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  • Fe Robinson

Coming to trust your intuition by understanding your nervous system

Learning to listen to your intuitive wisdom is an important skill that can help you to make good, congruent decisions in your life. When I encourage clients to listen to their bodies and their intuition, they often ask me how it is they are to tell the difference between reactions that come out of strong emotions, and the responses that their calm, grounded selves might enable. It’s an excellent question!

I happened across a lovely exercise that addresses just this in Deb Dana’s book Anchored. The book is about how you can practically come to know your experience of your own nervous system. She educates the reader about their social engagement state (ventral vagal), their activated fight/flight state (sympathetic arousal, and their shut down (dorsal vagal) states.

Dana encourages you to find within your own bodymind your experience of these three states - calm, activated, shut down. If you know when you are getting activated and into the high alert that will have you on the defensive, you can act early to soothe and calm yourself back into that lovely state where you are able to openly engage here and now. If you know the very first signs of activation becoming too much and you tipping into a shut down state, you can act to help yourself return to activation and to calm. If you know what it feels like to be calm and relaxed, you can so much more easily identify when this happens and help yourself have more of it.

So, back to trusting your system. The exercise I liked was this:

  1. Explore different qualities of saying no. How do you say no when you are in fight/flight mode? What are the qualities of saying no when you are shut down? What is your experience of saying no when you are anchored in good regulation and you are setting a boundary from a state of safety?

  2. Bring to mind something you are unsure of. How does ambivalence show up for you? What is it like to not be sure when you are activated? You might find fear and anxiety, and an inability to make a decision. And when you are shut down? Perhaps hopelessness, lack of energy, lack of being able to decide? How about when you are open and relaxed? In this state are you open to possibilities?

  3. Lastly, explore your yeses. What is it like when you are acquiescing to a demand and you have no choice? How is it if you are despairing and have no energy to care? How is it when you are regulated and you feel at choice? For each really explore and discover your physical experience of it as well as your emotional one.

Being clear about what signals your body gives you that you can pick up on and respond to will help you to tell the difference between grounded intuition and wisdom that you want to pay attention to, and distress signals that you want to listen to and respond to, but not to act from. These distinctions matter, and it is only by coming to know your own bodymind that you can make them.

If this kind of exploration is new to you, a good place to start is to find ways to be curious about your own physical, emotional and mental experience. You might do this with mindful activity, with meditation, or through therapy. What will work best for you?


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