If you look around at all the friends and partners you’ve let into your life, and discover that there’s a high proportion of trainwrecks and jerks, guess what? Your red flag detector is broken.
It’s broken! It’s supposed to be warning you when bad people try to walk into your life (this goes for bosses and jobs too). You’re supposed to get a bad feeling, a sense of aversion to people and situations that are going to hurt you!
What shuts down that crucial function is abuse and neglect in your childhood. It’s not your fault that this happened. But now it’s you and only you who can start healing that red flag detector.
And it’s got to be a healing priority because as long as hurtful people have a way into your life and your heart, you’ll be vulnerable to one of the absolute worst wounds of Childhood PTSD. I’ll tell you why this is, and I’ll tell you how to heal it.
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There is a tremendous cost of having no filter on who gets into your life. Where people who love you should be, you get people who are not that connected to you — people incapable of loving and caring for others, and people who are just plain using you.
The people you need to be able to depend on? They aren’t there! Instead your life ends up riddled with very broken people, and those who, in the end, are going to leave you MORE wounded than you are right now. I know this, because I lived nearly blind to red flags for many years.
The problem is like a runaway train; it builds momentum. The more bad people get into your life, the more your boundaries fall apart and then even WORSE people get in. And each time, it sucks a little more of your life out of you.
Your red-flag detector is crucial. If you’re going to be happy and heal you’re going to need to quickly recognize people who are not good for you, and you can’t do that when it’s broken. Luckily, however, you can bring your detector back to life. and I’ll show you how.
Red flags are the signs that unhealthy people give off, signaling that they are not safe, not what they appear to be, or not emotionally available.
Sometimes they tell you outright, things like “Just so you know, I’m not looking for a relationship.” That’s a flashing red light, right? But have you ever ignored it, thinking “Ah, they probably don’t mean it.”
There’s a terrible price to be paid for that. But that’s how powerful CPTSD can be in distorting not just our thinking, but our hearing and our ability to see what’s right in front of us.
Sometimes the signs are subtle; you have to listen for them, test the waters. Healthy, aware people notice these signs and respond accordingly — they don’t open the door. But people with CPTSD lose the ability to accurately read the signs, and get ensnared.
Have you ever met somebody new, and you were really excited about them, and then when people who love you met this person, they had that kind of puzzled, incredulous expression? That’s a sign of their red flag detector working, when yours, has not. I’ve done that.
And the worst thing is, you know on some level that this new friend or boyfriend or whatever is no good for you. But you know how people say that phrase, once you’ve seen the truth, you can’t unsee it? We’ll with CPTSD, for some crazy reason, you can unsee it. It goes right into the black hole of non-awareness, even though going blank in that way and not protecting yourself is the WORST thing you can do. Why on earth, would anyone do something so self-destructive. I’m going to tell you eight reasons. You can see how many of them apply to you.
When you were little, you had too much exposure to chaos and fear. Do you remember that feeling? You heard your parents fighting, or saw drug use or violence, or they told you everything was fine, when anyone with eyes could see things were not fine. Witnessing your parents when they didn’t keep things safe and instead put everyone in danger, or when they didn’t tell the truth, is awful, especially for kids. As a result, you learn to turn off your good sense and your perception about what’s OK and what’s not OK. You taught yourself to override your own natural instincts.
And maybe you’re doing it now. It must just be me, you’re always thinking. When you’re appropriately afraid, you shut yourself down. This isn’t courage and it’s not an accomplishment. You’re just numb.
You might learn to look like you’re OK, and you might even learn to be OK and seem “present” on a lot of levels. But your good vulnerability is gone.
And what is that vulnerability? It’s you being able to FEEL things. When you lose that, what else do you lose? You lose your ability to know and sense the intentions of other people, and to detect threats.
So that’s the first thing that breaks your red-flag detector. People abuse you, and you turn your vulnerability off, and with it, your ability to sense trouble.
Checking out like that didn’t start as a bad thing back when you were in the middle of some abusive situation, and you were powerless to stop it or get away. Numb is an escape. Numb is protection.
But now, going numb when things get tough means someone who’s no good for you appears and you what? You feel nothing. Or you feel a craving for companionship or love but not the unease you should be feeling when you are getting emotionally close to someone who has an secret addiction, or is lying to you, or who is not into you romantically.
OK, another thing that impairs your red flag detection is dysregulation when something is intensely frightening — let’s say you’re in the car with someone who is driving crazily, and you get so frightened you get flustered. You can’t put your thoughts in a sequence. So you’re not in denial exactly, and you’re not numb, but the kind of quick thinking and power to take action and get out of that car — you can’t access it.
It’s like you see the red flag but you can’t act on it; that can happen with dysregulation.
If you watch my videos, I talk about dysregulation a lot, and teach online courses about how to recognize it. It’s when your brain waves change from a coordinated flow when you’re calm, to a jagged, chaotic pattern under stress. Your senses and thinking aren’t working right. Your emotions come in bursts — too much, then nothing, and this leaves you wide open to people who should not be there, who normally would repel you. But there you are with them, like a deer in the headlights.
Sometimes our red flag detector is worn down by people in our lives who pressure us to override our natural fears. You know, that “Come on — I dare ya!” Mentality. Or calling you chicken, or calling you a prude — pushing you to do something that you don’t want to do, that you feel is wrong or dangerous.
