Mind Over Matter

The power of clear thinking

Avoid Trouble: Trust Your Gut

Why is it so hard to tune in to our feelings?

"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off." —Gloria Steinem

What could regular people like you and me have in common with celebrities we read about in the news who may have various addictions, marital and emotional problems? We may not have their fame, wealth, hopefully not the magnitude of issues they seem to be struggling with and lucky for us, not the media to document every action and mistake we make in our daily lives.

The one thing we do have in common is a tendency to often not pay attention to our gut. And then get in some sort of trouble because we didn't. We might know something in our hearts or minds is not right and ignore that feeling and attempt to proceed as if it weren't there. A relationship we know we shouldn't be in, or a job which is stifling - that uncomfortable feeling lurking underneath - but often the fear is that acknowledging it, owning it, whatever it is, means we might have to do something about it. Or, there may even be times that we rationalize foolish choices or do not even recognize that there is something wrong with our decision making.

We may have a thought or feeling that causes us shame and embarrassment which can create negative self talk about who we are. Consequently, we may then become or act in the way we fear most. In my thirty four years as a psychotherapist working with people seeking consultation for a wide variety of problems, the two characteristics that link everyone, are people not trusting their gut, and not wanting to deal with feelings and thoughts that all individuals experience sometime in their life. Anger, fear, insecurity, inadequacy, jealousy, competitiveness, are some of the least popular feelings to admit as one's own. The difference between thought and action is huge, and the more a person acknowledges, at least to themselves, the truth about what they might feel, the less likely they will act it out.

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We all have various defense mechanisms. Some are necessary and healthy to function in everyday life. However, when we utilize denial, a person is more likely to get in trouble. Sometimes a person might not even be sure of what they are feeling. But usually this is because the original thought, feeling or situation that evoked it is too painful or uncomfortable to acknowledge.

I love the quote from Gloria Steinhem, "The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off." I would add that it might also make you feel sad, helpless and vulnerable, confused, guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed. And then it'll set you free.

Our thoughts and feelings have the power to guide us, amuse us, and protect us - if we only pay attention to them. Daniel Siegel, MD, Director of the Mindsight Institute, states in his book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, "By developing the ability to focus our attention on our internal world, we are picking up a ‘scalpel' we can use to resculpt neural pathways, stimulating the growth of areas of the brain that are crucial to mental health." Current research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology indicates the importance of exploring in depth the processes by which we think, feel and behave. (For more information, go to www.drdansiegel.com.)

The take-away:

1) Be conscious of what you feel.

2) Learn to accept or at least tolerate the feeling that comes with this awareness - and realize that those feelings are often unpleasant.

3) Make choices - consciously.

Robin Zarel, LCSW, is a New York-based therapist. She has been in practice for 30 years.

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