Posted by: Donna Cunningham | June 19, 2011

How to Tell the Difference Between Fear and Intuition

©2011 by an Anonymous Author on WikiHow; edits by:Judith Orloff MD, Lucky7,

Some fears are capable of causing you to belittle yourself or to misinterpret danger; not all fear is realistic or beneficial. At the same time, confusing unrealistic fears with intuition can cause a dogged determination to make yourself believe that something negative is about to pass in your life.

Doing so is to confuse both fear and intuition and this can lead you to make choices and decisions that restrict rather than broaden your life. A fulfilling life is one of balance and equally, your fears and intuition will serve you well when balanced too.

Consider the properties of fear. Fears can be real; for instance, when facing an impending dog attack, or seeing a car hurtling towards our own as we’re driving, or when we’re about to skydive from an airplane. In these cases, taking evasive or careful action based on our fear of what is about to happen is both real and sensible and are what we can term a “protective” fear; these are healthy and normal fears.

On the other hand, fears can also be unrealistic and unhealthy; the acronym for which is “False Evidence, Appearing Real”, such as when we imagine things that might happen if certain circumstances were to come to be, no matter how wild our preoccupations or how stretched the possibilities. In this case, it’s about letting anxiety, worry, and catastrophization take the place of clear-headed thinking and evidence.

When comparing intuition and fears, the first sense of real fear is not what this article is concerned with. Rather, the focus is on imagined fears, the supposition that something bad is about to happen for reasons that are barely fathomable.

Reflect on what you understand by intuition. It’s not easily defined; however, it is possible to reach your own understanding of intuition as an inner guidance, a “knowing”, or an internal compass. In contrast to fear, intuition has positive connotations in that it helps us make our way through life by drawing upon experience that may be buried deep in our consciousness. Such terms as “gut feeling”, “instinct”, “hunch”, and “just a feeling” are often used to describe the way our intuition influences our actions and decisions.

However, it is very important to realize that intuition is more than just responding at an instinctual level; it is instinct plus cognitive consideration. There is no right or wrong answer as to how you define intuition; the best approach is to simply sit down and write a flow of what it means to you.

Giving supremacy to irrational fears lets the monkey brain take over

Understand what happens when you mistake fear for intuition. Fear is a negative emotion that expresses itself through physical reactions (such as fight or flight, sweating, feeling an adrenaline rush, etc.).

Intuition is a positive set of feelings or guidance that if heeded, can bring about better situations for us. Fear is an emotion that causes us to want to run away, hide, and not face the oncoming negative happening, whereas intuition is about heeding the possible dangers but having the strength, resilience, and wherewithal to focus our actions and attitude so as to face and deal with the negative occurrence.

As such, when you mistake fear for intuition, you are effectively telling yourself that something bad is about to occur but that you are powerless to do anything constructive about it other than worry, fret, or pray, thereby disabling your intuition and your ability to push past the fear. This is an attempt to either sideline intuition or to change its positive effect into a negative one.

Another problem with confusing fear and intuition is that instead of living in the present (as intuition does), you are living in a worst possible future (where irrational fear resides). If you’re not focusing on the present, then you’re not being intuitive.

Take stock of what makes you afraid. As with reflecting on what you understand to mean by intuition, writing down your fears can help you begin to take better notice of them as fears and not as intuitive insights. Simply make time to sit down with a notepad and pen and write down the fears that are currently looming large in your life. They may be such things as: fear of losing a job, fear of losing someone you love, fear of injury, fear for your children’s safety, fear of aging, fear for the future, etc. Write down all the fears that occur to you.

Some of your fears will be rational, such as a fear of losing your job if your boss said that there will be lay-offs next week. Other fears will be irrational, such as fearing that a bridge will collapse on you if you drive under it, just because you read of such an incident happening somewhere else.

Be skeptical of long-standing fears, like fear of heights, insects, strangers, etc. These fears are phobias born of a particular experience and are very narrow moments in the past directing your thoughts, not your intuition. While these phobias are initially based in “protective” fears, they can often end up over-protecting you to the point of preventing growth, freedom, and happiness.

Premonitions of something happening in the future tend to be neutral when sourced from the intuition. They cannot be forced and whether they have a good or bad outcome is not colored by your own inner thinking. Not everyone experiences premonitions and in fact, those who block the ability though a cynical attitude towards them, generally have very little chance of doing so. However, premonitions differ from fear in that they are not based in your subjective, conscious or unconscious preferences or concerns.

Learn to spot the difference between irrational fears and legitimate intuitions. Throughout this article you’ve been given indicators on how to do this. For example, are you concerned with the present or are you worrying about the future? Are you catastrophizing or philosophizing? Here are some key elements of the differences between experiencing intuition versus an irrational fear:

  • A reliable intuition conveys information neutrally, unemotionally
  • A reliable intuition feels right in your gut.
  • A reliable intuition has a compassionate, affirming tone.
  • A reliable intuition gives crisp, clear impressions that are “seen” first, then felt.
  • A reliable intuition conveys a detached sensation, similar to being in a theater watching a movie
  • An irrational fear is highly emotionally charged.
  • An irrational fear has cruel, demeaning, or delusional content (either toward yourself or toward others, perhaps both)
  • An irrational fear conveys no gut-centered confirmation or on-target feeling
  • An irrational fear reflects past psychological wounds that have not been healed
  • An irrational fear diminishes being centered and having sound perspective.

