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Trust your instincts

Listen to your gut

Have you ever entered an empty house and just known you were not alone? I have.

It happened about ten years ago when I was hunting for investment properties in Dayton. I had gone to school to get my real estate license so I’d have access to the MLS and could save on half the commission for anything we bought.

So, I was alone at a small house on an appointment I’d set up with the owner, who assured me the place would be empty. But the minute I opened the door, I felt like someone was there.

I have no idea why. All was quiet. I saw no movement. No one had answered the doorbell or come running when I opened the door and announced my presence. Still, the feeling lingered.

A minute later I got the scare of my life when a large bird squawked from his cage under a sheet. “Oh, that was it. I was sensing the bird.” Still, the feeling lingered.

I went through the messy little house inspecting the overstuffed living room, cluttered dining room with a table too big for its eat-in area, and the first bedroom and bathroom.

When I opened the last bedroom door and stepped inside, a young woman sat up in bed with a sharp intake of breath. Oh my God! I must have scared the living hell out of her, but my own heart was racing too as I shut the door, quickly yelled out why I was there, and left the house.

I’ve always wondered how I knew someone was there. I’m still not sure, but now I have some ideas.

I’m reading a book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker—which I highly recommend, especially for women and girls, and writers who want to better understand violent behavior and victim’s reactions—and while he talks about recognizing behavioral signals of those who would do you harm, or situations where you might be in danger, his main message is: Trust your instincts!

We often discount that gut feeling or intuition—especially men, apparently—because we think it’s not grounded in logic. How can it possibly be accurate in a modern world?

But De Becker argues that our unconscious brain processes things we consciously miss, and does so much faster than we can if we stop to think something through.

He uses the example of driving on the freeway. Don’t you sometimes just know that guy’s going to change lanes before he does it, even though his blinker isn’t on? Do you feel silly about it? No, because it happens frequently enough that you've learned to trust it. It's part of your driving skill set.

But whether driving or predicting the presence of a person in what's supposed to be an empty house, you're using the same mechanism.

As a teen I became convinced a car was following me based on nothing more than a quick change into my left turn lane. Ridiculous. Lots of people lived down that way. But when the men in the car stayed back at the stop sign I got scared. Were they watching to see where I went?

I turned onto my street, but decided to go to the end and turn around to see if they’d followed. After a minute, when no one showed, I chastised myself for being silly and pulled into my driveway.

Seconds later as I was getting out of my truck, the car turned down my road and passed slowly by my house, both men staring at me.

Thankfully, nothing ever came of it, and I suppose they could have been lost—there’s that rationalization again—but it was a good lesson in listening to my gut.

When De Becker interviews victims of an attack, they often ask him how they could have seen it coming, or why they were leery of a particular person, even if they ultimately didn’t act on their feelings.

He turns it around and asks them. When they recite the story of what happened, details often show up that are insignificant to the storyteller, but are often the key.

As I look back at the story I just told you above, it occurs to me that the bird cage being covered during the day when everyone was gone didn't make sense (maybe). Why care if the bird makes noise if no one is home?

Additionally, the girl’s bedroom door was closed. And who knows what else my subconscious caught that I no longer remember, or never explicitly noticed. Was there an extra car in the driveway? Was there a scent present that I couldn’t consciously identify? Did I see blinds closed when I pulled up?

Whatever the elements were, my instincts got it right even when there was no logical reason to believe anyone was home.

That’s powerful stuff. Don't ignore it.

Photo credit: UNSURE © Sandy Matzen |

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  1. Reply

    Gwen, that was a great read! That’s what I love about writers. They sure know how to tell a story! 🙂

    I will get De Becker’s book. This kind of stuff fascinates me. If you haven’t read it yet, pick up Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Blink. He digs deep into the amazing concept that we call gut instinct, or intuition and highlights the science behind it.

    Great post!

  2. Jen


    You are absolutely right about trusting your instincts. There have been several occasions where I regretted not trusting them. My husband has learned to trust my “female intuition” when something just doesn’t “feel” right. Southern women tend to get “feelings” about things. 😀

    I need to pick up this book. It sounds like a great read. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Jen. I’m glad to hear your husband trusts your “feelings”. De Becker mentions how a lot of the men in our lives think our intuition is silly, but they don’t face the same type of threats we do on a daily basis.

