Relationship red flags tend to focus our gaze on the other person, warning us to look out for things like lying or gaslighting, the trampling of boundaries, or displays of jealousy.

And to be sure, these are useful signs to pay attention to.

In the last couple of years, though, I’ve gotten even more curious about inner red flags.

My childhood home was a year-round training camp in the exhausting art of hypervigilance. Scanning other people’s moods, behaviors, and unspoken cues felt non-negotiable if I wanted to keep everything on an even keel.

(In reality, I didn’t have nearly as much influence over those externals as I thought, but hypervigilance is predicated on the illusion of control in an out-of-control environment.)

One way this plays out in the present, if I’m not taking care of my inner parts, is through a disconnect from my own thoughts and feelings, especially around people I’m just getting to know.

Growing up, paying attention to what I was feeling or needing wasn’t even on my radar, so in situations where I’m experiencing mild to moderate social anxiety, this pattern can pop up like a prairie dog.

If only my baggage was this adorable!

Through much trial and error, I’ve noticed predictable cues that go hand in hand with a state of inner disconnect, and so far, every time I’ve ignored these cues I end up in a friendship that, sooner rather than later, does. not. work.

Hence, the creation of my inner red flags list. Let’s see what’s on it…

🚩#1 A strong need for approval

Hel-lo. This is less of a gently fluttering flag and more of a massive cannon kabooming right in my face–that’s how much I need to pay attention to this one.

When I meet anyone for the first time, I get little twinges of wanting that person to like me, but the need for approval I’m talking about here is much stronger.

When this pattern is running, if someone expresses displeasure or disagreement, instead of thinking about what I’ve said and whether or not I stand by it, I immediately backtrack and change my tune to whatever I think they want to hear.

Whooo boy, that’s a childhood replay if ever I saw one. Inner red flag! 😐

Over the last few years, I’ve gotten very, very curious in these interactions, and I’ve noticed a couple of themes.

These flags tend to wave when I meet someone who expresses disapproval fairly readily, whether of me, other people, or the world at large. (I now know that if someone starts shit-talking others right out of the gate, this is my cue to walk run 🏃‍♀️out of that gate and never look back).

If I’m not taking care of my inner parts, I find myself with the inexplicable urge to prove that I’m not as disappointing or [insert whatever accusation is being hurled around] as they think.

My pulse starts racing; I laugh nervously, almost compulsively; and I’m super focused on their tone of voice and body language, trying to figure out how I “should” behave. All of these are inner red flags.

Now, sometimes I might be experiencing these cues and it has very little to do with the other person.

I don’t need to figure out in the moment exactly what these cues mean. But what is important is sloooowing down and not making any plans to hang out again until I’ve had alone time to process.

No hasty decisions, even if someone is trying to pressure me into making one. ⏰

A simple, “Thanks, I need to think on that. I’ll get back to you,” or “I need to look at my calendar,” will suffice. Often, once I’m on my own, I instantly feel how much tension my body is holding, I notice how drained I am, and I generally have zero excitement about seeing this person again. All good things to know!

Another common theme is someone who holds very polarized beliefs:

Nobody can be trusted,” or another variation: “All [men/artists/squirrels/insert broad category] are [insert sweeping generalization].”

Everything is [insert something extremely awful or extremely amazing].”

“I could never, ever do [insert totally reasonable option].”

What I’ve learned is that this extreme thinking, sooner or later, will be directed at me, too. When nuance isn’t tolerated, things typically devolve into one person being assigned All Bad so the other person can be All Good (another childhood replay of mine).

And this brings me to inner red flag nombre duex…

🚩#2 A Feeling of Hopelessness

Growing up, I was surrounded by adults who lived according to extreme (and extremely limiting) beliefs.

Maybe it was an ironclad list of reasons why artists can’t make any money. Or why people can’t be trusted. Or why vulnerability was shameful and must be avoided at all costs.

Maybe it was an airtight worldview in which everyone else was inferior and we had to be a lonely, superior island.

