Intuition is a very powerful emotional and psychic tool, and should be heeded whenever possible. That “gut instinct” we have can protect us from any number of awful situations if we pay attention to it when it rears its head, but what about false intuition?
How can we tell whether that feeling we have is real, versus imaginary?
What are some of the common feelings we might mistake for intuition? That’s what this article aims to explore.
When we want something, or someone, we can often try to convince ourselves that the feelings we’re experiencing are intuitive in order that we may pursue or purchase the object of our desire.
Like, “my intuition is telling me that if I get that pair of shoes, something amazing will happen.”
Suuuuure it will.
If the object of desire is a person, random occurrences can be misinterpreted as intuition. Like just happening to bump into that person at the café they go to literally every single day because something told you that they’d be there at that time… and if you saw them when you went there, well… it’s just meant to be, isn’t it?
Yeah, that’s just creepy. Don’t be that person.
If you have a “gut feeling” about a situation, and it’s making you feel like you’re having a panic attack, that isn’t intuition: it’s a panic attack. This kind of false intuition can be brought on by a scenario that you’re afraid of (like flying).
Remember this mantra: intuition is calm, but anxiety and paranoia are afraid. If a situation is likely to result in you being harmed somehow, your intuition will calmly direct you to a safe way of avoiding it in the same way that emergency personnel calmly, and almost cheerfully encourage people to take cover during an air raid.
With real intuition, there will be no fear, no panic attacks, just the absolute awareness of what you need to do in that moment.
Few things can blind us the way that hope can, and hope disguised as intuition can be downright dangerous. Hope can get us through some of the darkest times in life, but when we mistake it for a gut feeling, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
A person who has a serious illness may feel like their “gut instinct” is telling them that their latest test results will bring good news. They might cling to that feeling because it makes them feel good, and they’ll convince themselves of that outcome… only to be crushed when it turns out to be unwelcome news instead.
It’s okay to hope, though it’s even better to accept, and work through what is. If your thoughts are focused on what could be rather than what is, then that isn’t intuition either.
Are you familiar with real fear versus F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real)? If you’re not, pay attention: the latter tends to be misinterpreted as intuition very often, so it’s important to be able to tell the difference.
Real fear is caused by something tangible, like the fear of being bitten by an angry dog, which is caused by a very angry dog running towards you with its teeth bared. That’s a very valid, reasonable fear, because Cujo there is very likely to try to gnaw your leg off when he gets within chomping range.
If someone is convinced that they’ll be bitten by an angry dog if they leave the house, but that fear isn’t justified (e.g. there are no angry dogs anywhere in the neighborhood), then their reticence isn’t intuition; it’s a different underlying issue that really should be addressed. They might convince themselves that it’ll happen because of a number of different variables, but intuition it is not.
Much like desire, infatuation can trigger all kinds of emotions that we mistake for gut instinct. Someone who’s a little too interested in a person may believe that they met due to some type of intuition, and they’ll attribute that ability to any number of scenarios with that person. Like, they just “knew” that the person would call them sometime that week, and they did! Look at that: your intuition was right.
Nah. Gut instinct has no place here. Neither does common sense, apparently.
It’s okay to lose yourself a little when you’re interested in a person, but if your daydreams override reality on a regular basis, there may be cause for concern, especially if you indulge in weird or risky behavior because you’ve convinced yourself that you’re following your intuition.
Here’s a tip: if your instincts are telling you to show up at their door unannounced, slathered in Nutella, that’s not intuitive guidance.
This one goes along with fear and anxiety when it comes to being mistaken for intuition. When we’re nervous about something, or fear that we won’t do it well, we may try to convince ourselves that not doing it is in our best interest, since we just “know” that the outcome will be crap if we try.
For instance, let’s say that you don’t want to give a presentation at work because your self-confidence is non-existent and you’re nervous as hell about it. You feel like your gut instinct is telling you to bail because if you don’t, the presentation will be terrible. You can’t bail on it, so you give the presentation, but you stutter and fumble your way through it and the result is a total nightmare. Well, your intuition told you that it would be awful, right?
Wrongsville. That was just a self-fulfilling prophecy born of your own insecurity and lack of self-confidence. There was nothing intuitive about it.
Last, but not least (and placed purposely at the end of this list, heh) is hindsight bias. Also referred to as “knew-it-all-along-ish,” it’s the tendency to see events as having been predicted, but after those events have occurred.
As an example: A woman refuses to attend a dinner party. Maybe she doesn’t like the hostess, or she’d rather be alone that evening instead of having to pretend to socialize. She may just balk at the proposed menu because she hates salmon mousse. Later, she finds out that everyone at the dinner party got terrible food poisoning, and she announces that she JUST KNEW something bad was going to happen, which is why she chose not to attend.
Yeah, that isn’t intuition either. She might convince herself otherwise (hence the word “bias” here), but it’s really just a situation of distorted memory and a whole lot of self indulgence.
Real intuition doesn’t feel like any of the scenarios listed above. When you know deep down that you need to follow a particular direction, you just KNOW. There isn’t any fear, or second-guessing. You already know the answer or the outcome, and you also know that the optimal result is unlikely unless you follow your instincts.
Listen to that gut feeling: it won’t steer you wrong.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.