How Intuitive People Get Stuck – And 5 Ways to Kick Ass at Supporting Them
Imagine that your wonderfully flowy girlfriend, sister, or woman you care about, is struggling to make a decision about quitting her job or not.
(In reality, this story could be about anyone – man, woman, or part of you! But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll choose one person.)
Steph drives up to you after work, beaming, and says “I’m convinced – I’m going to do it!”
You congratulate her and ask why, and she starts talking about how good it feels to leave and explore something new.
But later that night she is crying in bed, feeling terrible. When you ask her what’s wrong, she says that leaving her job just doesn’t feel right anymore.
Doesn’t feel right?
It’s a job, not a puppy. You think.
Why does she keep trying to make this decision based on feelings when there are so many other rational ways to decide?
But you love her and you hate seeing her upset, so you try to help.
“Have you looked at the market? Compared salary and benefits of other offers? Factored in commute time or asked about office community?” You ask her.
You even offer to help her start googling this information. Surely this will help!
But then all of the sudden she’s angry at you!
She throws up her hands and curls in deeper to her pillows. “Stop pressuring me!” She cries.
You are baffled. What is she talking about?
But you don’t know what else to do without making things worse.
So you tell her sorry and that you’ll let her decide on her own.
At that she grunts and throws up her hands in exhaustion. She is so frustrated and shut down that you can’t get a word from her anymore.
Somehow, you still made it worse.
This is the most confusing thing in the world.
You love her and you want to help, but what’s going on inside her head is like a foreign language to you!
You need a translator.
And luckily, you’ve found one.
This post is going to break down what’s going on in both of your brains and bodies as you make a big decision, so that you know exactly how to help each other through your next struggle and leave feeling fulfilled and grateful.
First, you need to understand all 3 ways that we humans make decisions.
Reason is the type of decision making process we most associate with the brain, but really we’re referring to the prefrontal cortex. “Often called the executive control center, these lobes deal with planning and thinking. They comprise the rational and executive control center of the brain, monitoring higher-order thinking, directing problem solving, and regulating the excesses of the emotional system” (Sousa). More generally, reason is the linear logic of philosophy and math. If a > b, and b > c, then a > c. Aka, premise + premise + premise = conclusion.
In the case of our lovely lady (let’s call her Steph) considering quitting her job, her reason brain might sound like: My hours are too long + my work is unappreciated + my coworkers are mean = I hate my job. If I hate my job, I should quit. Therefore, I should quit. End of story.
Emotions are responses in your body to external stimuli, or responses to your interpretation to those stimuli. Naturally, as external situations or internal dialogue changes, the emotion being produced changes too. Emotions are literally chemicals produced by the amygdala and other brain parts that connect with your cells to make you feel a certain way. They have been guides for a huge part of our evolution to help us not die.
For Steph, her emotional world might look like this: She walks into the office and opens up her email only to see her inbox full of impossible assignments and insane deadlines, again. Suddenly, she is filled with anger and storms into the break room to get a coffee before she can start. Later that day, the intern drops off a letter. “You changed my life – thank you so much!” one of her clients says in a thank you note. She swells with joy and gratitude, only a moment later to be filled with tears at the thought of leaving these sweet clients behind. She knows in this moment that they make it all worth it. On her way home that evening, Steph is again considering quitting as she walks past a homeless man on the street. She is gripped by fear – what if she cant find a new job?! What if she loses everything!? She feels freedom driving home with her arm out the window, and decides she wants to feel that way all the time– so she’s going to quit and finally be free and happy!
As she’s thinking about it that night, her mind recalls all these memories and everything that goes with them. She feels anger, joy, sadness, fear all at once – and a voice from every feeling telling her to do something different. She tries to focus in on one, but which one is most important?
If you find yourself saying
“Why would anyone ever make a decision based on emotions?”
You’re not alone.
But know that what makes your incredible woman different from you in spectacular ways is that she might read this post and think,
“That sounds like me, but I could never ignore my emotions and just use plain logic – I would feel dead!”
And, that’s why I want to tell you about the most important secret...
When she's trying to make a decision based on her emotions, she actually wants to tap into her deeply wise intuition, and might be stuck.