The end result was a feeling of utter hopelessness. Apparently, the world was a terrible place and there was nothing to be done about it.

Hmm…I think I’ll just stay inside today

Sometimes, one of my inner parts would rage against these cynical chains, trying (pointlessly) to convince the adults that things weren’t as terrible as they claimed. But often, I would just sink into a state of numbness.

When I start feeling either of these things around someone now–desperately wanting to change their cynical views or sinking into a numbed-out state of hopelessness–INNER RED FLAG.

If I slow down and turn my focus inward, often there’s a storyline running in the background, one in which I magically save this person from their dreary worldview, and off we go, riding a unicorn into the sunset.

My young inner part sees these present-day scenarios as my only chance at redeeming the hopelessness I felt as a kid. But…they’re not. Not only is it impossible to change someone else (particularly if they have no interest in changing themselves), even if I could, that wouldn’t rewrite the past.

So, if I had to sum up this entire email in one sentence, it would be:

If I’m feeling agitated around someone, sloooow the heck down and don’t make future plans until I’ve had some alone time.

Here’s the thing: We all have a past that shapes and influences our future, for good or for ill, and everything in between.

Because of this, at times we’ll be drawn to people who remind us, often unconsciously, of our past. While it’s understandable to feel frustrated by this at times, growth, as the cliché helpfully reminds us, truly is a spiral.

I write frequently about psychological complexes, which act like mini solar systems in the psyche, drawing matching material into their orbit. We can’t get rid of complexes, but we can radically shift our experience of them by becoming more aware of their gravitational pull.

🚩 Recognizing our inner red flags is one way to do this.

Because every complex has a potent archetype at its center, this means that complexes are conduits of massive power and energy. This energy can be channeled into reinforcing unwanted patterns…but it can also serve as catalyst and fuel for transformation.

For instance, some of my most profoundly healing experiences have been with friends who share similar complexes, but because we’re both working on our stuff, we’re able to make different choices in the present when those complexes get activated. This sends a message to both of our inner systems that change is possible and things that weren’t safe in childhood can be safe now.

What a tremendous gift! 💝

Other times, this pattern-match leads to interactions that hew closely to the past. Maybe one or both people are simply too activated in each other’s presence, and this makes it awfully hard to choose a different response. The past floods in, and the pattern is reinforced.

Sometimes people aren’t able to meet us in a different place.

Sometimes we aren’t able to meet them in a different place.

You’re human. I’m human. This sort of thing happens, even with the best of intentions. 🤷

Learning to recognize my inner red flags has helped introduce more compassion to frustrating or uncomfortable situations. They’re a signal that one or more of my complexes are waking up, and that means it’s time to take it slow.

And even if my complexes are being activated in response to someone else’s behavior, this doesn’t mean they’re a terrible person. They’re likely wounded, too, and our complexes are rubbing each other’s fur the wrong way.

You don’t have to make it work with everyone.

Sometimes, it’s just too difficult from our current location on the growth spiral to not get activated around someone and slip into unwanted patterns.

Treating ourselves and others with compassion means honoring where we are–not insisting that we should be elsewhere.

So, maybe my personal mantra could be helpful for you, too:

If you’re feeling agitated around someone, sloooow the heck down and don’t make future plans until you’ve had some alone time.

It’s okay to take it slow. It’s okay to stop and think. Giving yourself time and space to get clear on what you need is a powerful act of self-care, and when we’re kind to ourselves, it’s easier to be kind to others, too.

Happy New Moon 🌑

Melissa xx

P.S. Can reading this email build your magical power?

​On the last Full Moon​, I shared that my spirit guides are helping me transform my romance novel series into a hypersigil, one that will ignite readers’ creativity through the simple act of reading the books (should they choose to activate the sigil).

In a similar vein, I’m turning the Portal, my monthly Jungian Magic lessons, into a hypersigil designed to strengthen members’ magical power every time they read a lesson. I’ll be sharing more about this process in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned! ✨

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