going to be the same for everyone, or even a physical sensation for everyone.

A way to practice strengthening this is to visualize outcomes. If someone is asking you to do something, take the time to really think about the outcome and always think about the benefit that might come to the person who is asking. If you approach this objectively, you might see that the person asking has ulterior motives. The more you do this, the more you'll be able to pick up on seemingly unrelated cues to put it together for future impressions.
posted by mibo at 3:43 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am the opposite of you. Both naturally and because of lots of bad experiences, I rarely trust someone right off. I think this is different for everyone but for me it's definitely in my mind, not my "gut" or whatever. It's not a conscious thought process but I can feel the "beware!" instinct kick in in my brain, if that makes any sense.

I think if I were to break it down into pieces, it would involve questions like: Why is this person talking to me? What reason does he have for doing what he's doing now, here, in this manner? Is there something in it for him? What might that be? Do his eyes, his voice, his posture, anything about his behavior, indicate that he's decent/honest or not? What type of person is he? (Meaning have I known anyone to act like this/say these things/do these things before? Does it remind me of anything or anyone bad?) What circumstances is he in? If he's acting strange, is there a reason that would explain it? It's about putting things into context. It's sort of instant "profiling" - not in the sense that usually has in America of racial profiling, it has nothing to do with that - but getting a very quick sense of who the person is and what's going on with them.

I think if you got into the habit of analyzing situations that have already happened to you, you could learn to do it in the moment eventually. Just think to yourself every day, like, "That guy on the stairs this morning who helped me with my heavy package, did he do anything beforehand that I can now see meant he would be a helpful person?" Or "That guy on the bus who I talked to and he ended up being really weird and threatening, did he act in a way that, in retrospect, might have tipped me off before I sat down next to him?" You can't always predict, some people you think are scary will turn out to be great and some people who seem normal will be awful. And that's NOT YOUR FAULT. But you can definitely learn to avoid a lot of bad situations.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:55 AM on February 6, 2014

Maybe you can think of it in terms of "conflicted" and "unconflicted."

When you're unconflicted you can take an action without having to "force" yourself, without having to override any other impulse. So you are automatically nice, giving or you readily want to go do something.

Then when you're conflicted you don't move as easily. You don't automatically say yes or it's a little physically difficult to do that action. That's a sign that part of you doesn't want that thing, or wants something else more.

In the case of neuroticism, this inability to move prevents you from doing something healthy, like applying for that new job you want.

In the case of your gut, the resistance is trying to protect you from pain or emotional discomfort.

The subconscious is amazing at analyzing the emotional content of a situation and looking for a match based on your historical life experience and then coughing up a feeling. Think of it like an emotional pattern recognition software. Therefore one good definition of "the gut" (this comes from NLP; read the book Introducing NLP, it has great tools for talking to your subconscious) is that the gut is a kinesthetic representation of trusted things.

So the gut is a body-based feeling that tells you "I've seen this before and there's something fishy." It can be physically based anywhere in your body (or just a general resistance). If you are habitually unaware of your body based feelings, read Heart of the Soul by Gary Zukav.

Is your gut always right? No. But it is always picking up something. The best way to trust your gut is to just start trusting your gut. You may make some mistakes (like how little kids can be wildly irrational) but fuck it, if you're going to make a mistake, make one in your favor this time. If you ever feel split or resistant to action, don't do it. Build up a repertoire of taking all of your person into account. It's a little scary sometimes (emotional decisions can precede logical understanding; like that me-fi question last week where the person didn't feel good about renting with someone but couldn't figure out why since logically it was a good place. That's an excellent example of intuition preceding full intellectual understanding.). But I think you'll find in the long run making decisions from that gut feels really good & authentic and honest, and that a pattern of successful decisions builds confidence. Of course you want to take time to understand the gut, as is the case with that me-fi question, just to make sure you're not avoiding something that is helpful. This is the trap of people who avoid new relationships or job opportunities or what have you, giving rationalizations but never challenging the feeling. It's best to have the whole self in alignment so you are neither impulsive nor overriding your inner self.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:25 AM on February 6, 2014

I don't want to do that as it hurts to not trust others and see goodness in people.

This is your problem. Be friendly and nice to people, but strangers don't deserve your trust. Trust is earned over a period of transactions, not handed over instantly to people.

What you are doing is putting the unknown masses above yourself, to your total detriment.

When you are on a subway, keep your purse/backpack close to you. Don't trust that among all those people that there isn't a criminal who is looking for someone to be careless with their possessions.

When you are at a party and meeting new people, make polite chit-chat with folks. You don't have to tell someone you just met all of your secrets. You don't have to tell people you've known for 20 years your secrects.

Trusting people unreservedly isn't a gift, that means no one is special to you, everyone is equal and that is not rational. Of COURSE some people are deserving of your trust, some people are absolutely NOT deserving of your trust, and the rest of the folks are unknown to you, and DO NOT EXPECT you to trust them.

