Some More Thoughts About Feelings (Intuition)

Earlier I wrote about the more conventional understanding of feeling: as an emotion that one experiences or perhaps one defends against experiencing. There are some other ways, however, that we use the term “feeling.”

There is another type of feeling, what is commonly referred to as a kind of knowing in one’s core or “gut.” “I need to listen to my gut more” is a common refrain that points to this sort of knowing. This is what we call “intuition.” That sense or feeling of what is right or wrong. There is, of course, much to be said for the wisdom of intuition. Often clients whom I work with struggle to be more in touch with this feeling, also referred to as “felt sense.” Those who do struggle may be more oriented to thought, to intellectualization, and a more rational interaction with life. And intuition for them is not so available. They may get stuck in reasoning and not have a more emotional footing by which to make decisions and live their lives.

Of course, we usually strive in psychotherapy for balance: in the case of intuition, that gut feeling balanced with the ability of the mind to reason and discern. Sometimes a person’s gut may say “I don’t want to do that hard work,” “I don’t want to leave the house when feeling depressed.” Here it’s useful to have the mediation of ones’ mind — in the parlance of Freud’s model the “ego,” — one’s thinking capacity to mediate and at times veto that more gut feeling. “I may not feel like going to the gym but I know that I’ll feel better afterwards if I do.” At other times, however, it might be better to lean in the direction of intuition. Especially when making a major change, which almost always involves a great deal of fear and ambivalence, it may be best to privilege that gut feeling that “this is the right thing for me to do.” Such moments often feel like great risk. And such moments may offer great reward.

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