Trusting My Gut: Learning to Listen after Years of Being Controlled

Decisions: the thorn in my side.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with decisions. When I was about ten years old I went to stay with my favorite aunt for a week and she asked me what kind of eggs I wanted for breakfast. I had no idea. I stood there, paralyzed, and told her, “whatever you want!” She did not like my response. Having grown up as my mom’s little sister, she understood my inability to choose. I was not used to being asked what I wanted. During my childhood, there were few options, few chances for me to pick A versus B and for that to be okay. Oftentimes, I was chastised for doing something wrong when I didn’t know the rule to begin with. I did not feel comfortable without rules and clear direction. I asked my mom’s approval about every.little.thing. This trickled into my larger social network as I made one, and so I was easily influenced.

At one point in my childhood, there was a specific trauma that led me to block things out. My mother did not believe me when the truth originally came out, so I retracted it. I did not trust myself, or even my reality, at that time. I fell deep into a depressed, numb state for a while but eventually I came back to life.

Then, to simplify things a little and allow myself to function, I often operated in the ideal. What is the ideal this or that? I’ll aim for it. No need to think of whether or not it suits me or if it is authentic or if I’ve really thought it through. It was a simplistic and naive philosophy but it was my survival mentality. I needed things to be right, to be okay. I needed it yesterday.

But then things didn’t quite work out as planned… I learned that operating in the ideal is often an illusion. Sometimes my decisions for “the best” backfired. I became distraught and depressed when things did not work out well. I felt like maybe I should have asked my mom; after all, she claimed she was always right. If only I’d talked with her about everything I wouldn’t have made mistakes! But that wasn’t true, either. My mom made plenty of mistakes in regard to me that she never owned, which affected me greatly. Nobody gets it right all of the time.

So what now? I need to make decisions, all of the time, and there is no formula. There is no person who can tell me exactly what to do and get it right all of the time. Even if there was, I need to make decisions for myself so that I learn how. It’s been a slow process but I feel that I’ve made a lot of headway.

I started listening to a podcast called “The Next Right Thing” by Emily P. Freeman which was much more helpful than I expected it to be. One thing she mentioned was the idea of picking something you like, and seeing how it grows. It’s such a simple idea. What if I just tried that? I think I like this thing…for some reason it “fits”… okay then. Let’s go with that and see what happens. Worst case? I’ll learn. I’ll be able to live with it even if it’s not ideal. Maybe it’ll make me laugh, or cry, or learn a great lesson. I do not have to be absolutely certain about everything.

There was a time when the advice “trust your gut” just drove me nuts. Instincts? Did I even have them? I did not have a clear gut feeling about most things. I think that because of my trauma and history of blocking, my instincts and my ability to trust them were dulled. My mother’s desire for control over me did not help, either. I did not know which sandwich I liked. I did not know if that person was safe. I did not really know how to answer your question honestly.

Now I am learning that I do have instincts, and even though I cannot always tap into them, little by little it is getting easier. I’ve learned to start small and give myself as many opportunities to make small decisions as possible, to boost my confidence. I’ve also learned to give myself time when I need it. Many decisions are not as urgent as they seem to be. Oftentimes, it really can wait. Someone else (maybe an expert) might be able to help. A few days and a little self-care can do wonders. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or “tapping”) has sometimes helped me to clear the anxiety around making a tough choice. I’m learning to slow down and have compassion on myself and my process. Just the other day I heard of the term “unclear felt sense,” which describes an intuitive feeling that is unclear but worthy of being explored…
I believe these senses are windows into our souls — there is value in looking in.

Have you struggled with making your own decisions? Did trauma and/or manipulation play into this struggle?

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