Could you please what the meaning of "punch to the gut" is?

The text is here:

Two hours later Dad had blocked off half the kitchen with plywood sheets. The owl convalesced there for several weeks. We trapped mice to feed it, but sometimes it didn’t eat them, and we couldn’t clear away the carcasses. The smell of death was strong and foul, a punch to the gut.

Educated Tara Westover


4 Answers 4


A punch to the gut (or sometimes called gut-punch or emotional gut punch) is pretty much synonymous with something that is gut-wrenching, which is easier to find in dictionaries. Collins says that gut-wrenching events or experiences make you feel very sad or upset.

TFD lists a related idiom, kick in the gut, and defines it as a severe blow to one's body or spirit.

A 2011 book by Dixon & Adamson says:

It's meant to be a real gut punch — a rational argument designed to evoke an emotional reaction.

The word guts is an interesting word in English; it has several meanings, one of which is “an innermost emotional response” (see Wordnik, for example). So a punch (or kick) in the guts is something that affects you strongly in an emotional sense.


It is a figurative use. The effect of the odor was overpowering, having the force of a punch to the abdomen. It "takes your breath away".


"Punch in the gut" is similar to "take the wind out of your sails." Something shocked you to the core and left you feeling winded, speechless and weak. Often duplicity, intentional deception and major disappointment or betrayal by someone you thought that you could trust will feel like a "punch in the gut." An example might be infidelity or a partner emptying your bank account or selling shared assets and pocketing the money. Being exploited, betrayed or abused and badly hurt by someone you trusted feels like a "punch in the gut."


We think, we feel, and we know. We are spiritual beings who perceive information, at various moments, from the head (we think), the heart (we feel) or the gut (we know).

Think about some of the ways people commit suicide. They shoot themselves in the head, stab themselves in the heart or commit hara-kiri (sword to the gut). They are trying to end their life where they perceive that life literally, physically, to be.

Cultures, individuals, even genders adopt dominant centers of information perception. Because of a mix of societal culturalization and biology, men tend to think, wherein women tend to feel. That's why the genders tend to misunderstand one another and why their language is different. These are generalizations, of course. Old-society Japanese were not always gut-level; the French are not always heart-level; Americans are not always mind-level. Our language, however, betrays our centers of spiritual consciousness at any given moment. ("I think we're going the right way." "I feel we're going the right way." "I know we're going the right way." / "I think I love you." "I feel I love you." "I know I love you.")

As children, we all start out perceiving information from the gut-level. (So incidentally, if you can't talk intelligently to a 3+-year-old child, who will be in his or her gut, don't bother. They don't suffer fools easily, and if you're in your heart or your head, you qualify, although they will patiently put up with heart-types to a degree.) Punches to the gut in life ... the lies and betrayals of this world... close off the gut center for most of us as we grow older. In the same way, we close off parts of our heart center to avoid getting hurt again. Yes, there is a way to get back to a pure, gut-level view of the world.

A "gut punch" is a figurative blow to an individual whose spirit is resting in the gut center. It is a betrayal or a shock to a person whose view of the world formerly was open and honest. With the spirit residing in the gut center, he or she has had few blockages to the world at this point, so the betrayal is severe, unexpected and traumatic. It is serious enough to force the spirit never to be so open and trusting anymore. Formerly believing that the world is full of people that do not lie and that all circumstances are fair and just, he or she now knows that such is not true. The person now has to recover and readjust to this new reality. If he or she fails to process the "gut punch" correctly, he or she may close off the gut center and move to the heart center, which provides a falser view of reality. Feelings are falser than knowing.

  • 1
    I don't think this level of spiritual analysis is needed to understand the quoted phrase. Also note that this question is 2 years old, your time may be better spent on newer questions.
    – James K
    May 13, 2020 at 18:41
  • Also, people who end their lives by shooting themselves in the head or heart are not choosing that location because of its figurative significance. They're hoping to end their life quickly by destroying vital organs. Frankly I find romanticizing suicide that way somewhat offensive. Don't even get me started on the "men are thinkers and women are feelers" trope.
    – ColleenV
    May 13, 2020 at 20:21

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