The Difference Between Fear and Intuition


Have you ever been in the butterflies-in-your-stomach early phase of a new, emerging love? If so, then you can relate to my dear friend, who asked me for advice this week. She’s just beginning a new relationship and as love blossoms, she’s unsure of where it’s heading.

When I heard the questions on my friend’s mind, I wondered, is she tapping in to her intuition—a foreshadowing of disappointments to come? Or is she simply experiencing the mental feedback loop of fear? I realized my friend’s questions about her love life actually tap into a much broader question that applies to all facets of life (my friend’s and everyone else’s)…

How do I tell the difference between fear and intuition?

Fear and intuition are the gifts that allow us to navigate life. Like our internal GPS, they help us steer through the often murky journey of endless decisions we make each day. But they do it in different ways. Intuition can tell us “yes” or “no,” but fear only ever says “no.”

Intuition exists solely in the present moment, about the present moment. It is a quick flash from our subconscious mind which, if unrecognized or drowned out by logic or fear, can fade away as quickly as it came. It is sometimes strong, but more often gentle. It usually presents itself as a physical sensation (a “gut” feeling), vision or image, before words or concrete facts come into focus. It feels sure—until you doubt it (and that may be within a matter of seconds).

It’s easy to confuse fear for intuition because it can also come on quickly, be experienced physically, and feel sure. But there are some major differences. Fear isn’t subtle. It’s usually relentless, painful, cruel, repetitive, and full of details. Fear proves its point by referencing the past and projects a lot of its focus into the future. Fear feels bad, uncomfortable, and since it activates the brain’s amygdala, it stimulates the fight, flight, or freeze response.

Fear is important; it’s designed to keep us safe. But for most of us, our fear is on overdrive—overriding our intuition and exaggerating the threat of danger. That’s okay, as long as you recognize it when that’s happening. The real problem is when we mistake our fear for intuition and then let it run the show. When fear leads, the journey continues, but the ride is bumpier and scarier.

So, how do you encourage that gentle, knowing wisdom of intuition to push past the clamoring, overeager desperation of fear? You get yourself into the receptive zone. You calm your amygdala physically with breath and exercise and sleep and healthy food and laughter and baths and friends and meditation and yoga and inspiration. You do the things that are unique to you that make you feel alive, beautiful, powerful, strong, wise, and safe. Maybe you write or dance or call one of your sisters.

Sometimes you have to peel away several layers of stress until you ease yourself into a receptive state. And then you ask again, when you’re feeling still inside. You ask for intuition to guide you. Fear may show right back up again, jockeying for its position in your mind. But you’ll be centered, and better poised to tell the difference.

2 thoughts on “The Difference Between Fear and Intuition

    1. Hi Deborah – I’ll take inspiration and wisdom from wherever I can find it! But no, it’s not specifically based on one source. Thanks for being curious!

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