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May 29, 2024

Red Flags

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Something that is commonly talked about in romantic relationships, that I want to broaden, is the concept of red flags.

The origin of the expression comes from war zones. If someone held up a red flag it signaled that danger was near. But in today’s vocabulary, for something to be a ‘red flag’ means that it’s a warning or a sign that something’s wrong.

There are very obvious red flags (like going into business with someone who has gone to prison for embezzlement) and there are more subtle red flags that are more intuitive (like having the feeling that someone doesn’t have good intentions).

What’s interesting is while we wouldn’t knowingly choose to step into a situation with clear ‘red flags’ we often find ourselves in them.

One reason is we choose to ignore them. For whatever reason, our sense of hope and possibility outweighs the negative perception of how a ‘red flag’ might impact our life. Having optimism causes us to be more tolerant of things we otherwise wouldn’t want.

Another reason is fear of change. The way things are, even though they aren’t ideal, is predictable. You know what you’re going to get. And our minds crave certainty because there’s a sense of safety in it, so we postpone change in an attempt to maintain the level of safety we have right now for fear we’ll have less if we intervene.

And last is emotional investment. When we’ve poured time and energy into a person or job or lifestyle, we experience a cognitive bias called ‘sunk cost fallacy'. This causes us to try to salvage the deposits we’ve already placed in order to avoid wasting them. But often this keeps us locked into a situation that isn’t going to improve.

Standing up to the red flags in your life takes courage. Your mind will try to convince you that you don’t need to initiate change. But when you do you create space that allows more positive relationships and opportunities to fill in.

So be honest with yourself and what serves you. Don’t pretend ‘not to know’ what’s going on. The more you allow 'red flags' in, the weaker your boundary becomes and the more you enable other red flags to find their way into your life.

To integrate this concept with awareness, you can reflect on this question: What am I pretending not to know?

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