Up to recently I hadn’t realized I had inadvertently blinded myself by ignoring an important and vital innate internal warning system, often known as our gut instinct or intuition. Most of us are familiar with it as that funny feeling we get in the pit of our stomach when something seems off or wrong.
How I Missed Its Early Signals
Looking back at my most recent relationship with a serial cheater, I can see now how many times my intuition tried to alert me. It hinted I wasn’t getting all the facts, or worse yet was being lied to. Each time I felt a warning, I’d shake it off and tell myself I was being overly sensitive.
Shortly after my first date with my now ex-husband, he called and asked, “Are you still on dating sites?” His voice was low and soft, all intimate-like.
“I was thinking about dropping off of them.” I answered. My heart sped up in excitement and my cheek burned hot as a big smile spread across my face.
“I’d like that,” he said, with a seductive purr.
“Of course! Yeah, I’ll be happy to do that!” I said, feeling pleased.
Just then, a funny feeling deep in my gut urged me to ask if he was doing the same. I gave myself a mental shake and re-thought the wisdom of it, not wanting to appear insecure or anxious.
Later I discovered my ex had had no intention of being monogamous. Although he led me to believe we were in an exclusive relationship, he continued to date several other women.
I wished I could say that was the only alert I missed, but I recall another incident that occurred a short time later.
My ex had picked me up from the airport for a weekend visit when the call came in from a female colleague.
“Just a minute, I need to take this,” he said, as he put the call on speaker.
For the next several minutes, they proceeded to chat about the details of an upcoming renovation taking place at his office.
After hanging up, he looked over at me and said, “That was so-and-so, she’s been instrumental in helping my office make this big change. She’s great. A really nice lady.”
As I listened to his explanation it crossed my mind that maybe they had been more than colleagues. Thinking I was imagining things, I dismissed it as me being me and told myself not to be jealous of his outside relationships. Much later I would discover not only had they been intimate, but it was ongoing at the time of the call.
How do we know when someone is being sincere or just telling us what we want to hear? Emotional manipulation often starts off subtle. Unnoticeable. Even indistinguishable from the real thing. There are times when a person’s attempt to coerce us is obvious but there are instances when it’s nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.
Each of these incidents could have been exactly as they seemed, however, my gut instinct knew the differences.
What is Our Gut Instinct?
The gastrointestinal tract is a vast system with over a hundred million neurons, all necessary to aid in digestion. Although it is richly interconnected with the brain so that information is exchanged back and forth, it operates independently and is even equipped with its own reactions and reflexes.¹
Over thirty neurotransmitters are found in this system and play an important role in shaping our emotions and reactions. In fact, Emeran Mayer, professor of physiology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) is quoted as saying that “a big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut.”
The accuracy of our intuition is due to its ability to pick up on environmental and social cues. It then sends these as signals to three different locations in the central nervous system: the brainstem, the limbic system, and the prefrontal cortex. Each of these areas process the information differently.
Decision-Making Works Best with Our Whole Brain
Most of us like to rely on the logical analysis of the prefrontal cortex rather than older and deeper parts of our brain. However, it has been shown that our best decisions are derived when we allow our gut instinct and our analytical brain to work together.
I now know the importance of trusting this early internal alert system. Time and again it warned me that something wasn’t quite right. I felt an urging to ask more questions and to approach the relationship more cautiously. I could have avoided a lot of heartache if I had learned to trust in my instincts earlier.
Sure, there are other warning signs that alert us we are being emotionally manipulated, but the first is that familiar, funny, uneasy feeling we get in the pit of our stomach. If we fail to listen to it, we do so at our own risk.
¹ Gershon, Michael D. The Second Brain: the Scientific Basis of Gut Instinct and a Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.