  3. Curtis


    Gwen, I second Ara’s motion. A great read.

    Personally, I lean toward my male ego as culprit more so than logic. I can handle it, make it work, make it happen, etc. etc, ad nauseam right?

    Yeah, even when my sixth sense told me otherwise I bulled my way on. The tuition for learning how to listen to the nudge is an expensive one. But, I did learn.

    And, I married a Georgia peach. She will be the first to know if E.T. has landed. 🙂 Meaning, if Norma isn’t good with whatever or
    whoever, I’m out.

    • Reply

      Thanks, Curtis! Studying the craft of fiction writing has definitely impacted my blog–and likely other writing–as well. At the very least, I find myself pondering the opening lines. While they might not be the best hook, my first thought was to open with: “A few years ago, I got my real estate license…” *snore* 😉

      As far as intuition (and trusting Norma’s) goes, at least you’ve learned the lesson. Thanks for reading!

      • Curtis


        The “pondering” phase of writing is fantastic. To go from Hurry, Just-Say-It……to……Find-the-Best- Way-to-Say-It…….is a real leap. I’m not so sure if it isn’t the leap. Not to mention how the exprience becomes even more satisfying.

        On a tech note. Norma and I are in the test drive phase of fiddling with blogging. Is there a particular reason, other than cost that people use WordPress over Typepad? Norma had Typepad up and running in the time it took to load a picture in WordPress.

        I’m kind of past my lets fiddle under the hood with the code days. While it was once a fascination, now it just uses up time.

        Any wisdom to share?

        • Reply

          Hmm, Curtis. I actually really like WordPress and find it pretty powerful, but still simple to use (HTML not needed, though I sometimes use it). That it’s free and can function more like a website than just a blog were huge factors for me.

          I’ve never tried Typepad, so I couldn’t compare. I guess it depends on your needs and your patience. Good luck!

  4. Reply

    I bought that book just before moving and didn’t have time to read it. I only recently started unpacking and can now look for it again. But your story made me think about an experience I had recently where someone offered to help carry heavy stuff to my car — I thought it was a store employee until we got a few steps in and he started talking about needing $20 and how it sucked to be homeless.

    I don’t think most people soliciting money would harm someone, otherwise, why wouldn’t they just forego the begging and go into robbery? The latter is a sure thing while hoping for a stranger’s kindness is not.

    Something about this guy scared me though and I stopped dead in my tracks, said “I’m sorry, I thought you were an Ikea employee” and backtracked to the store to find some employees I could stand near until I felt safe again. I felt foolish for doing this but did it anyway. After reading your blog post, I no longer wan to reason away why I got skittish. Great post, thank you for bringing this up.

    • Reply

      Asplenia: You were right to trust yourself. It’s sad that we’re made to feel foolish for wanting to protect ourselves rather than hurt the feelings of a stranger to whom we owe nothing.

      I’m glad you went back to the store. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Maura


    Someone recommended that book to me a long time ago. I definitely have to put it on my TBR pile. I had a similar incident several years ago. I was coming home from work and walked into my apartment and took about three steps down the hall when I realized something was wrong. I stopped in my tracks feeling very uncomfortable and I finally realized it was because my dog was not there jumping around me and begging for attention. I called to him but he didn’t come. I took another two steps in, calling him and he still did not appear. Then I thought to myself, “this is the part of the movie when the audience is screaming for the heroine to turn around and get out.” So that’s what I did. I lived on the first floor so I went back outside and kept calling to the dog at the window. He finally put his paws up and looked out at me. I went back to the door and called him. He appeared at the end of the hallway and with his head down, he slunked slowly up the hall towards me. He appeared uninjured and I felt more confident going inside with him next to me (he was a bit of an aggressive dog and very protective of me), We got back to the living room and I discovered that his distress was all due to the fact that he’d had an episode of diarrhea on the living room floor. He thought he was in big trouble! I was never so relieved to have to clean up that kind of a mess! LOL.

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