Countless instagram posts dominate my feed about ‘red flags’ to observe in the dating game, that suggest you run for the hills with a biblical level of fear that may turn you to stone should you dare to glance back.
The trouble being if you approach the guru that is google there will be multiple lists of potential red flag behaviours with people believing they all relate to the doom of the duo that you so hoped you may be a part of. Most of the evidence gathered to outline such signs is done so retrospectively – after the event of a more imminent risky/harmful act being undertaken. Much like the neighbours of your local serial killers, who thought they were great until the bodies turn up and then suddenly their cheery good morning was a murderous warning. As humans we have a process called confirmation bias, we look for things to support what we already believe. Buy a red car notice the red cars. Believe in red flags, you’ve enough to play 18 holes, get completely ‘tee’d off’ and still feel under par.
All the mixed media messages about what to look for, simply create confusion. When we are confused we are more suggestible – open to believing what we hear – ultimately making us more at risk to real dangers, than the immediate red flags in our orbit that we are so keen we gather as much information as we can on. All this thinking, simply serves as an avoidance of feeling and removes us from that core survival strategy of gut instinct.
The reality in life is that we all have, Green, Red and Amber flags – the behaviours that’s fit into those categories will vary over time, over contexts and the categories will be evaluated differently for different people. People are not carbon copies of each other. If they were my job undertaking criminal risk assesments would not be necessary. There are individual differences that require in-depth assessments and observations over time and contexts.
None of this is to say that when we hit the realms of abusive behaviour this is something to be tolerated as it most certainly is not. However, the belief that we can predict the risk of this early on, from some isolated incidents is what can benefit from further exploration. Forensic risk assessment is based upon static and dynamic factors. Static being that history of behaviours is a marker for future behaviours and dynamic is about transient changing contexts that may reduce or increase the risk of the prior index incident. Historically, only static factors were considered in law and clinical settings. Meaning ‘they did it once so will do it again’. A prediction that no change is possible, a stuck position. Sometimes that ends up being true but sometimes it simply isn’t.
Judging someone and sticking in the red flag after a few dates is taking a static approach. Often red flags emerge in the sourcing of players for the dating game, even before the first round has begun. Of course we are all within our rights to do this. Boundaries and dealbreakers are fine. But when you notice a pattern of no one appearing good enough, perhaps it’s time to turn the focus inwards to reflect on the reasons behind the fears felt and the belief that you must know something immediately as you will have no power to remove yourself, should a boundary be crossed for you, at a later stage. There is no rule that says because you didn’t see it coming you have to remain. You may have made the bed, invited someone in but you do not have to continue to lay in it.
The behaviours we see and label as a red flag e.g. interrupting and talking about themselves on a date, is a symptom of something going on underneath. That something can have many causes. There is much we all hide in our closets that do not always lead to the Narnia that is narcissism – the biggest red flag everyone seems to be diagnosing in minutes these days. I’m still pretty slow on the uptake taking a good 3-4 hours of clinical assessment, testing and sourcing of collateral information to offer a robust diagnosis.
While some symptoms we see may have underlying personality factors and be less transient. Others may be due to current life stressors, or negative thoughts and thinking errors a person has, rather than a part of their core belief system and a definition of who they are.
So if you’re finding yourself in a red flag frenzy, It is important to check your own thinking errors. Are you making assumptions? Do you really have evidence to support the label you have chosen? Is it the red of your own emotional brake lights being confused with an external red flag? What does seeing problems now help you feel better about? Avoidance is protective, what do you fear if you found a relationship that worked out?
Relationship red flags really serve the same function as their golf course counterparts. They have to be removed before we can score.
After the initial perceived sighting, believing your attribution of meaning to what you see is correct, closes the door to communication. The hole or the whole is blocked. Assumptions are the death of discourse. For growth to occur, you need to be curious about what a behaviour means to a person and if and why they may find it acceptable to behave in a way that you do not. This way you are not assuming and will be operating from a place of love not fear. You may not like the answers you are given but you are showing respect, you are empowered and you can then make a sound decision as to whether you want to continue the relationship. If we live in assumptions and close down communication then that response pattern itself, is a red flag we ourselves would fear, which ultimately is an act of disempowerment.