Sometimes it seems like every hour of every single day I encounter someone who is not listening to their gut.
Why am I able to see this? Because as a psychologist and specialist in Childhood Emotional Neglect, I know exactly what “not listening to your gut” looks like.
Marybeth stood in the used car lot looking at the 3 cars she had test-driven. As she looked from one to the other, to the other, and then back again, the salesman was chattering in her ear: “Any of these cars will be perfect for you,” he was saying. “They’re all low mileage and rock-bottom price. Seriously, you cannot go wrong here.” Feeling confused and overwhelmed, Marybeth left without a car even though she desperately needed to buy one today.
Juan knew he needed to make a decision about his company’s offer to promote him and relocate him to a different state. He asked his best friend and brother for their opinions, and then called his father to see what he would say. They all expressed concern about how it would be for him to live far away from friends and family. Having nothing else to go on, he finally decided to refuse the offer and to stay in his current position. For the next 3 years, Juan wondered whether he had chosen wrong.
Just like Marybeth and Juan, the world is full of people who look for their answers in all the wrong places. People who think others know best. People who question and doubt their own ability to know. People who spend too much of their lives feeling overwhelmed and confused. People who ignore the most obvious place to find guidance, direction, and counsel.
People who do not consult their gut.
6 Signs That You Are Not Listening to Your Gut
- You are prone to overthinking
- You are frequently overwhelmed
- You tend toward self-doubt
- You do not know yourself
- Too often, you make decisions you regret.
- You feel somehow disconnected from yourself
Actually, the problem is not just a matter of listening to your gut, because to receive an answer, first, you must ask. For most people, this is an automatic process. Faced with a question or quandary, they tune in to their guts momentarily. They may spend some time there, connecting their brain with their belly, and processing, processing, processing. Then, just like a computer, out pops your best answer.
But if you grew up in a home that did not encourage you to pay attention to yourself and your feelings, most of which reside in your belly — think about it, it’s true — then you are at risk for missing out on the primary source of grounding and guidance that you have in your life.
How Childhood Emotional Neglect Came Between You & Your Gut
Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you.
Surprisingly enough, this seemingly small, usually invisible, often unmemorable childhood experience literally trains you to ignore your own gut.
Since your parents didn’t respond enough to your emotions as a child, it is only natural to continue to ignore your own feelings as an adult. You don’t even realize you’re doing it. You just do.
Most people don’t realize that our brains and our bellies are joined, and work in tandem in many important ways. Recent research has shown that we have in our stomachs the very same kinds of cells that transfer signals in our brains: neurons. In Science Magazine, 2018, Emily Underwood said, “The human gut is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells—it’s practically a brain unto itself.”
In fact, a study by neuroscientist Diego Bohórquez of Duke University (2010) found that the neurons in the brain and gut communicate very well and very rapidly with each other.
Since we feel many of our emotions in our gut when you ignore your feelings, you are ignoring the messages from your gut.
Likely, your gut is talking to your brain every single day. It’s trying to tell you what it knows, the decisions you should make, the directions you should go, and the things you should attend to. But what are you doing instead? You are busy asking other people, doubting yourself, and overthinking. You are missing this valuable information from your deepest, wisest self.
How to Reconnect With Your Gut
- Recognize your gut as a source of valuable information. Becoming aware of this part of your body and realizing it holds answers for you can get you on the right track.
- Make a conscious effort to consult it when you need guidance. Literally, tune into your gut and pay attention to the physical sensations you have there. They are feelings, and they will tell you much.
- Asking your gut and then listening are excellent ways to start. Then honor its message. “Honor” means to sit with it and take it seriously.
Marybeth stood in the used car lot, looking from one car to the other as Ernie the salesman chattered in her ear. With Ernie’s promises swirling in her head, she knew that she needed to make a decision. So she tuned out Ernie and focused her attention, pulling it all in the direction of her gut. “What should I do?” she asked it, and she felt things begin to happen. Facts, feelings, impressions, and experiences all collected and began crunching together in her belly until BING. Suddenly she just knew.
“I’ll take this one,” she said with confidence.
After asking the opinions of his brother, friend, and dad, Juan knew he must decide. Over the period of a week, he periodically checked in with whom he knew held the real answer: himself. As he thought about the pluses and minuses of moving away, he paid attention to what he felt in his gut. In doing so, he began to realize that he felt excited each time he thought about moving, and nervous but challenged each time he thought about the new job. When he thought about staying, he felt disappointed in himself, a little bored, and sad.
“It will be hard to leave my family and friends, but I must go,” he resolved.
Your gut is not infallible or invincible; it is not always guaranteed to be right. But since no human being is capable of that anyway, try not to get hung up on that.
Think of your gut as your best, truest, most authentic voice coming from within. It’s the place where your thoughts and knowledge combine with your feelings and impressions to produce your best answer.
The answer that takes you toward yourself instead of away, and into your feelings instead of out, both the exact opposite of the Emotional Neglect you learned as a child.
The answer that validates who you are and how you feel, and guides you to be your personal, authentic best.
Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, visit EmotionalNeglect.com. There you will find many free resources for understanding the importance of connecting with your feelings.