Capturing life in words…
Learning to avoid people who will bring chaos and despair is part of healthy living. I overheard a pastor giving advice on dating and marriage, when I took a client to a church food pantry several years ago. He said, “The easiest way not to marry a non-christian is not to date a non-christian.” Well, this same concept can be applied to any trait. The easiest way avoid being hurt by a liar, emotional manipulator, cheat, thief etc. is not to let them in your world in the first place.
The only way to prevent putting the welcome mat out to the wrong people is to be aware of the red flags or indicators. Once we know what to look for then we know when to adjust our boundaries and pull the welcome mat back in and lock our door. I always thought high schools should teach when someone may not be a good choice to take up space in your world, as many broken hearts could be prevented with this awareness.
One Red Flag alone may not necessarily indicate you should dump your new found friend, co-worker or date at the curb; however, more than one is a definite “uh-oh” and deserves some consideration.
Knowing what we do not want is just as critical as our wish list.
Also, if you are in a relationship and find it has Red Flags, a reputable, licensed therapist will be able to address the issues, provide support, education and help with self-awareness. Your primary care physician or insurance provider should be able to provide you with names and numbers of local, licensed counselors.
I have a family member whom I love very, very much. I have to draw distinct boundaries to preserve my sanity because his mental health disorder causes him to say and do hurtful things. I have the choice of excluding him completely from my world, or setting up boundaries which keep most of the chaos out. I found a therapist helpful in sorting this confusion out. However, people of choice (friends, boyfriends, girlfriends etc) who come in my life need to be well to gain access into my world. See my Article about setting healthy boundaries http://wp.me/p3Oa9p-8E The below red flags are something I wish I knew decades ago, and now I share them for your consideration.
Red Flags for Relationships
1) A sense of entitlement. If s/he feels they naturally deserve time, money, priority or should be privy to special treatment, your needs will come after theirs. This trait alone indicates they will be a taker and suck the life out of you. When having a sense of entitlement, the individual will not give proper consideration to the needs, perspective, feelings of others. Another noticeable behavior of those who feel “entitled”, is they may treat others in a condescending manner.
2) Lack of reciprocity. A healthy relationship of any type has both “give” and “take” and neither person feels unduly burdened. If you are the one always giving the outcome is inevitable– you’re going to end up feeling depleted. Now if your loved one develops an illness, do not read in between the lines. I am talking about a totally healthy (physically, mentally, spiritually) and able-bodied person who takes your time, depletes your emotions, borrows money and gives nothing back. No love, time sacrifices, affirmations and kindness coming back in is a blood red flag.
3) Lack of empathy and/or an unusual inability to understand or consider the experience, motivation, perspective of others. When this occurs, you may find yourself feeling a level of confusion or your “gut feeling” is somethign is “off”. Why? Well, at some level we find lack of empathy disturbing. Pay attention to your sixth sense and tune into what it may be responding to. Often our subconscious picks up self-centered behaviors before our more conscious self wants to accept the truth.
4) Contradictions. For example, I remember a man told me he was going to college to be an accountant, yet his own financial world was a disaster– unbalanced bank accounts, disconnect notices. If they say one thing and do another, that is a huge red flag of contradictions. They often try to present themselves as something they are not, resulting in contradictions.
5) Excessive dependance on others or poor boundaries. If a person requires continual praise, encouragement or needs someone to “complete them” then they may lack a sense of self. When a person’s self-esteem is dependent upon the approval of others, they often will have strong emotional reactions, such as rage or shame, when their self-esteem is perceived as threatened. It may feel exhausting to be in a relationship with someone so dependent.
6) Rapid shift from “love” to “hate” and/or views life events as being “all” or “nothing”. Polarized thinking is evidenced as intimate feelings vacillate between fear/rejection to a desperate desire of connection in a relationship. There is a definite lack of “shades of gray,” which a good portion of life should fall into versus operating from an extreme position. No one deserves time on a continually swinging pendulum. Attempts to keep the pendulum on the “happy, loving, life-is-good” side will not work. If this pattern emerges, something has to be done to change it. Or your time, love and attention needs to be reined in and put on pause.
7) Resorts to unfair fighting, such as name-calling, or stone-walling (not listening to you). No one should resort to name calling. It’s disrespectful and shows a lack of maturity. If your partner or friend resorts to name-calling or stone-walling, I recommend immediately telling them you will tolerate being treated with disrespect and name-calling/stone-walling. The best thing to do if a conversation escalates to this level is take a time out and agree to talk later. If name-calling persists, remind yourself it is verbal abuse.
8) Attention seeking or needs to be the center of attention. There are certainly times when it is appropriate to be the center of attention– like when one is a toddler. After childhood, one should not demand constant admiration or attending to by others. Excessive attempts for attention (“Look at me” behavior) is not appropriate in adults. You certainly do not want to date or be the BFF with a toddler.
9) Inability to consider opposing viewpoints. An emotionally healthy individual can debate and disagree without being disagreeable. Learning to accept the views of others and being able to co-exist is fundamental in all environments– professional and personal– or growth cannot occur.
Just as alarming is the other extreme– having no unique, or individual perspective. I once had a friend who agreed with everything I said. Although his intentions were good, it was extreme and appeared inauthentic and sadly made him look as if he had no sense of self or individuality. I gently shared with him, “It’s okay to have an opinion different than mine,”. Years later he told me, although uncomfortable to hear, he was glad I shared it with him as it caused him to reflect and grow. We still stay in touch as colleagues.
10) Treating service staff disrespectfully. I shared this gem in my post about Emotional Abuse too. Almost always, when someone treats service staff rudely, on their worst day (or your worst day) you will receive the exact same treatment. If a waitress brings the wrong dish to the table and s/he has a meltdown, well, someday you will be the recipient of the same inappropriate treatment. This leads me to another point: Pay very close attention to how people manage their stress– if they lie, scream, sedate themselves to a zombie state, this is a pattern to expect to leak into other areas, such as their relationship with you.
As I said, one red flag or weakness may not necessarily indicate dysfunction, but would be cause to being alert to others. Learning red flags is just as important as knowing what we desire or need in a relationship. If you meet someone who is attractive, witty and intelligent, yet has a meltdown when you have a different viewpoint and needs your constant attention to feel loved, those two traits unharnessed will cause chaos and pain.
Again, if you are in a relationship and some of the above red flags sound familiar, counseling either alone or as a couple, is important to help process the issues and concerns. Your physician or insurance provider should be able to provide names and contact information for professional intervention by a licensed therapist.
When working on psycho-social or emotional issues, you may need to try more than one therapist or counselor to find a good working relationship. So if you don’t feel a connection or develop rapport with your first attempt at counseling, do not give up. Give another professional counselor a try and see if you feel more comfortable. Just as doctors have their own bedside-manner, therapists have their own style as well. However, sound and ethical counseling can provide assistance and education that a friend or family member is not going to be able to offer.
Written by LMM, MSW, LSW
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