July 24, 2023

You Don’t Watch for Red Flags—You Listen for Them.

If you have to lie to yourself about who they are—that’s a red flag.

If you have to lie to yourself about how they treat you—that’s a red flag.

If you have to lie to yourself about the history of the relationship—that’s a red flag.

Red flags exist both in their behaviours and our behaviours too.

Red flags are real but not what the realm of Instagram psychology presents them to be. I know that the trendy TikTok list of things to watch out for in dating a new mate is seductive dating advice to adhere to, but I urge you to scroll past it.

This is why as a psychotherapist, I don’t urge you to listen to me or other mental health professionals regarding love. Instead, I urge you to listen to yourself. Like, really listen to yourself. To put down the lists of what is and is not a red flag and instead really hear yourself.

Because when it comes to red flags in the arena of love, you are the most dangerous red flag.

Your ability to justify, rationalize, excuse, and minimize behaviour is a lethal weapon that, unless regularly monitored, will lead you into a land vacant of love. The only way to scan for the presence of this red flag is to take the time to truly hear what you are saying about the new person you are playing lovers with.

As a psychotherapist, I want you to know that the most delectable red flags are the excuses you make for them. I get it. You like them. You want things to work out. You feel something “special” for them. And because you want the relationship to continue, you overlook a few classic relational “red flags.”

You overlook red flags when you minimize the story they told you that doesn’t make sense. Avoid their anger. Reject the information you have about their past. Discount the opinions of your friends. Ignore your intuition. Deflect their criticisms. Pretend you didn’t notice their ex-partner blowing up their phone. You look at a list of red flags online and don’t find what you are experiencing identified identically. Therefore, you don’t assert your boundaries and instead “let it go.”

I hear these types of things all the time in the stories my clients speak to me in secret.

As a psychotherapist who hears justifications, excuses, and rationalizes every day for why a “red flag” isn’t red…I want you to know that it doesn’t matter if their behaviour is or is not a “red flag.” All of those lists online are irrelevant. What matters and is both important and relevant is that you acknowledge that you have found yourself in a place of creating justifications, excuses, and rationalizes for your beloved’s behaviour. When you find yourself scrolling or creating mental stories to justify their mistreatment, you have found yourself in the land of red flags.

The uncomfortable truth about human behaviour is that:

Your mind will tell you whatever you want to hear. It isn’t the most credible witness. Your heart won’t tell you whatever you want to hear. It is a credible witness.

When that story doesn’t make sense, your heart stings. When you avoid their anger, your heart is afraid. When you reject the information, your heart goes cold. When you discount opinions, your heart is alone. When you deflect criticism, your heart hurts. Pretending always causes pain. I promise you that.

Due to the pain you are feeling and the desire you have for this person to be your person, your mind will spiral into stories that justify, excuse, and rationalize their “red flag” behaviours as a way to numb your pain. You’ll probably even find yourself online to rationalize it all.

When we want love to work, we will all overlook things. We will all stop listening to ourselves.

This is why if you ever find yourself googling their behaviour, you have gone too far. You have stopped listening to yourself. You don’t need a list to know if their treatment is terrible; you only need to take the time to hear yourself by trying to numb the sting inside your heart away with mental stories.

I know your mind will do this, and you will find yourself online trying to understand being treated poorly because my mind has done it, and I have witnessed hundreds of clients’ minds do it too.

So if you ever find yourself here…

Remember that the greatest, most detectable, and accurate “red flag” is the one that comes from inside your heart. It is one that only you can hear. It is one that no list online will ever be able to include.

Denying the sensations of your heart by creating stories in your mind that minimize pain is the only “red flag” you need to watch for. I promise you. It is the only real red flag out there.

So when you are looking for love, when you are confused and in a complicated place with the person you love, when you don’t know if the flags you see ahead of you are the entrance to the United Nations or a carnival…I deeply encourage you to pause.

To become present with your heart. To notice your mind. To hear yourself. Listen for justifications, excuses, and rationalizations in your words with others and yourself.

You don’t watch for red flags; you listen for them.


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