Ahmed hesitated. Since the car crash a year ago, he feels nervous as a passenger. “Last time I caught a ride with you, you didn’t slow down when I asked.” His friend Ethan responded, “Trust me! You worry too much. Let’s go, we’ll be late.”
Ahmed recognized several red flags for manipulation in addition to his concern about safety, and declined the invitation. Red flags are small boundary violations which could be warning signs for larger violations in the future.
Red Flag #1: “Trust me!”
Our emotions occur in the private territory of our own bodies. Telling someone what to feel (“Trust me!” “Smile!” “Relax!” “Cheer up!”) is a boundary violation.
Trust is earned, not commanded. It develops over time by taking small risks and noticing how they turn out. Ahmed had already tried riding with Ethan, and noticed that he did not like the result.
Traumatic events shatter our trust in personal safety, in the environment, and in other people. Eager to heal and be “normal”, we sometimes force ourselves to take bigger risks because we think we “should”, or because we want to act as we would have before the trauma, or because someone else is pushing us to do it.
Heal your self-trust
The most important component of trust is your trust in yourself. Notice when risks feel small enough to take, and when they feel too big. Try allowing yourself to decline risks that don’t feel right to you. Ask your friends to support you in healing your self-trust.
Red Flag #2: “You worry too much.”
Judgment and shame are handy tools for controlling people. We are trained from childhood to notice what other people think and alter our behavior to elicit a positive response. Even subtle judgmental signals about our emotions can cause us to disregard them and do what the other person wants.
Worry, fear, anger, and other emotions are authentic responses to our environment. They almost certainly relate to the past as well as the present. They almost certainly differ from other people’s responses in the same situation, because no one has the same body, neurochemistry, and history.
Make room for all your emotions
No matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient they are, emotions carry important signals about your truth. When people say your emotions are “too” anything, they are really talking about their own discomfort. As Robyn Posin clearly states, consider not being with them at such times.
Red Flag #3: “Let’s go, we’ll be late.”
This statement combines two common manipulative techniques: time pressure to make a decision, and assuming the desired outcome.
When you feel rushed, overwhelmed, or confused, take a moment to breathe and check in with yourself. In a life-threatening emergency, a quick check-in will help you take appropriate action. In all other situations, you have plenty of time to reach your own decision.
Connect with your body
To help you know what you want, you can imagine first one decision, then another, and notice how they feel inside your body. The more you connect with your emotions and sensations, the more familiar you will become with your body’s delighted “yes,” appalled “no,” and uncertain or mixed “don’t know yet.”
Red Flag #4: Lack of congruence
When someone’s words, actions, body language, and emotions do not match each other, the lack of congruence is a sign of deception or unawareness. Ethan’s commanding tone and dismissal of Ahmed’s concern are not congruent with respect and caring.
The mismatch may be as obvious as saying, “I’m not angry!” through gritted teeth, or it may be a fleeting expression or emotional overtone that you notice only subconsciously. When your body says “no” even though everything looks fine on the surface, you may be responding to a subtle lack of congruence.
Skip the guessing game
Ethan may be treating his friend the way Ethan has always been treated, without intending any harm. He may also know that he is using manipulative techniques. Like Ahmed, you can take action to protect yourself as soon as you notice red flags, without waiting to assign blame or guess intentions.
Mistakes are allowed
Some people will look for your vulnerable areas in order to manipulate you, and they may succeed at times. This is not your fault. We all have buttons which can be pushed, no matter how hard we work to heal and be strong. You do not have to be perfect to deserve respectful treatment.
When you notice a lot of red flags, you may think you are “too sensitive,” or alternatively you may look back after a painful event and realize there were red flags you missed. It is okay to make mistakes in both directions. When we expect ourselves and others to notice and take action on every red flag in order to avoid abuse, we blame the victim instead of holding abusers responsible for their actions.
Permission to act
When you pay attention to red flags, you claim your power to choose, help your self-trust heal, and make room in your life for people who treat you with respect. Give yourself permission to look inside for your truth and take action when you’re ready.
Robyn Posin affirms that you are never Too Much and shares her own process around fully accepting all her feelings.