Four weeks before her wedding, Amanda came to see me because she was having panic attacks. Despite all the excitement around the preparations, she claimed she couldn’t understand this panic she felt.
As we worked together, it became evident that Amanda was having doubts about marrying Barry. Barry represented security and stability. He had been very successful in the financial world, and with him, their future was assured. She could be the stay-at-home mom she wanted to be. Her parents also loved Barry, and she wanted to please her father. However, the more truthful she allowed herself to be, the more she admitted her worries about his flirtatiousness and partying spirit. She kept telling herself that once they got married and had kids, he would settle down. But even as her biological clock was ticking, the panic attacks seemed to be sending another message.
Amanda cancelled our third session and didn’t return. Five years later, she came to see me again. By then her twins were three years old. She had just found out that Barry had been having multiple affairs, even since before their wedding, and he was addicted to pornography.
I couldn’t help but ask myself if there was anything I could have done five years ago to help Amanda bear the pain of following her intuition. Perhaps bearing that pain then might have been easier than bearing the pain of betrayal today.
I am often asked, what is the difference between intuition versus feelings?
How do we know the difference? My answer: the question isn’t really how do we know the difference, but how do we honour the difference them – intuition versus feelings?
Amanda knew four weeks before her wedding that something wasn’t right. In a way, her panic attacks had been a gift, a sign that she was heading into trouble. But she was unable to listen. Often, our intuition can get clouded by feelings of fear. This fear is generated by catastrophic, critical and negative stories we tell ourselves in our head. Amanda’s inability to listen to her intuition came from her fear that she might end up being alone, that no one else might ever come along, that she would never find this kind of financial security, and that she would miss her chance to have kids.
Now she was faced with what we call the “two-choice dilemma”. Most people want to choose between feeling pain or no pain. Unfortunately, often we don’t have that option. We usually have to choose between feeling one pain or another, between challenging ourselves to do something scary or doing nothing and suffering the pain of the status quo. For example, we might be faced with the choice between the pain of being out of shape or the pain of cultivating the discipline to exercise and get fit.
In Amanda’s case, she either needed to feel the pain of facing the reality of her husband’s addiction, or to feel the pain of a lonely and emotionally distant marriage. There is no way out of the pain, but there is the possibility for growth.
The reason we don’t listen to our intuition is usually because we’re afraid-afraid of making a mistake, of losing what we really want, of disappointing others, or of experiencing conflict or humiliation. The fact is, following our intuition is challenging because it might not get us what we want or what we think we should have. But in the end, it will get us what is right for us. When we are so attached to having our own way, we lose the way of our inner wisdom. We can get stuck in relationships that become stale, boring and lonely.
Intuition is different from feeling. Intuition seems to be guided by another force in us, something that doesn’t always appear logical, rational or understandable. It’s what we often refer to as our ‘gut instinct’.
In our desperate race for approval, success and validation, we often overlook this gut reaction. Often, it’s only when we hit what I refer to as ‘the wall’ or what addicts refer to as ‘rock bottom’ that we become willing to listen too and follow ‘the road less travelled’.
Intuition is a feeling of knowing, a sense of certainty. For instance, you may sense that you know she or he is the one for you, even when seeing bumps ahead. If we tend to be more rational and logical in our thinking, we may be more inclined to dismiss our intuition if we can’t explain it. While making a list of pros and cons may help, it may not always result in the best decision. Even famous businessmen like Donald Trump and Richard Branson admit they rely more on their intuition than facts when making hiring decisions.
After many years of helping people with their struggles, I have come to believe that there are only two reasons we suffer in life. We either get caught up in distorted stories, which cause painful feelings, or we don’t listen to our intuition.
One question that comes up is, if we don’t follow our intuition, are we making the wrong choice? What I tell people is that there isn’t necessarily a ‘wrong’ choice, but there certainly is a ‘better’ choice. We know it’s better because when we follow our intuition life becomes easier, things fall into place and you feel more calm and secure inside.
Often people are afraid to follow their intuition, so they compensate by sidestepping the issues. For example, in marriage, when something isn’t quite right, couples often have another child, renovate their house or take a different job and move.
When we follow our intuition versus feelings –
When we live our life aligned with what we feel is true and right for us, we may more frequently experience deeper states of being, such as love, joy, compassion, happiness and peace. These again differ from feelings in that they are not dependent on any external circumstances but instead emanate from within us as part of our soul nature It’s the sense of wonder we feel when we see the snow-capped mountains on a clear day or the joy we feel when watching a beautiful sunset or a mother’s unconditional love for her child.
As for Amanda, eventually she gathered the courage to face her fears of being alone and risked the pain of confronting Barry. Within her two-choice dilemma, the prospect of being without Barry became more tolerable than the ongoing loneliness of her marriage. No longer did she want to betray herself and ignore her intuition. Their marriage remains a work in progress.
Written by: Claire Maisonneuve, M.A.
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Director of the Alpine Counselling Clinic