Question the monkey on your back…Take appropriate steps to heed protective fears and transform irrational fears with courage. At times you may foresee real danger, but more frequently, unproductive fears are misinforming you. Therefore, as a general rule, train yourself to question fears tied to low self-esteem; we’re all worthy of the extraordinary.

For example, it’s right to question the fear that you’re too emotionally damaged to love; even the severely wounded can open up their hearts again but they need to make the choice to be open and to decide not to continue being over-protective of themselves. True intuitions will never put you down or support destructive attitudes and behavior; of all the signs, this is the most telling.


If you’re an emotional empath, highly sensitive, an emotionally deep person, or even co-dependent, it can be especially tricky to ascertain which fears are authentic, helpful intuitions and which are irrational. Because you tend to absorb other people’s emotions, you may pick up their fear and think or assume that their fears are your own. To avoid this:

Always ask yourself, “Is the fear mine or someone else’s?” One dependable way to find out is to distance yourself from the source. Physically move at least twenty feet away. If you experience relief, it’s likely you’re perceiving another’s fear. Although it’s fine to absorb courage and all positive emotions from others because they’ll strengthen you, you don’t want to absorb their negativity. Move away, and keep releasing extraneous fear by exhaling it until the feeling passes.

Don’t be so trusting about information or emotions when they touch on something that really concerns you or triggers your buttons. For example, as a mom, your children’s welfare is a hot spot trigger while as a business owner, your staff’s honesty is a hot spot trigger.

In these cases, rely on being skeptical about information that triggers your fears and use critical thinking to sort through your fears, emotions, and intuitions and not just leave your irrational fears to win through. Take a gradual, scientific approach to the issue instead of assuming a knee-jerk reaction.

Help others to discern the difference between their protective fears, irrational fears, and intuition. For people who are stuck deep in irrational fears, it can be a long journey to release themselves from the mire and perhaps you could be the helping hand they need, especially if you’ve had to work this out for yourself and can spot the pitfalls.

Warnings: Stress and anxiety can prevent you from taking time out. Without taking time out, you will find it hard to rediscover your sense of self or your “essence”. And this is when fears can dominate and take over because you’re trying to protect yourself from being worn out, burned out, and used up. Make the time to rejuvenate so that you can let go of fears, listen to your intuition properly, and make amazing personal discoveries that won’t surface without taking time to relax and regroup.

Related wikiHows:

 Skywriter’s Articles on Facing and Conquering Fear:


  1. Wow, I’m thrilled to see this article! I’ve been thinking about this question for the past few months. Thanks for sharing, Donna!

  2. It’s amazing what you can find on WikiHow. It’s on my google start-up page, and so many times their selected list of how to articles contains something that fits my current topic. Donna

  3. Wow! This is very, very valuable information. Great find, Donna, and thanks for sharing it. I’m going to pass this link around too. 😀

  4. I also like your comment setup. A new WordPress plugin?


    • Hi, Diane. WordPress added this function last week. Nice, huh?

  5. Thank you, Donna! This post is very timely. Might I add a suggestion that works for me? At times when I feel extra anxious, I selectively limit my exposure to outer media: I’ll listen to only one radio broadcast, instead of glutting on 24-hour news channels, I’ll talk about it with one trusted friend instead of canvassing opinions far and wide, and I’ll limit myself to one tarot spread, or I Ching reading, or whatever other mantic medium I feel drawn to, Turning down the volume (both literally and figuratively) helps me to recognize the true voice of intuition, which I am growing more and more familiar with over time. I hope this can help someone out there.

  6. This is such an important issue, Donna. Thank you so much for reprinting it here. It’s also very nice to see that Dr. Orloff is a contributor to this piece. She has a lot of good advice available about intuition, highly sensitive people, and empaths.

    For those of us who deal with intuition and hunches through our work as astrologers and readers, it’s very important to understand when fear is replacing intuition, especially if “bad” transits or cards trigger our own fears when reading for another. This article does a fantastic job of distinguishing between the two.

    When we can catch ourselves in the middle of our fears, thinking that it was our intuition, and nothing bad happens, it’s a giant step forward. I remember a distinct siutation that helped sort this out for me personally. What I thought was intuition was irrational fear. That experience has served as a guide for me since that time.

    I find it to be quite true that intuition is emotionally neutral, even when what we intuit could be perceived as “bad.”

    Great article!