Intuition, in my definition (as people have many) is a deep inner knowing that exceeds reason and emotion, and instead comes from being connected to the universe in ways larger than yourself. It may come from lots of input – reason plus emotions plus millions of subconscious micro data points the body has been collecting through its other senses. But sometimes it just seems to “know” things you can’t. Intuition doesn’t arise from emotion, but rather from a place of “emptiness” that lives deeper than shifting emotions. There may be any number of emotions that arise from intuition, but the thing that does accompany it is a clear sense of truth – that it’s the right thing.
Practically, all this extra information processing might be happening in a system in your gut known as your enteric nervous system. It’s often called the body’s “second brain” because of its mass of neurons (the same cells that create our brain network), and ability to act without input from the brain. In fact, we’re seeing that the gut sends 9 times more information to the brain than the brain sends to the gut. The gut also houses More than 90% of the body's serotonin, as well as about 50% of the body's dopamine – very important chemicals in our emotional regulation. And it might be coming from some amount of quantum connection that we don’t fully understand yet, but somehow our ancient meditating communities knew.
Intuition is when Steph walks across the alley to her car, and today her hairs stand on end and she has a strange pit in her stomach. She decides to take the longer route around and remains safe. The next day, she feels fine walking through the alley again. It’s pretty old, evolutionarily, and is great to trust to keep us out of danger.
But Intuition is also when, on another day, Steph has an impulse, a compulsion almost, telling her to take the bus today, for no reason that she can think of. She feels fear, excitement, resistance, sadness, all cycle through, and yet still this random compulsion. So Steph decides “who cares” and takes the bus. While she’s standing at the bus stop, the person next to her strikes up a conversation and before you know it, she finds out that he works for a hiring agency in her field and knows of some great work opportunities she would be perfect for.
Moments like this that seem too incredible to be true, where random pieces fall into place perfectly, like clockwork, are called synchronicity, and they are a result of listening to intuition.
Synchronicity happens every single day inside your own body as 4 billion transactions occur smoothly between your cells to help you do everything you do, without you thinking about it. These cells aren’t making “logical” decisions about which area of the body they should dump this random protein. They just do it – in my opinion – through intuition on a smaller scale – they are connected to the larger whole of your organism, and sourcing direction from that.
Next you need to understand The biggest block intuitive people can have that keeps them stuck.
Your gut-brain mistakes emotions for intuition, and then gets confused when they change.
Often times, our “intuition brain” clings too much to these changing and passing emotions, which can feel very similar to the gut’s intuitive language. We mistake our emotions for our intuition but each emotion actually blocks the channel a little bit, like different colored lenses, so the intuition we think we’re hearing is actually biased or colored instead of clear. Then when our emotions change, the colored lens changes, and it feels like our intuition, which is supposed to be tried and true, is flip flopping! We start seriously doubting ourselves or our ability to hear. SO HOW DO WE SEPARATE THEM and HOW CAN YOU HELP?
We lovely emotional creatures must FEEL the emotions first, in order to eventually get to emptiness where intuition can shine.
This means, let them run like you’ve turned on a hose. It might feel scary like they will never end, but they do. After they aren’t so in-your-face, you can do a little inquiry into her situation. For her, a sense of being empty is important. Sometimes in an emotional state, she can meditate straight away into the emptiness place. But she needs this emptiness in order to listen to the truth coming through her body. And she will get to the wisdom of her center by feeling through her emotions.
Emptiness is not the same as being numb.
Rather, it’s the calm after the storm of feeling through them entirely. Emptiness is the peaceful state that is always present underneath her changing daily reactions. But if we try to force her there while ignoring emotions that are in fact there, we’re only tricking ourselves. Her beautiful emotions will always color her intuitions. It’s when we pretend we don’t have an emotion that we are unable to identify it’s bias, or colored lens, and it will confuse us. But if we can see the lens for what it is, then our intuition can speak its truth more clearly again.
