How do you tell the difference between intuition and paranoia? I have wondered this so much myself and I like to think I have an answer. Before I throw my thoughts out there, let me provide the definitions as they are remotely not the same thing… yet somehow many people manage to confuse the two. Intuition: the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning. Paranoia: suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification.
If you’re generally a worrisome person and an over-thinker it’s challenging to distinguish between self-generated feelings and intuitive perceptions. As someone with a fair amount of anxiety (much as I don’t like admitting it), I’m constantly questioning whether my inner thoughts are simply a product of my anxious mind due to past experiences, or something more intuitive and real. It’s endlessly frustrating for me to express my worries and concerns to others, then receive advice like, “You just have to trust your gut.” To be honest, that doesn’t help a huge amount. It’s like when you’re angry and someone tells you to “calm down” 😒
If you’ve ever experienced the kind of paranoia that makes little sense to anyone but you, you know that trusting the voice inside your head is a lot more difficult than it seems. Research has found that intuitive decision making is impaired for those who are in a state of anxiety. With this in mind, does it mean there is no such thing as “trusting your gut” if you’re an individual who suffers from anxiety/paranoia?
Discerning between the two
Whenever I feel like my “intuition” is kicking in, I have all sorts of mental and physical reactions. My heart rate speeds up, I struggle to sleep, my concentration levels drop, I lose my appetite, I become snappy towards others and my mind begins to spiral. As I read back on my last sentence, it definitely sounds like anxiety to me… but in the moment, the differences between anxiety symptoms and gut reactions are blurred, both can feel one in the same.
There has been multiple occasions where I’ve mistaken my paranoia for a “gut feeling”. The last incident of this was a couple weeks ago where I very badly overacted towards a situation and went into full crazy bitch mode. What added fuel to the fire was the lack of communication towards the other party. Thankfully things were resolved in the end but in no way did I feel good about my behaviour or attitude, it was poor form on my part but that particular moment was certainly a turning point and massive learning curve.
Obsessive and demanding vs. Calm and subtle
So how can we prevent ourselves from freaking out or jumping to conclusions?
How can we get through the murky waters and understand what’s what?
Intuition and paranoia feel like inner tugs, prompts and “knowing”, but the source is different. It’s important to recognise that paranoia is a thought process which is believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety, insecurity or fear, often to the point of delusion and irrationality. If we can get to a stage where we’re in touch with ourselves enough to know when those aspects are triggered, then we’re more likely able to figure this out — of course it comes with time, practice and a certain level of self-awareness.
I can’t stress enough how much communication helps; and I don’t mean asking friends and family for advice regarding the issues you feel concerned about. I mean having a deep, personal conversation where you really open up about negative life experiences, your childhood, past traumas, mental health… basically anything that might have impacted your character/behaviour over time. It’s a great and vital opportunity to learn about yourself. If you have someone you can trust and feel comfortable around then nominate them to be your “support”. Otherwise speak with a therapist, it may even be better to share this information with someone who doesn’t really know you, won’t be biased or say what you want to hear. Then once you get things off your chest, you can start gathering tools to better cope with any internal issues, therefore ensuring that it will no longer get in the way of your intuition. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.
1. Based on what I’ve felt in the past, paranoia is obsessive and demanding. It’s when the feeling takes up too much of your thoughts and energy. Paranoia tends to last for much longer — hours, days, weeks! It’s intense; it’ll keep you up at night, it’ll give you mood swings, you’ll feel on edge and it’ll send you straight into fight, flight mode. Whereas intuition is immediate, calm, subtle, like a small itch but fades in time if it isn’t scratched.
2. Paranoia is negative and fear-based. It usually presents itself as “what-if” and often future-focused in a very unhealthy way. If your head is filled with hypotheticals, worst case scenarios and you’re constantly honing in on things you can’t control… then it’s likely not your gut instinct. Intuition looks at the present and will come from a clear head and calm mind.
3. While both paranoia and intuition can create an unsettled feeling, paranoia will lean more towards stress and uncertainty — while intuition will feel more reasonable and concrete. I find that if you’re going back and forth, constantly undecided on what to do, then whatever is on the mind is likely anxiety-fueled.
Feeling emotions is a natural part of being human but when the emotions start controlling us, it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between trustworthy intuition and untrustworthy paranoia. But I always try my best to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I don’t think I’m paranoid. While you’re battling between head and heart, it’s tempting to follow your head because that’s where your “logic” lies but the mind’s ability to manifest is powerful enough that we’ll believe our fears which then becomes our reality.
If you’ve had a troublesome past then I think there’s little use trying to figure things out; for an over-thinking/worrier there is much greater use in speaking to the person directly and discuss the feelings you’re experiencing, that way you can at least verify reality and learn to trust as you go along. Trying to decide whether it’s intuition or paranoia just adds another layer to the anxiety and doubt, which will not help in building a fruitful relationship or a successful future together.