By Rachel Puryear
Have you ever had a weird gut feeling around a person or in a situation for unknown reasons, and then it turned out to be spot-on? Most of us have either had such an experience, or know someone else who has.
In some cases, people even credit such an occurrence with saving a life.
Maybe we got an inexplicable bad feeling about someone, and then learned that the person was dangerous.
Or, maybe we had a sense out of the blue that we should reach out to a loved one, to find out that that person needed help.
Maybe we had a vivid dream that we shouldn’t go to work that day, even feeling a little silly about calling in, only to later see on the news that we would have met a disaster had we gone.
Most of us view ourselves as logical and reasonable people. Even if we’re open to spiritual phenomenons, it’s normal to be uneasy when we directly experience something we cannot explain.
In some cases, chalking up an unusual incident to the usual default logical explanations (coincidences, you were imagining/dreaming it) doesn’t quite satisfy.
Goosebumps, hair standing on end on person’s skin.
The internet abounds with everyday people’s anecdotes like these, many of them anonymous. Some stories suggest a logical explanation; including coincidences, cues they might not have been aware of, or memory mishaps. Other people may just be making everything up.
However, I don’t believe that they’re all just made up or mistaken.
Furthermore, people I know and whose credibility I trust have shared their own such stories with me. Often, people are reluctant to share such events because they’re afraid people won’t believe them, or argue that there was another explanation. This can be frustrating to the person who was there and experienced what happened – especially where they could have thought of common logical explanations themselves, if those seemed right.
A handful of times in my own life, I have also experienced gut feelings that turned out to be there for good reason. I also benefitted from a loved one’s gut feeling. I’ll share a couple stories in this post:
I Knew There Was Something Off About Them – Then I Found Out What They Were Hiding
Years ago, I was hired as a legal consultant for a divorce mediation firm. It seemed like an amazing opportunity at the time.
The firm was run by a man-and-woman pair of mental health professionals from out of state, and they said they were looking to expand by opening offices in my area (San Francisco Bay Area). They would train me to eventually run their local office.
I excitedly signed onto the deal – despite a ridiculously broad non-compete agreement (that I signed anyway, knowing it wasn’t even close to enforceable), and below-market-rate pay (with the promise it would increase significantly once I finished training in a few short months). Even if they didn’t make good on that, I figured I could go my own way with what I would learn.
As the training program went on, however, I had an increasingly uneasy feeling about these people. It started out slowly, and I noticed small things like occasional mildly inappropriate remarks. They creeped me out a little, but I couldn’t point to anything concrete to support that. So at first, I let it go.
I decided then to look into these two people on a hunch, after they crossed a certain line with me. I did some digging. And…I found out a dark secret.
They weren’t expanding to California. They were running from their home state.
The guy had been a licensed psychotherapist with his home state, but the state’s regulatory board had revoked his license and permanently barred him from ever practicing there again.
Why? Because he had a sexual affair with a patient. That’s a huge no-no for mental health professionals, because it’s predatory and damaging. Furthermore, when he was being investigated for this behavior, he tried to destroy evidence and threaten the patient he had abused into silence.
I immediately dropped these people. I didn’t want to be associated with them at all, and besides, people like this have a way of taking everyone else around them down with them.
I sent them a quick note telling them I couldn’t work with them anymore, effective immediately. They never answered, and never came after me when several of their clients gladly came with me, too. I think they knew what had happened.
Here’s another story:
My Brother Knew I Was in Trouble – I Still Don’t Know How
Years ago (long before I met my now-husband), I met this guy online – let’s call him Ned. Mind you, this was a rather lonely point in my life.
Anyway, I called and texted with Ned over a period of a couple weeks, and he was very nice and attentive at the time. Then, we decided to meet in person. The initial plan was for me to ride Bart (local subway system) over to his neighborhood, and then walk to a nearby cafe to get to know each other better.
I was comfortable with this plan of meeting in a public place, and under circumstances I could fully control.
I hadn’t told anyone else about Ned before getting on the subway to meet him, nor where I was going. (Now I know that’s a bad idea – I was younger then, and this was a different time. Tell someone else where you’re going if you’re meeting someone new.)
When I got on the train, I texted Ned to let him know I was on my way.
As the ride went on, though, I couldn’t shake an increasing sense of anxiety that had been building since I left the house. I figured it was just worse-than-usual first date nerves.
When I was a few stops away from Ned, though, he responded to my text – and said that since we had already hit it off so well on the phone, he would rather skip going out, and pick me up at the station and drive me to his home.
All of a sudden I felt a sense of dread come over me. I figured even if he meant well, changing the plan at the last minute was untrustworthy. I was not comfortable riding with or going to someone’s private home when we just met, even if I did like him – and this changed the situation to where I would have much less control.
