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I often remember a former colleague of mine who thought that gut-instinct not to be trusted. He once said “If you are a stupid person your intuition is probably stupid too”.

A bit harsh, and definitely not PC, but he had a point. If somebody is not capable of acting wisely, for whatever reason, then is it likely that some inner part of them could magically assert itself, bringing insight and acuity? It’s certainly possible, but it can’t be relied on to be universal and trustworthy.

He was – and I hope still is, I haven’t seen him for years – a wise and insightful therapist. But he had a no-nonsense approach to his work and, like many of the great minds in psychology, was down-to-earth and direct in his thinking and his language. Wooly concepts irritated him like a scratchy sweater. Pop psychology was having its moment in the 1980s, and it provided plenty of opportunities for comments like the one above.

The basic idea of getting in touch with our inner selves is sound. Learning to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that lie just beneath the surface can be a life-saver in some situations, literally. But assuming when in the middle of a crisis for example, that our objectivity can be reclaimed simply by digging deeper…? What good is that when the person holding the spade is the one who has been making all the mistakes?

I’m not knocking insight. I’m making the point that it should be treated with caution when it comes out of the same box as the thoughts and behaviour that cause us problems. There is no guarantee, just because we call something ‘an inner voice’, ‘instict’ or ‘intuition’, that it should provide a safe route out of difficulty. Insight can only be judged with hindsight,

 

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