Your “Gut Sense” is Sending You Messages: 4 Good Reasons You Must Listen

It was a scorching hot day in Costa Rica, well over 100 degrees. My husband and I decided to take our 8-year-old son for a hike to get as close as possible to the Arenal Volcano. We walked several hours through beautiful, lush forest.

As the sun got higher and the day got hotter, we reached an endpoint marked by signs reading, DANGER, KEEP OUT. We walked around the safe side of the area for a while enjoying the beautiful birds and monkeys in the trees and then decided to head back.

As I turned to go back in the direction we had come from, my husband said, “No, let’s not go that way. We can get there by going this way.” Puzzled, I slowly turned around and followed. As we traipsed back through the forest, I had a trembly feeling in my belly that, in hindsight I realized was fear. This did not feel right.

It had taken several hours to reach the volcano, and I knew that if we went the wrong way it could be dangerous. We had consumed all of the water we had carried, and it was getting hotter by the minute.

My gut was telling me to speak up, but my brain said, “You know you’re terrible with directions. You’re almost never right about these things. Just keep quiet and follow.”

The Brain/Gut Connection

Perhaps you’ve seen the many amazing studies over the past few years that have proven that there is a direct connection between your brain and your gut.

These new studies explain many things that used to baffle us: why we get butterflies in our stomachs when we’re nervous, and why Irritable Bowel Syndrome and ulcers are both so closely connected to and influenced by the amount of stress we are under.

Here’s the most amazing thing about the new research. We now know that the brain-gut connection travels in both directions. Not only does your emotional state (and emotional health) affect your stomach; the reverse is also true. Believe it or not, recent studies have shown that the health of your gut can also affect your psychological health and your emotions.

Clearly our human brains are wired to our guts for a reason: to connect our brain with our body in a useful way.

So choosing to ignore this vital source of information is choosing to ignore a remarkable feedback system that we are meant to have, and meant to use to our benefit.

4 Ways Your Gut Can Help You

  1. That tight, pressured and unsettled feeling in your gut tells you when you’ve taken on too much in your life; when you’re over your head or unprepared for something important. It’s your body sending you a wake-up call that says, “Prepare!” “Slow down!” or “Take better care of yourself!”
  2. Your gut informs you when you’re making a mistake. You know that hesitant feeling you get in your belly when you’re about to do something? That’s your gut telling you to pause and consider. Your gut can stop you from making an impulsive error.
  3. Your gut can tell you when you’re angry. When your stomach feels tight and closed, like it’s pulled into a fist, that’s anger. Your belly is saying, “Take action.”
  4. Your gut can help you make decisions. Decisions should be made on two levels: half from your intellect (your thoughts and knowledge), and half from the feeling you have in your gut. When these two forces are working together, you’re primed to make the best possible decisions.

Did some of the “gut feelings” described above seem hard for you to grasp? That is a sign that you are not closely enough connected to your gut. Which means you’re missing out on an incredibly useful tool in your life.

It is certainly true that some folks are not as good at tuning in to their gut. If you’re out of touch with yours, there is probably an explanation for it. Your brain/gut pathway became disconnected for a reason. There are many possible ways for this to happen.

Potential Reasons You’re Missing Signals From Your Gut

  • You don’t trust yourself. Is it hard for you to imagine that your body can give you guidance? Or that the guidance your body offers could be accurate or grounding? This is a sign that you’re afraid to listen to the signals your gut is sending because you don’t believe in them.
  • You are too focused on other people’s feelings and views to tune in to your own. This is typically a product of growing up in a family that gave you the message that your feelings aren’t important or valid (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN). Since your feelings, in general, aren’t valid, the ones coming from your gut aren’t valid.
  • You greatly value thought over feeling. This value is partially a product of our culture, which tends to glorify intellectual achievement and skills, and which views emotions as unnecessary. If you believe that your feelings are a weakness (a loud and clear message of CEN), you are not likely to tune in to the feeling messages your gut is sending you.

Hopefully, as you’ve been reading this you’ve been tuning in to your gut. Perhaps you’ve attempted to feel some of the gut feelings I described. Perhaps you’ve imagined the connection between your brain and gut, or even tried to visualize it.

If you have, congratulations! You have begun the process of joining your brain with your gut.

How to Start Taking Advantage of Your Brain/Gut Feedback System

  1. Knowing about it is a good start. Now that you know messages are coming from your gut, you can make a conscious effort to listen to them. Take the time to check your gut and ask yourself what it’s feeling and what it’s saying to you.
  2. Work on believing in yourself. Knowing yourself, valuing yourself, and trusting yourself will help you value and trust the messages from your gut.
  3. Learn more about the value of your feelings in general. Some feelings originate in your belly, and others in your brain. These feelings are equally valuable and equally useful, and understanding why, and how to use them, is key.

And now to finish the Costa Rica story. As you may have guessed, we were indeed heading the wrong way. We were moving further from our destination, not closer. Eventually, dehydrated, sweaty, and covered with dust from walking down a dry road for several hours, a kind local picked us up, gave us water, and drove us back to our hotel. For me, this was an important lesson in trusting my gut.