  7. Great article. I had a premonition once, and it fit the guidelines given here. I was just beginning my senior year of college, having taken a year off, and was sitting with a group of friends on a balcony. I glanced at the reflections on the window and just knew that the year was going to be somewhat unhappy for me. It was surprising, because I had been looking forward to my last year of college. I remember the reflections seemed unusually crisp at the moment I had the intuition, and I can recall this visual impression quite clearly now, many years later, when I have forgotten most of the rest of the scene (where I was sitting, exactly who I was with, and so on). The premonition itself didn’t make me unhappy; I just took note of it as a curiosity, and went on with what I was doing. It didn’t make me feel I needed to drop out, or give me any sense of oppressiveness. It really didn’t make much difference in my life at all, except for the discovery that I could have a premonition. That year, indeed, was not a very happy one for me (though it wasn’t disastrous, and I never regretted having gone ahead and finished my senior year where I was). If the premonition made any difference at all, it probably made me a little more patient about getting through the year, giving me a bit more detachment about the whole thing. And now that I know I can get premonitions, I have less fear embarking on new adventures, because I feel I would probably get another premonition as a warning if I were about to do something really disastrous. Of course, I still have normal fears and would not do anything really reckless to tempt fate!

  8. Hi Donna, thanks so much for posting and sending this excellent article on. It is so important to offer “prescriptive” to the “analysis” of what we are undergoing, both personally and collectively. I have been wanting to offer up such prescriptives for the Moons of Mars, Deimos (“panic”) and Phobos (“fear”) and do, but this is a great post, and I will be sure to be passing it on!
    The distinctions between healthy fear and imaginal or contaminated anxiety-based fear is exceptionally well said. This will help many of us to distinguish between what is a good fear as an “alarm clock” an awakener, and what is a bad fear, an imagined, or reflective experience from historical – not contemporary – experiences we have had.
    I rather doubt any of us is without the need of this information . . .!
    I sure do use this perception in working with clients, and in this particular time of high anxiety and stressors, it is soooo important to distinguish the sources of our feelings. Thanks again,

  9. Interesting article. I had no fear as a child but I easily absorbed all of the fears of my parents and those around me. In fact, my lack of fear was my dad’s worst fear (He has Saturn in Scorpio in my 12th house with Scorpio on the cusp; the co-rulers of my 12th house are trine and in my 7th and 10th houses; Mars and Pluto also aspect planets in my 8th and 9th houses). Everything he taught me was about instilling his fear into me.

    Early on, I remember knowing things about people and future events that I “shouldn’t” know. Adults reacted negatively to my knowing, so I became afraid of my intuition – or rather, I became afraid of speaking about what I knew. So I began to ignore my gut. I figured that if I ignored it or successfully proved it wrong, I could weaken it. But over time, I’ve learned to trust and act on my knowing that has no hard evidence. I no longer feel the need to prove myself wrong to make others feel comfortable around me. Now I just make sure not to share my feelings with people who I instinctively know won’t appreciate them. I’ve found that ignoring my intuition means traveling a more difficult path, and my fear of not accepting my blessings far outweighs my fear of my intuition. I have Moon and Uranus in the 12th with Scorpio on the cusp.

  10. It’s interesting that the author(s) used the metaphor of a monkey at least twice. Mimulus, one of Bach’s flower remedies for fear, is also known an monkey flower.

    • Interesting point, Charles. I’m familiar with Mimulus by Bach and a couple of Monkeyflower versions by the Flower Essence Society. I seem to recall that the term “monkey mind” comes up in Buddhist meditation practice. Donna

  11. I love skywriter but why am I getting so many article reprints and sends?

    Anyway I love this subject because it is a main concern right now. I am living with my sister for the first time inyears and I do not feel safe and I am convinced I can “feel” her psychically and I do not like her at all!! Our whole family is Plutonian..all of us..will not go into details. I am going out and acquiring the Bach Flower remedies. Thank you always Donna

    • I’m not sure what you mean by article reprints and sends. Did you sign up for a subscription? If so, you’d get an email copy of each new post, but there have been only 2 since Saturday. If you signed up for notices about comments on a particular post (like the Q&A session on Saturday), then each new comment would come to your mailbox.That’s finished now because the comment section on that one is closed. Donna

  12. Right on time! I was just asking someone if they knew of an exercise to tell whether I was experiencing a real insight about someone or whether it was just my own worrywart (Mer/Sat in Virgo in 12 – the anxiety Queen!) anxiety laden mind working over time again.
    Having Neptune in 1, Uranus/Moon on the MC, five planets plus one angle in Water, Pluto conj. the Sun and the afforementioned Mer/Sat duo, I have intuition,empathy and psychic ability to burn. But I also can indulge in mental masturbation and worry or negative think myself into a corner. I also have PTSD. And with the fog of Neptune right on the ascendant and Mer/Sat in 12, it is very often difficult to discern the difference. I can’t tell if I’m hearing from God or the devil, so to speak.
    And with the above configurations, once I get a notion into my noggin, it is very difficult to disabuse me of it and change my mind and feelings.

  13. Donna,
    Thank you for this article. I believe now that I may have some gifts. I spoke with a trusted friend who helped me understand what was happening to me, as I began to find difficulty in differentiating what was “good” from what was seemingly “evil”. Once I wrote that “the only thing we have to fear is the subconscious mind”…what are your thoughts on this?

    • How I know whether I’m really getting a message from Spirit and not from my own thoughts and fears, oddly enough, is if it feels like I’m “just making this up”, but then I get good confirmation from outside. Donna

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