This past weekend I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. When I asked him how things were going, he said "Terrible! People keep using me and betraying me lately, it’s really got me down." Though I’m not quite as descriptive when someone asks me how I am, I’ve been examining a similar pattern in my own life.
My response to him was this: "That’s awful, but let me ask you something: Did they show signs early on that perhaps they couldn’t be trusted?"
He hung his head. "Yup. Every time."
I said, "Let me guess – you didn’t do anything about it at the time, right? You just kept going because you were so excited about the possibilities and didn’t want to see what you’d seen. You told yourself that you probably were wrong or over-reacting. If they gave you explanations for what they’d done or said, you gave them the benefit of the doubt because everything else they did indicated that they were a good person. You told yourself that it would be fine and that they were fine…"
Now he became animated – "That’s exactly it! I always do that! I’ve GOT to stop doing that!"
So do I.
Though I’m a life and wellness coach, that doesn’t mean I don’t need coaching myself most of the time. In fact, most coaches agree that every coach should have their own coach. I have several, depending on what’s going on in my life. Lately I’ve been working with a wonderful coach who has revealed the most amazing insights regarding relationship patterns. I see these patterns so clearly now that I might actually be done with these self-defeating habits, or will at least catch them much earlier. I know that many, like my friend above, experience similar challenges, so I’m hoping my insights will help you, too.
CHANGING YOUR RESPONSE TO RED FLAGS
Usually, our problem isn’t whether or not we see the red flags. Though there are some very subtle warning signs or manipulative techniques that impurely-intentioned people may use that I’ve learned about from my coach, most relationship red flags are pretty obvious. The moment of truth may pass across our ears, eyes or heart in a flash, but we usually notice it. It’s what we or our psyche decide to do with this information that matters most.
Recently, I got into an awkward situation with a friend. Things took a certain direction, not initiated by me, and as momentum picked up I got more and more uncomfortable. One of the concepts that my coach reinforces continually is that our instincts are rarely wrong, and that we need to act on them more. Normally I might have labelled my discomfort as indicating that there was something wrong with me – e.g. maybe I need to "loosen up" my worldview, perhaps I’m just too sensitive or anxious, etc. My coach suggested that my discomfort in this situation might actually be my intuition trying to get my attention. She suggested I talk to my friend about my concerns.
Now this made me REALLY uncomfortable. "No, it’s okay, I’m sure it will be fine, let’s just forget it." I said to her. "I’m overreacting and probably being silly. I really don’t want to offend this person and probably shouldn’t bring it up."
Her tone of voice got very serious, very quickly. "That’s the problem, right there. Until you start changing the actions you take in response to red flags, you’re always going to get the same results. The red flags are not the problem. It’s what you DO with that information – which is usually nothing – that gets you into trouble." I heard it said recently that truth has an unmistakable ring to it. When she said that, the bells in my head started clanging like a five alarm fire. She was right, I had to do what I was most afraid to and talk to my friend about my concerns. Once I did, everything would probably turn out to be fine and I would laugh at myself for ever having worried about what might happen.
I talked to my friend, and the response was jaw-dropping. My chin still hurts from the impact. The words I got in response to my carefully worded feelings made it disturbingly clear that this person didn’t care very much about me or my well-being in the situation. I was totally stunned by this discovery (though my coach, when she heard what happened, laughed knowingly). My gut had also clearly known, which was why I had been starting to feel so uncomfortable. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience, so I could understand why I historically had preferred to confront red flag realities.
That said, based on the nature of what had been going on I had probably averted an even worse outcome that might have occurred had I just gone along with things. Short term pain, long term gain.
Can you relate to what I’m talking about? When your gut speaks to you that something’s wrong, despite everything appearing "fine" according to outside appearances or explanations, do you listen to it above all else? When your gut tells you that something someone just did or said isn’t right, even if they did it with a smile on their face or while telling you how much they love you, do you pay attention? Or is it easier to focus on the smile and the "love" and just keep going?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to. In the moment it’s not much fun to listen to your gut or consciously acknowledge the truth, especially if it means being deeply disappointed, losing a friend or circle of friends, or having to stop going in a direction that at first seemed wonderful and full of promise. But the avoidance of future pain and the life-giving better choices that can be made instead, are truly worth celebrating.
You’ll find more information on how to rescue and revitalize your relationships in Step 4 of the seven step program described in my book: Live a Life You Love – 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You www.LiveALifeYouLoveBook.com. If you’d like some help moving you and your life forward and would like to talk to me about the possibility of being your coach, I’d love to hear from you! You’ll find more information about my coaching work here and can contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
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