For now, until you get some practice in this, be more reserved. Separate what you do from how you feel. Don't automatically tell people your last name when you first meet (especially in casual, social situations.) Get some polite chit-chat stored up or better yet, become the bestest listener anyone has ever met. If someone asks for your phone number, smile and ask them for theirs instead. "I'd love to meet you for coffee, give me your number and I'll call you to set it up." If someone is turned off by that, oh well, too bad then, that person doesn't respect your right to privacy and safety and isn't worth your time.

Rather than assuming that most people are good, assume that most people are an unknown quantity. This is more true than your assumption. There are creeps and weirdos in the world and you are too precious to play around with your safety like that.

If you were on the autism spectrum in that your brain could not process the concept of good people and bad people, you would need to have these types of strategies in place to keep you from being the worst kind of vulnerable.

Trusting everyone randomly isn't noble, it's stupid. Most people DON'T have your best interests in mind. That's just the way it is.

It's not a physical sensation, it's a series of actions that you take to protect yourself and your stuff.

Stop worrying about some internal warning system that may or may not exist, instead ACT in your best interests and safety.

For example, there is NEVER a time when it would be okay for you to go off with someone after just meeting them. NEVER. There is NEVER a time when it's okay for you to tell someone something vulnerable about yourself if you don't know them.

Here are some things my Mom told me when I was about 18:

1. At a party, never leave your drink unattended, and don't let anyone get you a drink.

2. Always keep your purse with you, don't leave it laying around, or easy for a pickpocket to get to.

3. Take people's numbers, don't give yours out.

4. Have enough money on you to be able to get out of a sticky situation. This used to be called "Mad Money" because if you got mad at your date (for taking liberties), you could afford to take a cab home.

5. Leave a party with who you came with.

6. Don't ever, ever, ever get in a car alone with someone you don't know.

I mean, this is all common sense. If these things are news to you, then I'm sorry, but you need to learn them and put them to use instantly.

Take care of yourself and don't worry so much about what other people think. You are AS important or MORE important than any other human in the world.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on February 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

The idea of "trusting your gut" is more about not second guessing yourself than about being intuitive. Does that help?

You say you initially trust people. That's fine. Then you are on a plan of trust and you're not conflicted or confused. If a person does something to lessen your trust, you adjust.

Trusting doesn't mean not be responsible for yourself, if you are letting other people make decisions for you (especially about drinking, going places, money, etc.) then you are not so much trusting as having abdicated control which is not safe for you and not fair to people with good intentions.

Friends should be equals. They shouldn't have any opportunities to have control.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:21 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do feel like I am doing something wrong if I don't openly trust someone right away. That actually brings up a bodily sensation of ducking.

Bodily sensations will be different for different people, and some people don't get them.

Sometimes it's a good idea to duck. It wouldn't feel wrong to duck if you felt something brush the top of you head, say. If you get an urge to duck, pay attention to that (not that this necessarily will be a cue you experience).
posted by yohko at 8:14 AM on February 6, 2014

For me, a negative gut feeling is a feeling of wanting to avoid the person. If I had to explain it, it would be, "there's something creepy about that person but I can't put my finger on it."

A positive gut feeling leads to me wanting to see the person again or having the sense that we could easily become friends.

Gut feelings are often, if not always, subconscious reactions to the other person's nonverbal cues. Fake smiles, shifty eyes, closed-off body language, a predatory stare, etc. will creep me out. A genuine smile and a warm tone of voice will indicate friendliness. You may want to study nonverbal communication if you have trouble identifying it.
posted by xenophile at 2:55 PM on February 6, 2014

It's a tough call as a trauma survivor to get this 'right'. Historically perhaps you have actually had a finely tuned radar.. but somewhere, at some point (likely in childhood) you learned you had to silence it... that your boundaries didn't matter.

You trusted a lot, developed warm values in a hard world... you got ****ed over then swung from over trust to hypervigilance. This keeps you safe whilst also sheltering you from the healing experiences you need. It's a tough one I can relate to a lot.

I'm still 'too open'... still worried this will get me in more shit, but to some extent I can't.. stop being myself.

A few things I have learned... because my radar is badly socialised and in some ways I am numb.. as someone eluded to above.. this has to be compensated for. I need to take less risks than some people.. this sometimes does not feel natural.

I have toned down my social adventuring.. I now seek reliable, healthy friends.. wounded is ok (to me).. wounding is not. I no longer seek a wide social circle...

If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.

If I have a very strong reaction to someone in any way I think about it.. do they remind me of anyone?

I will deliberately avoid certain situations/people.. I got recommended an ex addict/charismatic builder... there is addiction in my family so this is a risk factor for me. I didn't even meet him.

Some people take a yard, some people give a yard.. these two attract each other :(
Lots of people are in the middle.
Keep learning.. it's great your thinking about it and cut yourself some slack for cocking it up sometimes.. its HARD.

Maybe check out www.saferelationships.com and read up on micro expressions.
posted by tanktop at 12:06 PM on February 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

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