Why it’s really better to be safe than sorry

Gut feeling. An unavoidable term, used when we can’t explain a certain crucial feeling or warning trying to tell us what decision we should make. Our gut feelings protect us from immediate danger. They are our mammalian instincts and frequently we discount them in favor of our logic and societal norms. For logical, clear minded adults, the question then arises of when we should act according to our instincts, and when we should override them.

In certain cases when these feelings arise, it might not always lead us to the desired outcome of our decision. We need specific training to be able to use it properly. In fact, if we rely too much on our gut feeling, this might hinder us from making the right decision. But this is not always the case. Certain disastrous incidents in our society have shown us that when your gut tingles, it is very important to pay attention.

Take for example in 2017, in the Netherlands, where the life of a young woman came to a brutal end when she was sexually abused and murdered.

This case received a lot of attention in the Netherlands since this was an evident case of the law system failing to protect society from perpetrators with major psychiatric disorders. After research, it became clear that there were signals of the perpetrator being a risk, but signals were ignored by professionals, or not thoughtfully considered as an indicator that the perpetrator was a permanent risk to society. Case 2017

One cannot deny that once confronted with people who are a high risk to public safety, the existence of our gut appears at the surface as well. And although the law system exists to prevent decision making based on subjective feelings versus evidence based arguments, danger is a signal which should never be ignored.

Because that is what your gut feeling is telling you: to act immediately in order to prevent a worse scenario. That is the science behind the gut feeling. Despite its being error prone with potential to lead us astray, we have the ability to train ourselves to use this method properly. When we overlook its function, we are missing its true meaning.

Learning to train ourselves when to use it and when not can truly help in crucial and dangerous situations.

In our daily life psychology teaches us that we must be able to learn to make a difference between a hunch and a gut feeling.

Some interesting similarities between gut feelings and hunches are:

● Hunches and Gut Feelings are both outputs of intuitive processing.

● They stream into our consciousness along with other processing outputs, and only trained individuals can differentiate between the signal versus noise.

● They both require significant training to lead us to accurate results. Source: “The Power of Gut Instincts.” Source: “The Power of Gut Instincts.”

While crucial differences between gut feelings and hunches focus on:

● Gut Feelings are special purpose output processes, and their primary function is to activate fear/anxiety related contexts to protect us from immediate danger in our surrounding. Mis-managed gut feelings can lead to free floating anxiety and panic attacks.

● Hunches are responsible for output processing of intuitive insights, intuitive foresight, and intuitive hindsight; however, gut feelings are survival mechanism related data streams. Source: ‘The Power of Gut Instincts’.

Personal experiences

I’ve experienced exactly the following:

When I had a side job as a store assistant, there were always some customers stopping by who would give me this strange and nagging feeling to stay alert. In other words; they were thieves or under influence of alcohol, drugs or even had psychiatric disorders. But this couldn’t always be immediately seen or recognized.

I can remember this one time when a young guy came into the store. He simply started greeting “Good afternoon” in Italian, but immediately my whole stomach became nervous. I can even remember thinking that if this guy would hit me or do something to me, would my colleague even notice? My colleague was at the moment in our office upstairs.

Something with the greetings of this guy didn’t feel right, but being strict on myself to not judge without knowledge and knowing that my colleague is there, I gave him an honest chance. But the closer he got to me while I was advising him on some products, the more I felt: “This not right.” I stayed as much in the front of the store as possible, just in case I would want to run away or something.

At the counter he asked for a glass of water. Eventually this was an act to distract me. I pressed the call bell to alert the office that I needed assistance. When my colleague came downstairs and I asked her to bring a glass of water for this young man.

I was very glad that I stayed alert and did not leave the store room.

After a few minutes, when the guy had left our store, one of our neighbours came in, warning that this guy is a thief and suffering from real psychoses. The next time he came to the store, we should immediately call the police.

My gut feeling was right from the very first second and it’s because I didn’t doubt it that nothing untoward happened.

An example of a hunch: While I was in the middle of reorganization I feared that I would get replaced and if I wouldn’t cooperate, I might lose my job. I made all kind of assumptions (which by the way none of them have become reality so far). Despite it being a very stressful situation and even if these assumptions would become true, they would not threaten my life immediately. I would not get killed, or robbed.

We can conclude that both gut feelings and hunches “provide a wider and multi-dimensional view of our environment and relationships”.

Two crucial questions

Science teaches us that if we rely too much on our gut feeling, we will not be able to make the right decisions. However, in cases where you feel threatened immediately, we should first start to ask ourselves what scenario would we prevent by do listening to our gut feeling. Being trained on listening to your gut feeling comes probably with life and human behaviour experience, but when danger arises we don’t have all the time to measure this accordingly.

The two first crucial questions I ask myself in those situations:

  • What scenario would I prevent by taking immediate action?
  • What action can I take accordingly, and in case my gut feeling wasmisplaced, to reduce the negative outcome of my decision?

Listening to our gut feeling, whether you are a professional working with potential dangerous people in a clinic, or a simple citizen taking a walk outside and coming across people whom you can’t trust, learning to use this method applies to all of us.

Being able to do so has truly helped me to escape from dangerous situations.

From here, learning from the worst scenarios through life experiences and incidents in our society, I believe we should not ignore danger signals at all.

In a society with so many existing problems, it’s really better to be safe than sorry.

There’s a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.”

Have you experienced a situation where your gut feeling helped protect you from immediate danger? I would love to read your experiences in the comment section below.

This article originally appeared in Personal Growth.