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The voice you shouldn’t ignore: Call it women’s intuition, but those inner whispers are often spot on, says Ashley Audrai


I was away for the weekend, seeking peace and quiet to work on my second novel about a group of women dealing with midlife angst. Stuck at a specific point in my draft, I went for a walk in the woods, headphones plugged in, hoping that inspiration would strike me. I was listening to an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday podcast, in which she interviews her best friend, Gayle King.

I stopped short as they began to discuss the very thing I was writing about – a woman’s intuition that something in her life is not quite right. King opened up about returning home one day to find her husband with another woman. When she said she had no idea, Winfrey challenged her – did she really have no idea? They then discussed that when we look back, there’s always a “whisper” moment. The question is, why didn’t we listen?

It was exactly what I was writing about, and the theme of my novel became clear. These whispers – especially the ones you don’t want to have – are an experience that resonates with many of the women I know, whether it’s about our marriages, our children, our careers, or our health.

Mother-of-two Wendy Thomas was weeks away from her 40th birthday when she went to the doctor with concerns about her right breast. The radiologist informed her that everything was fine but, during her examination, they inadvertently found something in her left breast which turned out to be cancerous.

“To this day, says Thomas, I still don’t know what made me listen to my intuition; understand that something was wrong with my body. But I learned to never ignore that feeling again because it saved my life.

Clinical psychologist and consultant Dr. Kristine Laderoute, who practices in Toronto, Canada, thinks this advice is sound. Used stock image

But is there any scientific evidence to support this idea of ​​intuitive knowing? My sister, one of the most rational people I know, is a cognitive neuroscientist who studies the relationship between the brain and behavior. I asked him if the whisperings had a neurological basis.

“Well, yes,” she said. “This “intuitive knowledge” has a source. There are pathways in the brain that pick up information that we are completely unaware of. It can bias the predictions we make about the world around us, and that’s what could create the sense of a hunch.

I had my own lesson in listening to whispers after the birth of my first child. To me, he seemed uncomfortable in the first days of his life, even in pain. Something was wrong. But more experienced people have told me: that’s what babies are like. It is gassy. Don’t be so nervous. I convinced myself: what do I know? When he next visited the doctor, I couldn’t believe how low his weight was. “Are you sure the scale isn’t broken?” I asked several times. The nurse assured me not. My son was rushed to the children’s hospital where he was diagnosed with sepsis and, soon after, a chronic illness. I had known – of course I had known. But I had questioned myself and my intuition. I will always wonder if we could have avoided the extent of his illness if I had insisted that something was wrong.

I am now in my 40s and can’t help but be fascinated by the lives of women at this point, when we’ve settled into the big decisions we’ve made about the kind of life we ​​want. We are supposed to feel reassured and gratified. But do we? Some women do not find the satisfaction they expected and instead feel a deep sense of regret in their 40s.

This is often when the whispers first appear and are most disturbing. A friend of mine is a therapist with a thriving practice, often helping women who are trying to pinpoint why they feel so unhappy or dissatisfied. This therapist friend could relate deeply to her clients – she spent most of her time feeling the same way. She suspected her marriage had something to do with it, but there was always a reason not to listen to that sentiment: she and her husband had been together for 15 years; they had two children together; they had just finished renovating their house.

“The whispers were telling me, ‘You’re not happy – it’s not good,'” she says. “But, being a therapist and raised to believe that you stick with a marriage in tough times, I understood those whispers to mean we needed to go to couples therapy and work hard.”

They did, and life went on – until it came to a painful stop. Her husband left her, and like Winfrey’s friend King, my friend felt caught out.

“I later learned that he led a double life for years while I was busy with our children. The whispers were telling me to get out, but I didn’t want to hear them. I probably wouldn’t have come out if he hadn’t gone. Now I’m working on learning to trust my instincts and teaching clients how to do the same.


Clinical psychologist and consultant Dr Kristine Laderoute, who practices in Toronto, Canada, thinks this advice is sound: “Think of the whispers as the most primitive but wisest part of us that instinctively knows what is most true for us. We ; the free part of societal expectations, shamelessly connected to what we need.

Whispers can be scary and disruptive. Stubborn.

Not all women can act on them, even if they hear them loud and clear. In a recent UK study by YouGov, one in three women with a partner said they would struggle financially (or not cope at all) if they separated tomorrow. Listening to whispers is not a privilege that everyone can indulge in.

In my new novel, The Whispers, the main character knows that his marriage no longer suits him, and perhaps it never did. But she has no salary or bank account. One afternoon, her heart pounding, she secretly discovers a one-bedroom apartment for rent that would be just about affordable. She stands in the empty space and tries to imagine living there, only having her daughter part of the time; furniture that might be suitable.

But that all seems too far removed from the life she has diligently created for a decade. She goes home, hides the list from the brochure and tells her husband that she is out shopping. His heart sinks; she silenced the whispers again.

“When we ignore or go against the whisperings, we usually feel regret or head into crises,” says Laderoute. “But when we learn to listen to them, we can live in a place of clarity and find more peace with our choices and within ourselves.”

And isn’t that what we’re all looking for? As we often tell our children: you probably already know the answer to the question you are asking. We just have to trust ourselves enough to silence the noise and finally listen.

Ashley Audrain’s The Whispers is published by Michael Joseph, £14.99*



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