The Power of Instinct

“There are receptors to these molecules in your immune system, in your gut and in your heart. So when you say, ‘I have a gut feeling’ or ‘my heart is sad’ or ‘I am bursting with joy,’ you’re not speaking metaphorically. You’re speaking literally.” – Deepak Chopra

The body holds strong messages for us and the gut, in particular, houses our emotions. It could not be more evident that this is exactly the case as when a stomach growls and churns in the midst of sharing the deepest and most difficult stories in group.  There is also the feeling of getting butterfly’s in the stomach when love is in the air.  Or, we have all heard the story of how our gut is telling us not to get in the car or take the next turn.  Fear, sadness, and joy can be very vocal in these moments if we stop to listen and trust our gut on what it is trying to say.  When there has been significant trauma in one’s life relying on this instinctual response and having trust in our own body can become confused, unsafe, and muted.

At the Refuge, we help client’s regain the ability and desire to trust the gut and body again. When there are multiple instances in the past when the body or mind has been directed to move away from instinct, it becomes a challenge to understand this again for what it is and how it may be trying to help.  When I was a small child my father almost died in a freak accident.  This instilled a fear in me around his mortality that lasted my entire lifetime.  So every time my dad ended up in the hospital or doctor’s office for a small routine procedure, elective surgery, or even a simple test of some sort, my gut started firing off signals.  My gut was just trying to tell me that I was afraid, but for the longest time I went back to my fear as if I was again a small child.  My 2 year old self experienced my gut response as being “the end” for my father every single time.  This example lends to the power that the gut can hold and how our gut can be misperceived or misunderstood in light of trauma.

Today, I understand my gut and my childhood trauma for what it is, a connection from my head to my emotional center or soul. There is a nerve and many neurotransmitters which connect the brain to the heart, gut, and emotional soul of being.  When the brain is responding as if the trauma is still taking place the emotional center is firing its warning but nothing is really taking place.  Over time, with unresolved trauma continuing to manifest, even when the gut is speaking it can be ignored and hence, subsequent traumas take place.  I have found in multiple cases that, due to trauma, an individual stopped trusting their gut and went against it which led to another sexual assault or abusive relationship.

So how can we begin to build or re-build trust and understanding of this very strong emotional center? First, start with connecting again to emotions, as this is the basis of trauma resolution and healing.  So many individuals come into treatment stuck, frozen, and numb to self and the world.  Some take longer to “defrost” than others but it does take place as they hear other’s pain and go underneath the surface of their own story.  Once emotions begin to flow again, we can begin to listen to what the body is saying and honor this by speaking for it.  Receiving validation from staff and peers that what is being felt is just, right, and to be cherished.  Empowerment around emotional health and wellness are pivotal in building up trust and faith in self again.  Once trust in this is again established as something to at least be considered in the future as having value we can begin to make decisions based on all pieces and parts of self.  We should all take notice of how many times we have heard “I should have trusted my gut”.  I leave you pondering the question, What will you listen to the next time; the head, the heart, the gut, or all three?