Instinctually Intact

Instinctually Intact

Instinctually intact mammals sniff each other out and discern how to engage, like these two small white and brown dogs on brown earth of a field with trees behind them.

Instinctually intact mammals sniff each other out and discern how to engage, like these two dogs. Do you? Here is how I learn to do it. Image by Sofia Shultz.

Instinctually Intact

Are you instinctually intact? There are many kinds of intelligence. Instinct is one. Recapture, recultivate, regain your instinctual intelligence–starting with this post.

The Importance of Instinct

Two events within a week confirmed for me my good instincts and reaffirmed I wanted them to become even better, stronger.

Exhibit A: Facebook Prude-Shaming

I went to a public event in my town. One of its leaders and I made friends. I was grateful. We became Facebook Friends. Her cousin asked to Friend me. I accepted, warily, because Friend requests from men my age are usually testing the waters. It’s like I’m part of this grand catalogue of women they are paging through; I’m an article they may be interested in purchasing. He turned out to behave this way.

I had just made sure to say on Facebook I was in a relationship. In fact, I showed up at the event with my partner (who is a man). That didn’t seem to matter. When I pushed back, in very clear language (“I’m married. Idle conversation is not why I’m on Facebook. Thanks for reaching out”), his response was prude-shaming, and yes, you can quote me. He snidely said, “Well, you mustn’t have any friends.”

Slut-shaming has been hell for women for centuries. I’m glad it finally has a name. Prude-shaming is not yet named, however.

If I am right about someone behaving in an unsavory way (and I usually am), and I call out the behavior because I don’t care if folks think I’m a prude, I have

    • strengthened my instincts
    • got one less irritation
    • possibly spared another woman the same irritation
    • possibly inspired the man to think twice before hassling another woman on Facebook.

If I’m wrong, well, I’ll live. I have plenty of friends.

But if I’m right yet don’t honor my instincts, I might not live.
My instincts are intact. I refuse to be prude-shamed.

Exhibit B: Being A Cat Around Cats

I’m fairly extreme about animal rights. I’m nearly vegan and haven’t eaten meat in years. Animals figure into my ethics, my activism, my writing, my work.

I just don’t do pets. I don’t have them, don’t want them, and question how we as a culture treat them.

So when my beloved friend casually wrote me–just before I was coming to visit–that she now had five cats and was I ready?, I confess I took it as a challenge, an instinctual gauntlet. My answer was

Yes, if they leave me alone. I, too, am an animal.

And just like that, I realized I was. An animal, acting in a way that was instinctually appropriate.

I had always felt at least unnatural and at worst something of a monster because my respect for animals is spacious. I am often the first person they make for in a room. We talk. But I will not be pushed into an early intimacy with them.

I realized that I am a mammal very much like a cat with very clear boundaries and no desire they be infringed by my species or any other.

This is actually a realization that can save your life. (See below.)

Coaching Instinct

You have your instincts, and I have mine. I am not interested in making you over into one of me when we work together. I am interested in helping you see and get out of the way of who you are so you can have what you come to me for.

Everything I know and teach as a coach I try to give away free in these blog posts.

Thus, that is what I am doing with this post.

Instinct is emerging for me as so incredibly important I have to talk about it.

I have always assumed it. It is so basic, so fundamental to the intelligence I demand when we work together–that you do have, already–I have never even mentioned it.

That stops now. Instinct is a vital intelligence. As a coach, my job is to honor your instincts and help you

    • notice
    • reclaim
    • recultivate

your instincts.

Boundaries are Mental as Well as Physical

I write about boundaries all the time as part of the act of RAISING CLARITY.

I wrote a post about something very close to instinct and similarly life-saving entitled “No, You Can’t Have My Mind, I’m Using It.”

My mind is just like my lap: I don’t let just anyone jump into it anytime they want to.

I protect my attention and my consciousness by choosing carefully what I read, watch, think about, and whom I relate to.

I obviously hope you’ll do the same, and I show you how I do it in the post, “No, You Can’t Have My Mind.”

Intact Instincts Will Save Your Life

As young women, queer, and trans people especially, in patriarchal culture, we are vulnerable. We learn early on we are seen as prey. How we choose to deal with that is up to us. Some of us refuse to see it. That’s foolish. Some of us refuse to learn it. That’s different–not foolish. I refuse to learn to think of myself as prey but I do not refuse to see that others may see me that way. Having learned to kick ass using a variety of methods, and in at least two languages, I recommend taking this seriously.

Most folks I know have these stories. Here are some of mine.

Exhibit C: Avoiding Rape

A man let himself into the bathroom on the train when I was in my late teens traveling on another continent. He intimated he had a knife in his breast pocket with hand gestures. Fortunately, I had my pants pulled up and was standing up. I instinctively screamed bloody murder. He tried to silence me with his gestures. We were in very close quarters and he meant me no good. He kept trying to silence me. I did not freeze. I kept screaming. He left.

I should not have had to endure that. But I made it. Thank you, instinct.

(We can unlearn the tendency to freeze, by the way. Search on “Model Mugging,” IMPACT,” “full-force self-defense for women,” “KIDPOWER.” Or ask me about about it.)


As a young teen babysitting, I was standing in a dumpster sorting through boxes, looking for good imaginary play material for my childish charges. Two boys show up in the dumpster and say, “take off all your clothes.” I didn’t even look up and see they had knives. I just told them to go to hell, and kept sorting. But one of my charges dashed home and called the police who caught the boys. I didn’t even know I was in trouble til it was over. I was strong and they had not prepared for someone who functionally ignored them. It could have been otherwise.

And when I was hitchhiking, I almost never had problems. Except that one time. Where the guy kept telling me what he wanted me to do. But he kept driving. And we were in a car in city traffic, not in a semi on the interstate. I just kept refusing. And got out. As quickly as possible. I felt my own strength. It felt like I had an option to say no and make it stick.

Why? Instinct

I don’t know why I feel I have these options. Why I feel my strength. Why I have my own momentum when it comes to wrongdoers. But I do. And I thank myself for it: thank you, instinct.

Share your stories.

Share your instincts.

Strengthen them. Protect them. Teach them.

And know: they are also intelligence and deserve to be cultivated.

This, Too, Violates Instinct

Instinct is clarity something is wrong.

We know not feeding people is wrong. Whether they have money to pay for food or not. Not housing people who want housing is wrong.

We know when we walk past hurting people on the street, it is wrong. These things are instinctual. They hurt.

When we overwork and allow others to overwork, we know this is wrong. Instinctually. This is true in two ways: we know it instinctually and it is bad for us instinctually–our instinctual selves.

When we tune out, zone out, and ignore the people around us, we may be protecting our instinctual knowing and sensitivity but we may also be dulling and harming our instincts, as well as the people around us and ourselves.

So as we expand, extend, deepen, and strengthen our instincts, we come to question more things we had not questioned before. The examples I’ve given in the stories I’ve told above are obvious examples of potential instinct violation.

But honestly, “racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” (to name Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “giant triplets”) are every bit as instinct-violating to us as human mammals evolved to treat each other in sensible mammalian ways. We just don’t talk about them as often. We may not even see them.

But those too are instincts I seek to recultivate.

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