How to Start Seeing Red Flags After Growing Accustomed to Trauma

While I want to assume that most people in this world are nice, caring individuals, I have to accept that there are a lot of mean folks out there, too. Perhaps ‘mean’ isn’t the right term- people can be stubborn, rude, aggressive, violent, unappreciative, emotionally insensitive… the list goes on. Not everyone you meet will be as kind as you are, and it is important to remember that.

“Red flags” are basically warning signs. They can be noticed in people when you are getting to know them. They can alert you that something is off, or not quite right with them, and often is associated with an odd ‘gut feeling’. Sometimes, red flags can be misinterpreted, and it is important to note that not everyone operates on the same wavelength so misunderstandings when meeting new people are not inherently bad. However, keeping an eye open to ‘off’ traits of a person is very important for your own safety, mental health, and well-being.

In an ideal universe, you were raised in a loving and caring home, won homecoming King and Queen at your high school, went off to marry your sweetheart and have a beautiful, stress-free life. For most of us, however, this simply isn’t the case. It is not uncommon to have been raised with a chaotic family, witnessing and perhaps even suffering verbal, physical, or other abuse. Even if you didn’t experience a dysfunctional home life, your dating life could have been tainted by people who lied, cheater, or otherwise abused you. Of course, I am simply touching the surface of the intricacies of traumas, abuse, and ‘broken’ homes. I am just here to say that all of these traumatic events can make it very difficult to see ‘red flags’ as we get older.

Growing up with the ‘norm’ being dysfunction can be a very confusing experience. We are accustomed to the ups and downs, to being ‘on-guard’, or to hearing yelling and shouting all the time. Or, if you experienced a long term, abusive relationship, your abilities to detect what is ‘wrong’ and what is normal can become weary. Red flags? What red flags? This is what I’m used to!

Our weakened capabilities to fend off (potential) predators can result in repeated abuse. It is not uncommon for people to find themselves in back-to-back relationships with abusive partners, or to repeatedly make ‘friends’ only for them to steal or lie to you. Identifying red flags is an incredibly important step to stop the circular cycle of trauma, abuse, and dysfunction.

I have experienced a great deal of trauma in my past, and unfortunately have dated many men who were absolutely less than sub-par partners. I bounced back and forth between a few unstable and very unhealthy relationships, experiencing abuse in many forms before finally leaving the situation. Towards the end of 2019, I began to realize that these patterns were not serving me in any capacity. I was only hurting myself by meeting and dating people who had problematic traits. I needed to refocus my life onto myself, my well-being, and my standards in a relationship. I did not deserve to be yelled at, lied to, or mistreated. I deserved better.

When you are used to being mistreated, it becomes very difficult to treat yourself with kindness and respect. It is even more difficult to recognize toxic traits in people before you become close to them. However, learning to do both of these things is imperative to your own happiness.

While my advice is mainly anecdotal, I wanted to offer some options to people trying to “re-set” their standards their and ability to see red flags (before they become bigger problems).

  • Find a therapist specialized in trauma. Seriously, this is a huge factor. Therapy will help you reflect on your past, and assist you in better identifying troublesome habits. You can work on healing yourself while better preparing your mind, body, and psyche for the present and the future.
  • Read books. Make sure they are written by experts in psychology, or authors that are reliable and not trying to shove their own agenda down your throat. (I only say this because the amount of Jesus-centric “self help” books I have filtered through is ridiculous. Unless, of course, the Jesus thing is your jam.) This tip can also apply to blogs (maybe like mine!), articles, or other reliable, honest mental health resources. My personal choice for literature on this topic is Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. I read it for the first time a few years back, and have reread it multiple times since. My past therapy groups have also highly recommended it. It is a fantastic tool to reshape your views on boundaries with yourself, your partners, and others.
  • STAY SINGLE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! (Kinda contrary to the whole Jesus thing I just said, but oh well.) If you aren’t in a (healthy) relationship or marriage already, please do yourself a favor and stay single while you figure this out! Dating/hookups/flings only make things 10x worse when you are trying to evolve and become a better YOU. This is a great time to focus on all the things about yourself that you might have neglected in the past. What hobbies do YOU like? What things should you be doing to take care of yourself, like eating better or being more active? What about going back to school, or starting a certificate? There are so many ways to turn that nervous, anxiously single energy around and re-focus on yourself.
  • Focus on the family and friends that genuinely love and care about you. I hope that all of you have at least a handful of healthy, loving, and reliable people in your lives that you can turn to when things get rough. The love and care that they provide you should be guidelines to how ‘new’ people in your life should treat you. Healthy family and friends can also provide insight on to a person you introduce to them (like a new friend or partner), and could help you see ‘red flags’ before you do.

I hope this post helps people in some way. I know that healing and recovering from trauma can be very difficult, and a long process. Stay encouraged and know that even a small step forward is a step in the right direction.