Before you can trust your gut, you have to consider what your gut is trying to tell you
We’ve fallen in love with the idea of being able to trust our guts, wanting to rely on ourselves to move toward the “right” thing intuitively. The mantra of “trust your gut”—to act upon a feeling with courage, trusting that the existence of the feeling itself is enough to act upon in a forceful confident stride—is both ambitious and appealing. It’s understandable to want to immediately fix what feels off. And in the age where gut health healing is all the rage, it can feel quite difficult to ignore what your gut has to say.
However, in my therapy practice, I see how people can be too quick to do just that. While I am all for figuring out what isn’t working and changing things in the name of growth and healing, you first have to look deeply at that gut feeling. In the same way that it would be unhelpful and quite possibly harmful to take a supplement without knowing what it would be supplementing, it can be a significant risk to jump to solve an emotional problem before knowing more about the feelings you’re trying to solve.
Your gut has a lot to say: You should first sit with the feeling that something feels bad or not right
Your gut has a lot to say—it tends to speak loudly in the face of pain, fear, anger, resentment, and shame. Far too often, people seek out remedies to dispel or deny some of these gut feelings. Bone broth may help ease digestion, but it doesn’t change the reality that your body finds something intolerable. If your stomach hurts, it hurts for a reason. Similarly, jumping to fix a problem you don’t fully know or understand skips the primary, if not scarier, indication that something feels bad, wrong, or off.
Before tracing the source and discovering the reason for the gut feeling as a way of problem-solving in the name of healing, you must first allow yourself to acknowledge the felt truth that something feels not right and is hurting. For instance, there is a way that individuals frequently label something or someone as “toxic,” citing a gut feeling. Rather than immediately acting on the toxicity, delving into these feelings means first acknowledging that something feels off and even, poisonous and harmful to your health and well-being. Maybe you’ll come to discover this person or action is out of alignment with the life or relationship that you want.
Gut feelings frequently feel familiar, either consciously or unconsciously
A gut feeling is a clue, an indicator that something inside of you is trying to tell you something. In fact, a gut feeling in and of itself is a response, often to something that feels rooted in a familiar experience, whether or not you are consciously aware of it. Because of this, gut feelings, too, frequently feel familiar.
There is a way that gut feelings often seem eerily like something feels right or “intuitively” having a sense. Think about the feeling of “there’s just something about them” when dating. This can mean either being pulled towards or away from someone. What is that something about them? It can be difficult to articulate! While the feeling may indicate a quality that cannot be adequately described with ease, it does have a name and quite often an origin for you. You are drawn to other people in your lifetime, not without reason. The things that compel you to move towards or away, to lean in or pull back, may be hard to define or trace within yourself, but they have a name and an origin even if it unknown to you.
This raises questions: Where have you felt this before? Why does it feel familiar? Is it related to past experiences? These questions present opportunities to look at the root cause of this feeling and where and when it has happened before, as well as how you may have stood in your own way by feeding it solutions to “feel better” in the short term.
A gut health journey requires getting close to discomfort and uncertainty
It’s understandable to want to feel better as soon as possible yet often in a responsive desire to stop feeling bad, individuals quickly jump to try anything that promises to get rid of the nausea and eliminate the bloat. However, if you are truly on a “gut health journey” for the sake of cultivating a greater sense of embodied healing, you’re going to have to get familiar with your own discomfort and pain that your gut is trying to signal.
For example, because of a “gut feeling,” couples can often feel a determination to stay in a relationship that is incredibly painful or in which a partner feels ambivalent. To simply trust their gut would fail to fully look at all of what feels to be at stake if the relationship doesn’t work out. It would also ignore what each partner has come to mean and symbolize to each other, as well as how they are attached to one another’s experience. This is frequently uncomfortable work that happens in couples therapy, in which couples must ask themselves what it means to be with this person, what feels “right,” what feels scary, and what feels pleasurable.
The impulse to immediately trust your gut can also come out of a hope about what your gut is saying or a fear of what it is telling you. Both point to there being something you simultaneously feel uncertain of, don’t know, and so badly want to know. It’s essential to look at these feelings: What is it you want your gut to be right about? What is it that you want? What is it that you have a funny feeling about? What do you fear or anticipate could happen that your gut is trying to tell you about and get you to pay attention to?
These questions are not easy to raise and answer alone. Therapy can provide an opportunity to both sit with the discomfort of these gut feelings, as well as go back and see when they may have been ignored or acted on too quickly in your past. Though often the idea of inviting someone into a gut health journey with so many feelings and unknown truths can feel scary, your gut is quite savvy and has much to teach you if you’re willing to get gutsy.