Learning To Trust Your Women's Intuition

06/06/2016 06:32 am ET Updated Jun 07, 2017

If I had a dollar for every time I was told I was being too emotional, that I needed to lead with my head and not my heart, well, let's just say that my Starbucks habit would be fully funded. It's taken me years to recognize that what I was often criticized for -- in relationships, at work, in my academic studies -- was actually one of my greatest strengths: my inner voice, my gut instinct, my intuition.

Intuition is defined by researchers as our brain's ability to draw on internal and external cues in making rapid, in-the-moment decisions -- an important skill, particularly in high stress situations. Often occurring outside of our conscious awareness, intuition relies on our brain's ability to instantaneously evaluate both internal and external cues, and make a decision based on what appears to be pure instinct. When people make decisions based on their intuition, they often have difficulty explaining why they did what they did. They just knew what to do, as if a voice was telling them to do something, and they heeded its call.

Women are commonly believed to have stronger intuition than men (which is why we call it women's intuition, and not men's intuition), but this inclination is often undervalued in our logic-based society. As women, we are taught at an early age to ignore our intuition, and trust in the wisdom of others instead. We're also likely to be criticized for being too sensitive, too emotional, too dramatic, and too illogical when we're operating off of our intuition. This constant barrage of criticism can cloud our judgment and make us doubt ourselves, and our instincts.

Because I became tired of doubting my intuition, and of never knowing quite how to respond when accused of being "too emotional," and because I'm a researcher by profession, I decided to do some digging to learn more about the nature of intuition, including whether it was a real thing (it is), and whether women have it more (they do). What I found shouldn't have surprised me (it did), because it was all very consistent with my inner voice, my gut instinct, my intuition.

Basically, researchers have found that although both men and women have the capacity for intuition, women have stronger intuition because our brains are hardwired for it. For instance, one study I found used MRI scans to compare male and female brain connectivity and discovered that the typical male brain is neurologically wired to be more logical, and thus is more effective at linking perception with action.

The female brain, on the other hand, has more neural connections and is more efficient, which makes women better at interpreting social phenomena, including social cues. In other words, men are hardwired to be more logical and women are hardwired to be more intuitive. Men also have higher spatial intelligence and women are better at big picture thinking (also, for what it's worth, men really are better at reading maps, but women are better at multitasking).

Perhaps this is why for years, intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, have known that women make better spies because their heightened intuition allows them to recognize personal and social patterns that are not as visible to men. Female spies are often lauded for having an "extra antenna," for having better people skills, for being better at reading body language and for more easily picking up on social cues.

Women are every bit as capable of logical reasoning as men, and men are capable of having good intuition. But male and female brains are wired differently, and that is not a bad thing. What is bad though is that for years women's natural inclinations have been consistently devalued by society, favoring instead a more logical (i.e., more male) approach to decision-making. We've been taught from an early age that intuition is a weaker form of reasoning than its 'more reliable' cousin, logic. And as a result, women tend to undervalue their natural inclinations--their more intuitive natures, their emotional intelligence, and their more holistic approach to problem-solving.

I used to flounder about whenever my inner being sensed that something was amiss in my world and sent out a message that I could not decipher. Was it unfounded fear I was experiencing? Anxiety? Perhaps personal bias, or wishful thinking? I often had no idea. When my heart sent me in one direction, and my brain in another, I panicked and allowed self-doubt to flood my senses. When I had a strong sense of something, a thing I just knew, and someone accused me of being too emotional, I cringed with embarrassment, willing myself to be more logical and less passionate in my thinking. Call a woman too emotional, and you'll likely silence her immediately.

Years ago, I shared my plight with a therapist I was seeing. I wanted to work on being less emotional and more logical in my thinking. I wanted to silence my inner voice, the one I was so certain I could not trust because far too often, its tuggings made no sense to me. But my therapist cautioned against it, telling me that our bodies often discerned truth a few weeks ahead of our brains. Sometimes our intuition causes us to act quickly, she shared, and other times we needed to be patient and let our intuition slowly guide us through choppy waters.

But I didn't like having feelings of unknown origins, I told her. I couldn't stand the uncertainty of not knowing what the feeling in my heart was trying to tell me. I was impatient for its message, leading me to sometimes jump to incorrect conclusions, which supported the (incorrect) notion that I was too emotional and my instincts could not be trusted. Picture someone thrashing about in water, on the verge of drowning. That was me when my instincts were in high gear, and I didn't trust or understand what the voice was trying to tell me.

Fast forward a few decades, and at 55 I've finally learned to trust my inner voice, learning how to integrate my intuition with my logical reasoning -- heart and brain working in synchronicity. And now, rather than thrashing about when I'm in choppy water, I roll onto my back and float, trusting that my intuition will carry me down the river to the place I'm intended to go.

I am proud of my intuition now, and of my ability to pick up on social cues. And even though I know my intuition is not full-proof, and at times I may need to subject it to the scrutiny of my more logical side, I will never again be silenced when someone tells me I am being too emotional. I am emotional. I bring emotion into my personal relationships and my work, every single day. Being emotional is what allows me to read people, to empathize with them, to see the world through numerous prisms, and that makes me more effective in everything I do-that makes me more me.

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