Instinct & Intuition




Intuition and instincts – what role to these elements play in your personal security?  To what degree should you rely on them?  Intuition is defined as a perception of truth independent of any reasoning process.  Instinct is best defined as an inborn pattern of behavior in response to a certain stimuli.


In his book The Gift of Fear noted author Gavin DeBecker stresses the importance of listening to your intuition and paying attention to your gut feelings when they tell you something is wrong.  In her book Dangerous Instincts former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole cautions about the unreliability of listening to gut instincts and intuition.  Who is right? They may both be right to a certain extent depending on your particular situation.  As I read Dangerous Instincts O’Toole mentioned “Many books encourage people to trust their intuition; they claim fear will guide you away from danger…” and I couldn’t help but think her comments were directed at The Gift of Fear.  O’Toole presents a system called SMART that is a more reasoned and logical approach to decision-making.


O’Toole’s method looks like it would have great applications when you have time to reason through an assessment of a person.  For example if you are hiring a contractor, babysitter or nanny or some other person who might have access to your home and children or are assessing a potential business partner, etc.  This reasoned, logical approach may be less effective in a dynamic situation where you need to assess a person as a potential threat more rapidly and with less information.  DeBecker emphasizes the importance of recognizing that you may pick up on danger signs without being consciously aware of what they are or being able to explain them.  Often we may notice an abnormality of some sort – either something abnormal or the absence of something normal in our environment or in a person we encounter.  We may not be able to pinpoint what the abnormality is but we still recognize that a potential threat may be present and we should not ignore these signs.


One thing that is important to consider and one area where O’Toole is spot on is that the absence of intuitive or warning signs does not signal safety.  In many cases you may have a false feeling of safety because of an environment that feels familiar or a person who is skilled at being deceptive and hiding their true intentions.  Our article on “The Dangers of Feeling Safe” goes into this phenomenon in greater detail.


There are valuable lessons to be learned from both DeBecker and O’Toole.  You should consider the environment you are in and the situation you are facing when determining how to best assess a potential threat.


6 Responses to Instinct & Intuition

  1. Very educational post, i need to check out Toole’s book asap. The important thing to remember about instinct and intuition is that it’s not well-developed with most people, and, like awareness, needs to be taught/ trained.

    • Thanks Georges — I agree regarding training & development. O’Toole has some useful guidance, especially when you have the luxury of some time but I think one of the most valuable points is that the absence of intuitional or instinctive warning signs does not make things safe. Professionally I often deal with people who say “I felt safe there…” when describing a place I know to have significant threats. Basically these feelings in the absence of other evidence are pretty meaningless and lead to complacency.

  2. CSPS Online says:

    All I have to say is thank you for presenting a well-thought-out approach to this topic as so many don’t, especially online! A good read.

  3. Good article! O’Toole’s book sounds interesting. Intuition is an interesting subject. One thing you mentioned that really stands out to me, the absence of intuition does not equal safety. Well put!

    I believe there is middle ground between the two approaches of De Becker and O’Toole. I just wrote an article about it. Check it out if you get a chance.

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