I was thinking about what to do, whether I should just cancel and turn around, or whether I should insist on the original plan; when I realized I was at the stop. I got off the train, and peered through the gate. I could see him in the parking lot, recognizing him from photos.
Then I wondered, was I overreacting? Did he just get overly excited and say the wrong thing, with harmless intentions? Maybe I should just go and talk to him for a few minutes in the parking lot, and see how it goes.
Then, all of a sudden, my phone rang. Figuring it was Ned, I almost didn’t pick up, not ready to talk to him just yet – then I looked at the screen and saw it was instead my brother calling. I answered.
My brother immediately asked me what I was doing then. I told him I was on my way to meet someone, but was seriously considering calling it off.
My brother then told me that all of a sudden, out of the blue, he had gotten a strange feeling that he should stop what he was doing, and call me. That I might be in some kind of trouble.
Based upon this, I decided not to meet with Ned. I texted and told him I was suddenly not feeling well, and was going home.
The next day, Ned began sending me a barrage of guilt-tripping, rude, and sexist text messages – calling me a liar, telling me I was “just like all the others”. When I responded and admitted I was spooked by him changing the plan at the last minute, he was dismissive, and had no interest in hearing my side of things.
Ned claimed I had deeply hurt and betrayed him by not trusting him, even though this had been a phone fling of just a couple weeks. All kinds of red flags. He was clearly unstable, and his real side was showing. He showed clear signs of being an abuser, at the very least.
People who feel entitled to your immediate and unconditional trust, and get indignant about not receiving it, are usually exactly the kind of people you should not trust.
I still shudder to think what might have happened had I gone through with meeting him – or worse, gone home with him. I will never know for sure what would have happened, but I believe it would have been bad.
In the first story about the disgraced therapist, I answered the mounting alarm bells in my head by investigating these people. At the same time, there were some red flags (especially in hindsight) which explained why I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with them.
It seems that often times, with a gut feeling, the brain is a few steps ahead. Your brain may be putting together pieces you may not be consciously aware of yet, but alerting you to potential danger nonetheless. Accordingly, a logical explanation for the gut feeling is apparent in this story – my brain was alerting me to things I should not have ignored.
However, with the second story about my brother suddenly intervening when I was probably close to a dangerous situation, I don’t have a fully satisfactory logical explanation.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical, scientific explanation for this sort of phenomenon, that we haven’t yet discovered. Nonetheless, it’s enough to make one wonder about what more there is to our world than meets the eye.
Comet shooting through the sky on a dark, clear night.
My stories here are not extraordinary, either. Several people I’m very close to have admitted to their own stories about gut feelings that warned them of danger – where they don’t know how to explain what happened, or told them something they needed to know.
I won’t share other people’s stories that were confided to me privately, though – those aren’t my stories to tell.
Furthermore, you don’t need to search hard at all to readily find thousands of such stories on the internet from people all over the world. Quora alone has many published questions on matters like this, with plenty of answers given publicly from people of all walks of life.
People claim to have gotten a bad gut feeling about a situation involving themselves, or someone else, and this might have saved someone (one example is a father who suddenly had a feeling he needed to go home from work, then arrived just in time to save his family from deadly carbon monoxide poisoning).
People have claimed they heard the voice of a living or dead loved one giving them life-saving advice, often giving information they would not have known (one example was someone claiming to hear her deceased father’s voice tell her how to survive during a terrible car wreck – a responding officer told her that if she had not braked exactly when the voice told her to, she would have flipped over and gone down an embankment).
Sure, some of these stories are undoubtedly explained by things like coincidence, hallucinations and illusions (these might randomly occur in mentally healthy people more than we think), being asleep and dreaming or under the influence, confirmation bias and other logical fallacies, and simple misremembering.
People might even create hallucinations of loved ones in stressful situations, telling them something they know unconsciously, to help them believe the message (by the way, my brother and I have spoken about that phone call since – I didn’t hallucinate that).
For that matter, though, many stories on the internet could simply be made up. Anyone can just put anything up nowadays.
But are all those stories made up, or the product of flawed human reasoning and other mistakes? I’m sure some of them are – but I don’t think all of them are. Furthermore, the plausibility of at least some of these events are corroborated by my own experiences, as well as those of other people whom I know and trust to be credible and reasonable.
If at least some of these stories are true, though, then it begs the question of – how are they explained? Especially where someone knew something with no sensory or cognitive clues or logical way of knowing previously (such as receiving the phone call from my brother)?
Are people connected to those close to them in ways that we don’t yet understand? Ways that transcend proximity and the five senses – and perhaps even the borders between life and death? Is there a spiritual connection between people, at least at times?
Those are interesting questions, and I cannot offer you answers to them. Maybe someday – in this existence, or elsewhere – we will all find out.
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