Watching for Red Flags
I recently got to spend a few days on the beach on the East coast with some friends. The heatwave had passed which made for perfect weather — sunny with just enough clouds, a constant breeze and mid-80s! However, the waves were rough at times with rip currents that felt quite strong. We went to the same beach the first two days and red flags were out both times.
On the first day the red flags were posted at the lifeguard station and at the entrance to the beach. One of the flags had a clear “no swimming” symbol on it. Midway through the second day, a couple lifeguards brought another red flag with that same symbol on it down to the waterfront, dug a hole and planted it right there for everyone to see.
So, the people that were in the water got out — temporarily. It wasn’t long before most people were back in the water. Now, not many went out far. The majority of us — yes, I was in the water too — stayed near the beach, which felt safe for adults who could keep themselves upright when the waves came crashing in or the current rushed back into the ocean.
One adult further down the beach had to be pulled back in by a lifeguard. I saw one child with the look of terror on her face after a wave crashed on her while out of arm’s reach of her grandmother. When the tide began to rise, a lifeguard came back, pulled the flag up and repositioned it higher on the beach. They wanted this flag to be seen.
There was a red flag for a reason and most of us were ignoring it.
How many times do we ignore those “red flags” when they are right there in plain sight? I’m getting better at identifying them, but I feel like it’s taken me most of the last four decades to recognize when there is a red flag in my own life.
There was that one guy I dated during my 20s. We had adventures and a life full of excitement. Because of him, I traveled the country in an RV. I danced at music festivals. I took risks and I explored.
I also worried a lot. I never knew where I fit exactly. I didn’t know what our future would hold — if there even was a future for us. I couldn’t always keep up but tried to anyway. I saw the mould and found a way to put myself inside even though it didn’t feel right. Trying to be myself seemed scarier than being who he wanted me to be.
There was a woman who struggled with her life — her work, her family, her circumstances. Instead of focusing inward and using this an opportunity to heal, she found an escape from her challenges. That escape was bullying me. She questioned my choices. She acted one way around me and then spoke poorly behind my back. Her behavior toward me caused me to rethink my entire career.
And so, instead of confronting her and speaking my truth, I backed down. I had a lot of “shoulds” and “coulds” for myself. I wanted her to like me, so I did what I thought would make her happy. Instead she found new ways to belittle me, which led me to more self-doubt.
So, what were the red flags I ignored?
Anxiety. I played it off as if it was nothing, but in fact, it was my intuition telling me something. It was telling me, “you’re meant for something bigger, something better.” It was saying, “you don’t have to hide yourself to be loved.” Intuition was doing all her in power to remind me that I didn’t need to change myself to be loved. She showed up as anxiety — a red flag — and I ignored her.
Uncertainty. I was always uncertain of my identity, trying to be someone I was not. I was uncertain of the future of the relationship, constantly. I was uncertain of what I could and couldn’t say — I didn’t feel free to speak my truth. In the rare moments that I did, I encountered skepticism and uncertainty was reinforced. I doubted myself all the time — a red flag — and I ignored it.
Insomnia. I’ve always been a good sleeper but in the midst of one relationship I stopped sleeping. I was exhausted all the time. When I lack sleep, I lack patience and good judgment. I struggled to know what was right because I never knew if it was the situation or the exhaustion. My body was giving me a big clue with my struggles to sleep — a red flag — and I ignored it.
Negative self-talk. I began to believe what others said about me. Not the positive things, of course. I was only listening to those few negative voices and took them as the truth. Instead of believing what my family and friends said about me, I believed those hurtful words. I spoke harshly to myself — a red flag — and I ignored it.
It’s hard looking back like that. It’s hard knowing that I chose to be in those situations that didn’t bring out the best in me. It’s easy to beat myself up for not seeing those red flags.
It’s easy to wish I had done things differently.
But, how could I? I hadn’t learned those lessons yet. How could I know what I didn’t know? Each red flag has taught me something new about myself. Each red flag was a gift as I moved forward into the next chapter of my life.
I know what anxiety feels like in my body now. When the heaviness shows up in my chest, when the thoughts start spinning — I know those are red flags and I pay attention.
I know what uncertainty sounds like in my voice now. When I start to say “I’m sorry” too much, when I stop speaking up — I know those are red flags and I pay attention.
I know what an unhealthy body feels like now. When I struggle with sleep, when I begin to lose my patience for seemingly no reason — I know those are red flags and I pay attention.
I know what negative self-talk sounds like now. When I starting “shoulding” myself, when I start blaming myself for being me — I know those are red flags and I pay attention.
Our bodies and minds, Spirit and Intuition — they know how to give us guidance. They know how to direct us toward a healthier path. However, we don’t always pay close enough attention to receive their messages. That requires slowing down, tuning in, and paying attention. The red flags are right there in front of us — they’ve been moved to a higher spot on the beach for us to see. The question then becomes: will you ignore them or learn from them?
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Anne chooses to live a good, full life despite a diagnosis of infertility. Through her writing, she explores the many ways that loss, pain, and grief provide opportunities for growth, healing, and transformation. In paying attention to the ordinary, Anne discovers the extraordinary and loves to share those discoveries with the world. / Read more of Anne’s writings at annebrock.com or connect with her on Instagram.