I often see many people referring to behaviour in relationships and dating as a 'red flag'. What that means is that the person in question has said or done something to demonstrate that their behaviour may not be supportive to a healthy relationship. Notice I don't use the word 'toxic' here - you can read more about my experience and thoughts with the toxic label here and the victim label here.
The problem is with a 'red flag', it's part of a list of things we need to look out for. We are in effect teaching our bodies and nervous system to be on code red. All. The. Time. Which is exhausting and if you already experience anxiety, and/or have an anxious attachment style, you are likely already very hypervigilent. Adding the search for a red flag into the mix is going to be less supportive than more.
We need to enter into relationships from a place of trust so that we open ourselves to vulnerability and with that emotional connection. If by doing so you notice the other person's behaviour induces in you feelings of shame and lack of self-worth, it is your reaction that is the sign of what isn't right. If you are able to have an emotionally vulnerable conversation with someone and walk away feeling seen and validated then your body will tell you so. Your nervous system (if you are used to a sense of safety and tapping into joy) will let you know that it feels good.
When I'm working with clients, I am looking to get them to a place where they trust themselves. Where they don't need to constantly be on red alert for a potential narcissist or someone looking to 'take advantage'. Once a person has worked through some of their core wounds eg for women, their father wound; for men, their mother wound - this in itself will allow them to attract a better relationship with the opposite sex and I explain why here in Healing The Father Wound. For men re healing the mother wound, you may find this page supportive.
Healing the father wound means you aren't projecting onto a date/partner with preconceived ideas of ‘all men do…’. No, not all men, just the ones who are like your father that you attract to keep yourself in repeated patterns (this is valid for men with an unhealed mother wound attracting 'the wrong women').
The thing is with a core wound, we will close ourselves down to the opposite sex, automatically expecting the worst. So as a defence mechanism we are on the attack before we need to defend. If we are on the attack the person in front of us is immediately on the defence. They will behave in ways which trigger them to withdraw or reach out even further for validation - so then we become a slave to our attachment styles being triggered. You can read more about anxious attachment here and avoidant here.
Another thing a client and I will work on is regarding their internal sense of safety and also how they feel in their environment. How well they can trust their nervous system. So what we need to be doing instead of looking for red flags in our lives, is actually looking for the pleasure and joy - and I explore that in depth here.
When we feel safe in our bodies, when we understand a healthy connection to pleasure and joy, when we are aware of our core wounds and notice them showing up, we become the master in how we ask to be treated and how we don't want to be treated. Anything outside of that which doesn't align and doesn't have us feeling good about the interaction is a message that there is something not right that requires further attention.
To bring it to a personal level, let me explain how I approach dating and new connections with other human beings...
I don’t look out for red flags as such. I notice how I feel when with them or talking to them and how I find myself behaving.
So do I feel good about myself or do I come away feeling a little insecure or confused?
Am I finding myself justifying things about myself/my life/work/body?
Do I find myself changing my interests/adapting to be liked? (Hello people-pleasing and self-abandonment!)
Am I trying to prove something to them about me and be accepted?
Having worked somatically (with the body) to create a sense of safety, trust and intuition, I am able to notice when my body leaps into a particular response that has before got me into a relationship which wasn't healthy.
Getting to a place of safety in my nervous system means I can sense with whom I feel good.
Being aware of my core wounds I can notice if a story pops up and take note of it to begin to explore further.
So I’m looking for trauma responses.
My body will have picked up on it before me.
My body will have begun to retract causing me to head into old familiar patterns if I don't catch them in time. And this is where the empowerment is.
In being fully aware of oneself, choosing to go a different path and trusting in myself to make the right decision moving forward.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Other articles which are supportive around this topic are: