It was just another day at the office for me. Morning counseling sessions had gone well, and it’s a rare day that I ever hear anything new. Well actually after over 30 years of counseling, I hear something new maybe once a year. Even though everyone’s situation is different, there is usually a sense in which clients’ counseling issues are “generic” or similar to other situations.
Here’s an interesting situation that seemed at first to be generic. It would be another year before I understood how close a young woman came to ruining her life.
I counseled a woman who was afraid to let her husband know that she was in my counseling office. Married for only a few months, she couldn’t stop weeping. She had suffered from so much controlling behavior on the part of her new husband that she couldn’t stand it anymore. From all I could gather, this man was a professional invalidator, not so much a friend as a “frenemy.”
As I do in most such cases, I asked if the husband would come in for marriage counseling. Of course, if the husband is knocking her around, I won’t see the couple together, and I often won’t see the husband alone, either. It depends on the wishes of the wife and my estimation of the value of seeing him alone.
Anyway, this tearful, fearful soul would not allow me to call the husband. No way. She was way too scared. She would also never tell him that she was coming for counseling. Of course, because she was my client, I had to respect her wishes.
Here’s something she didn’t know, and I never told her.
About one year before, I counseled a different young woman who was thinking of marrying this same man. She described how he raised his voice with her, continually telling her how to drive, how to eat, how to talk, how to shut up, you name it. He played an updated version of “Simon Says,” fancying himself as Simon; and if someone did something that Simon didn’t way, watch out!
Although I rarely say this to anyone, I advised that she run from this man as fast as she could. Which – thankfully – she did!
I think she saved herself a life filled with pain. She saved herself from being the other woman in my office.
As unfortunate fate or naiveté would have it, the woman who was weeping in my office had not received premarital counseling. She married the man that the first woman I counseled wisely broke up with.
I hate to say this, but the professional invalidator’s behavior was pretty much a run of the mill “red flag.” At the end of most of the divorce recovery groups I’ve facilitated, I ask for a list of red flags from the group members. I’m trying to help them remind each other what to “look out for” in their next relationship.
The list assembles itself very quickly because – at this point – I’m talking to a group of relationship specialists. They have gained new strength from their relationships in the group and they’ll probably never miss seeing the red flags again!
Many red flags are less obvious than controlling behavior, of course, and some are more obvious. Be on the lookout and learn exactly what to do once you’ve seen those flashes of red that you think must be your imagination. But, hey, guess what? You’re not simply seeing the best color, perhaps, to accent a wardrobe, as red is said to be.
You’re probably seeing the real enchilada. The real cape of the matador.
What does a red flash that’s more than an accent to an otherwise buried personality look like? A real warning sign? Here’s one simple example: I heard someone say that if someone tells you he’s not good enough for you, believe him! ‘Nuf said. That’s an example! Run!
The brightest and largest of red flags that are proudly carried by classic toxic flashers. I mean red flag flashers! These Don Quixote’s run to the battle! (Oh, if the person’s last name is Quixote, run from that person, too.) I’ll introduce you first to these most obvious of self-deceived deceivers.
Some have subtle characteristics and simply wear a small red flag pin in their lapel. The latter group may simply be carriers of toxicity. They might not even know that they’re carriers. They don’t run to the battle. They’re snipers on an adventure. You can’t understand what’s happening to your identity. Even the snipers may think that you’re both on a romantic lark!
But just as a bad flu can take you out for a month or so, less diagnosable toxicity can also subtract you from the land of the living for months at a time. It can take quite awhile to believe your friends who keep asking why you’re standing on your head. You are certain that you’re right side up. Stupid friends! What do they know? They’re just jealous because they don’t have someone as much as the sniper loves you!
Learn be an excellent diagnostician of all manner of relationship traps…and of red flags….and of flashers…I mean red flag flashers! Become a black belt in red! Learn to be wise and discerning in all your relationships!