It was a valuable lesson indeed.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect and how it leaves you disconnected from your feelings in adulthood, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To learn more about the newest research findings on the gut/brain connection, see:

That Gut Feeling on The American Psychological Association website.

The Gut-Brain Connection on the Harvard Health Publications Website.

This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

Jonice

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Gin - August 11, 2020 Reply

I went from a CEN home into an emotionally abusive marriage with a narcissist, so for decades my ‘gut’ was just another thing for my abusive partner to berate me about. Now, I have escaped that marriage, but I have to actually stop and ask myself how I feel about something – it doesn’t come naturally to me. Shutting down my emotions and going into ‘freeze’ mode became such an automatic thing – a non-reaction was safer for me until I could detect what the mood around me was like. I just turned 60, and feel like I’m just starting to learn how to live freely.
Thank you for this article, and all the others I have read. The journey back to the self I should have been is going to be amazing. I just have to remember that Feelings are just information – and how I use the information is what matters.
Thank you again for your invaluable work!!

    Jonice - August 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Gin, yes, exactly and well said: Feelings are just information – and how I use the information is what matters.

Elina - August 5, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice!

As I’ve learned from you, we cen people should really pay attention to our emotions. But could you clarify this? Should I pay attention to my every “little” passing feeling? On an ordinary day for example, a message from a friend makes me cheerful, a bill from the mail makes me feel tense, covid makes me anxious, eating too much chocolate guilty, summer makes me happy, bad weather annoyed, trying new clothes excited etc. And I can feel ALL of this like within 10 minutes!! Some of these feelings come and go, do I really need to pay attention to them? I do not want to become obsessive and observe my every emotion as if I were a laboratory rat! I consider myself a normal person, not like hyper-emotional, even though I have cen. Are these like “nonsense” feelings?

Interestingly, the “deeper” feelings (negative feelings that I experienced as a child as I endured abuse) my mind does not seem to let me access (feel) them. Not then (some 30 years ago), not now. Should I really make an effort to “retrieve” those old buried feelings and feel them now? Many healers say that is the key to release them once and for all. Is it so, does it make sense, should I try to feel now (intentionally) the decades old feelings?

I just noticed the sad irony, I realise I’m basically asking instructions from you how to feel feelings…when they should “just” be felt? But as a cen person, this is all little bit confusing to me.

    Jonice - August 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear Elina, I’m sorry to be unable to advise you on this because I would need to know you much better to say. But in general, all feelings are not the same and no one rule applies for everyone. I suggest you consult a CEN Therapist from the list who can get to know you and guide you on this.

WRM - August 4, 2020 Reply

I struggle with discerning an anxiety/fear knot in my gut from a “real” message. I definitely believe our body offers a great deal of information but I’m not sure how to know when it’s a false reading from hypervigilance or another form of anxiety.

    Jonice - August 5, 2020 Reply

    Dear WRM, you can only learn to discern this by paying attention to your feelings all the time and learning what they are and what they mean. As you get to know yourself this way your feelings will make more sense to you.

Patricia - August 4, 2020 Reply

Hi, yes I know I should have said something, but didn’t. I felt my opinion or statement didn’t matter. Again, that was my house growing up. Children was not to speak:CEN Thanks for enlightening me. I’m working on speaking up.

    Jonice - August 5, 2020 Reply

    Good for you, Patricia! Your voice is important and must be heard.

JMC - August 3, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,
I recently broke up from an 8 year relationship….my gut told me from the beginning that there were warning signs…red flags…..but I ignored them. Red flags were my gut telling me things were wrong. If only I’d listened! Thankyou for all your articles about CEN.

    Jonice - August 3, 2020 Reply

    Dear JMC, it sounds like you did finally listen. Life is a learning process, so I encourage you to keep your focus on learning vs. kicking yourself.

Slaven - August 2, 2020 Reply

True, true and nothing but the true. I like your CEN work, found what was my problem for decades.

    Jonice - August 2, 2020 Reply

    I’m glad to hear that, Slaven! Keep reading and learning and growing.

Olivia - August 2, 2020 Reply

Firstly, thanks so much for this information. It’s so helpful to know *exactly* what feelings we should have in our gut and what to do about them. My gut is very oversensitive and warns me about *everything*. So many things that I’ve stopped listening, and that’s not safe is it…
Secondly, the situation with the husband and wife has happened to me so often when our daughter was a baby. I had no idea what to do, I was nervous and worried about looking after a new baby, yet my husband often insisted we take her on long drives or stay up late to take her to his friends’ parties. She was often too tired or sick but I was too nervous to speak up. Looking back, I wished I had spoken up and listened to what my gut told me about my own baby, so as she got older, I did so. I pointed out that the trip wasn’t about him and his needs, but our little daughter and her needs. So now I’m more assertive.

    Jonice - August 2, 2020 Reply

    I’m glad you’re more assertive now, Olivia. It sounds like you are finding your voice.

Janet - August 2, 2020 Reply

I, 62, recently broke up with a boyfriend I had been dating during the covid outbreak and had Intense nauseous feelings for days. Was that anxiety, fear, grief or what?

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