How to help her feel her emotions without getting stuck:
Encourage them to feel the emotions first. This is clearing the way for their ACTUAL answer, rooted in emptiness. If you begin judging or being scared of their emotions or they scare or judge themselves, the colored lens will stay stuck. Just breathe with them, don’t take any of their emotions personally, even if they seem to be aimed at you, and let them know you support them. Don’t get attached to their emotions, their outbursts, their tears. Instead practice being excited and curious for what they will find through it all. It’s that simple. Let them know you will be with them through the expressing storm of their emotions.
VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t worry about interpreting their answers into logic-brain. Instead, let yourself love them as they are and be curious about how they feel. Once they feel that you truly care and don’t judge their emotions, the emotions will move quickly to reveal space for problem solving together.
1. Separate the emotion from the situation.
Help her feel the actual emotion as it lives in her body, not the story of what it means to either of you based on the situation. The entire realm of Steph’s job dilemma lives outside of her. The entire realm of her emotional responses live inside. And likely, it’s not just this one situation that her brain and body are using to create this emotion.
Ask her questions like "How does this feel in your body? In your belly? In your hands?"
If she drifts into telling stories about the situation, gently help her to bring awareness back into her body again, into the present moment. Even as she feels more deeply, she is less controlled by her emotions' powerful whims.
2. Get her moving.
One of the biggest common threads for all emotions is some sort of body movement or response. Literally moving her body speeds up the cell transactions happening so the chemicals can clear faster. But this does not mean ignoring the feeling by moving. Rather, let her feel the emotion while moving! Run, jump, dance, shake, spin, stomp, push against a wall… (The life-changing way I’ve discovered for myself to keep moving through emotions is with 5 Rhythms dance.)
Ask “How do you want to keep feeling or expressing?”
Be willing to go for a run with her, hold your hands up for her to punch, etc. Your willingness to be here with her through her emotions without being afraid will encourage her of your strength as well as her own to move through them.
3. Let her make sounds.
Again, a bodily response is key. If it’s anger, find a way for her to yell. If it’s sadness, let her cry. If she feels joy, let her laugh! If she feels fear, let her scream. These don’t have to be AT you. And in fact, they're not, even if they feel like they are. They are simply ways to transmute the chemical energy of emotion in her body into a form that can be expressed out so it doesn't clog her anymore.
If she's having trouble expressing one of her emotions (this often shows up with anger), hold her hand tightly and yell with her.
Show her she doesn't have to be alone and that she will still be loved and appreciated by you if she shows it.
4. Create something or take action.
Art, writing, doing work, calling a friend, going for a walk, getting something done on a to-do list can all mobilize her in similar ways of exercise. If she's someone who tends to slow way down and get sulky under the feeling of too much emotional weight, then it's important to do SOMETHING. It can be very small. But if she feels her emotion while acting, she will begin retraining her brain that emotions don’t need to keep her stuck. Of course, don't suggest this one until she's had some space to feel.
An action you can always help her take: tickle her so she laughs! (note - Do try to read the situation to see if it's a fit, or if she will throw a fit! the good news is, if she gets really mad, you're probably unlocking an emotion she needs to feel anyways. Support her there.)
5. Slow down.
On the other hand, if she is someone who tends to keep running, running, running and prefers to do 100 things on her list and then write a new one, she may be using action as a way of avoidance. If you can give her even 5 minutes to sit still, breathe deeply, and feel her emotion without needing to do anything, she will begin to retrain herself to not be so afraid of these emotions. Once she's not running from them, but rather working with them, the actions she does take will be ten times more productive and aligned.
Once they’ve cried, yelled, run, danced, punched, or whatever they’ve done, and they seem calm or “empty” in a good way, ask “When you sit still and listen deeply, what do you know?”
Emotions are NOT the enemy, and they are not the end all be all, either.
The more practiced you are in allowing all her sensations, the easy ones and the painful ones, the stronger your ability is to help her feel into the senses of her intuition brain, beyond and deeper than emotion, where her true clarity lies.
Both reason and intuition are valuable tools for our survival and thriving, and even if we tend closer to one side of the spectrum, having people in our lives who make decisions differently can be very rewarding and a great teaching experience. I hope this post helps you to be less annoyed next time someone is trying to make a decision very differently than you would. And rather than convincing them of how to do it your way, you’re able to support their process in making a super clear, rational, healthy decision, their way!