If you don’t have good boundaries and you grew up denying your own reality, it’s fairly easy to abandon your own good instincts just because someone told you to do it. And where does that get you? Alone! Lost! In danger!
Another way you lose the ability to detect screaming red flags: You second guess yourself. If you were abused or neglected as a kid, I’ll bet you do that a lot. You think, “Did that person just threaten me or.. I don’t know, it’s probably just me!”
Going so long through life — never clear whether you’re in danger or just imagining things — will often leave you actually in danger.
The biggest reason you end up throwing away your time and happiness over bad people, is out of your NEED for people. With CPTSD, that need can be so deep, and SO unmet, so desperate, that you’ll basically put up with a bad person just so there’s someone to hang out with. Have you ever done that?
You know on some level you’re doing it and you’re ashamed of yourself. But When something feels like that? Pay attention! This is the first step to healing that ability to detect problems and danger.
Here are four steps to heal this:
- You’ve GOT to get CLEAR. Write down — so that you can’t get vague about it — the characteristics of people who are not good for you. In my course on Dating and Relationships, I teach how to get very clear on that.
- Include: ho could hurt you? Who could derail your life or put your kids in jeopardy? Name the things that can do that, for example, abusive behavior. Criminal behavior. Drugs. Alcoholism. Untrustworthiness. Serious psychological problems. Emotional unavailability, or otherwise appropriate people such as bosses or professors or married people for example.
- Then list what signs you’ve missed before in this regard. If you’ve ever been burned by someone — i.e., things started great and then, too late, you found out what someone was really like. Ask yourself: What were the signs? You probably kicked yourself at the time for not seeing it coming. Ask yourself, if you were healed then, what would you have noticed? Write down the signs that were there before the trouble started that you missed, and what made you ignore those signs. Was it dysregulation? Were you Second guessing yourself, did you have a sense of desperation to be with someone at any cost?
- Write down, if you were really going to do this right this time, how you more effectively discover if the people you meet have these red flag signs? How could you tell? On some level you know but you’ve gone vague about it before. Right? So how could you tell? If someone was abusive, they wouldn’t show you this on the first date probably. It might take time, but you’d see other signs — how they treated animals for example, or servers in restaurants.
- How would you know if someone had an addiction? That’s something I used to have trouble detecting right off the bat. When people have serious addictions they have to be good at hiding it. That’s what they do. Or how would you know if someone was already in another relationship? Unless they wear a ring or tell you right up front, if they don’t want you to know? You might not know. Most red flag behaviors are not going to show up on the first date. Tiny flags maybe, but you have to get to know someone. That takes time. And it takes time when you’re NOT already bonded with them. OK, let’s say you go on a first date with someone. They’re great! They’re awesome! Does that mean it’s safe to get super intimate with them that day? Not if you have red flag detector issues, NO!
- In new relationships, where your detector hasn’t had a chance to suss things out — you’ve got to slow things DOWN. Slow is your friend. Slow doesn’t come naturally but it’s the way you can stay conscious during the getting-to-know-you process. Not rushing into a relationship or making them into a newfound best friend. You take your time and you observe how they are in daily things. And you observe what your gut tells you when things are “a little bit off.” This can be so hard with CPTSD, because we can get strong emotions or flashbacks that distort what things mean. So we can’t always trust our gut.
Slow. down. Interactions — way down. Slow down dating. Slow down getting involved in big commitments. Give all relationships a chance to show you what they ARE, who the other person is, before letting your kids meet them, or changing anything about your life for them.
Think of this as a developmental delay — you’re developing the ability to detect problems and danger. So let yourself practice by keeping things slow and deliberate.
- If going slow is hard for you, get a friend you trust to be your sounding board. We all need at least one person we trust, with whom we can be honest. Getting out of delusion is like climbing out of rushing water. A second person has to be standing on the banks. Check in about people, about your intention to go slowly, and the list of unacceptable traits you wrote down. If you’re like me, you feel shame about the mistakes of the past. And when some little part of you knows you’re screwing up again, you tend to get very secretive and just show people the outer niceties and not tell them your concerns. If you’re ready to heal the pattern, have one person to whom you tell everything, and invite them to give you feedback on it. Shine sunlight on the problem areas of your life.
- OK, you were probably wondering when I’d say this cause I always say this: Use my Daily Practice to clear out the fearful and resentful thoughts that gum up you clear thinking and perception. Seriously, try it for seven days to find out if it helps you. The Daily Practice refers to very specific techniques I teach to get those thoughts OUT of your mind and then REST your mind, so you can emerge each time with a big jump up in clarity. Bit by bit, it’s grows in the power to heal. It’s one of those things that can’t be explained. You just have to experience it.
Wondering where to start your healing? Register now for my online course HEALING CHILDHOOD PTSD.
Has early trauma affected your romantic life? Take my RELATIONSHIPS QUIZ.
You can register now for DATING AND RELATIONSHIPS For People with Childhood PTSD.
You can learn the calming techniques I mention in this article in this free online course: THE DAILY PRACTICE.
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You can learn the calming techniques I describe in my free course THE DAILY PRACTICE.