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Why Red Flags Matter: Healing from Narcissistic Abuse

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Red flags in romantic relationships are a popular subject in many articles and books. I experienced my fair share of them. It’s time I pass some of the wisdom acquired with a lot of emotional trauma.

Like many of my stories, this mix of memories and thoughts I have gathered lately starts with social media.

A woman in an emotionally abusive relationship was asking what she should do on a viral Facebook page. She wasn’t seeing the red flags apparent to any female commenter. Unfortunately, I also read some chauvinistic, misogynistic, and ignorant comments by male commenters, which catalyzed this post.

In an unrelated turn of events, a week ago, a bout of procrastination led me to empty my entire Gmail inbox and sort it out. It ended successfully (more for Gmail, less for whatever task I procrastinated on).

Deep inside, between forgotten emails and endless promotions, I uncovered things that should have never seen the light of day, if only for my mental health.

Living with CPTSD

I suffer from CPTSD and manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health terms. I am not ashamed of this since it is neither my choice nor my doing. However, I do everything to alleviate this somehow because it is exhausting sometimes, so I work hard to improve it and make it easier to live with.

It also means I sometimes have to handle my triggers and control how and when they come out. So, for example, I manage flashbacks - some have images, and some only have emotions. I tend to ruminate over intrusive thoughts obsessively. Sometimes I can barely leave my home because of the sensory overload and the stressors that are so abundant in crowded spaces. I sometimes have difficulty regulating my emotions, and my fight-or-flight response is activated easily. Anxiety is an everyday issue.

However, I controlled my reaction to seeing those emails that triggered me so I could manage life and work with a mind that won’t slow down. This trigger didn’t let go so easily, though.

A girl that knows how to handle mental health crises

Red flags in the depths of an inbox

I read emails, documents, and words spilled from a bleeding heart, with real pain, loss, and fear. I was reminded of the young woman I was, 18 or 19 or 20, who didn’t know better and honestly thought she needed to apologize and change to be worthy of love. She felt she had to give everything up to be loved. She believed she wasn’t worthy, but she was so desperate, so she did anything she was required to and put up with so much #@& for that. She gave up everything to be loved. And it was never enough. How could she know that it won’t ever be enough?

When you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, you won’t find it; you’ll find only pain.

The red flags in those emails almost had me in tears. I was blinded by attraction and low self-esteem. Some of them are so obvious it’s surprising no one mentioned them to me at the time.

A partner shouldn’t expect or even demand you to change. You come to the relationship a complete “you.” Of course, you should want to be a better person, progress, and move forward, but you should feel safe to be yourself with them first and foremost.

A partner shouldn’t expect you to write letters of apology. Words or pages don’t measure a genuine apology. Neither do they measure love.

A partner shouldn’t be ashamed of you or ashamed to be with you — for how you act, what you wear, how you talk, or who you are. It doesn’t matter why.

A partner should lift you. They should love you the way you are. They should support your journey for betterment but be a haven if you fall. Your betterment shouldn’t be a condition for love.

They shouldn’t force you to change. A narcissistic partner, however, will want to control you, and they might even frame it as being “better,” more “grown-up,” “adult,” or “mature.” They’ll find the way in.

You should be able to talk with your partner if something bothers you and not be afraid you’ll have to apologize for whatever bothered you.

They should want to make you feel good. They should want to take care of you if you’re ill, even if you can’t return the favor right now.

You shouldn’t be obligated to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. A partner shouldn’t make you uncomfortable and especially not enjoy doing that, not even if you do it “for love.” Love isn’t a word that you should throw around like that.

Your love for someone should never be used against you as a weapon.

Weaponized love

Love, in its purest form, is without conditions. Nevertheless, we look for it, and we can hope for it, though most of us will experience true unconditional love only from our parents, caregivers, or our own children.

Love isn’t a weapon. It’s a weighted blanket, a warm cup of tea, a hug after a long day, a smile that lights up when they see you, arms that hold you tight when you’re weary from the outside world. It’s home, and home should be a safe place.

My home was never safe, psychologically or physically. So I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. I didn’t experience unconditional love, so I thought that’s what love is. It’s doing things you don’t want to, with the horrible excuse — it’s “for love.” And when you don’t, it’s taken away. But that’s not the way it should be. It took me a long while and a lot of hurt and trauma to learn what home is because I knew it was missing. I learned it through pain. But I now know that it doesn’t have to be like that. So, naturally, I want to save anyone I can from learning it the hard way. There are better ways than that.

I don’t think I was a saint. I would never assume that. Besides, it’s too much responsibility. I made mistakes. Some were terrible and hurtful and hurt others.

I was young once and didn’t know better, but I don’t think hurting anyone that way is right. It is never just. It’s a convoluted and disgusting way to use someone’s love against them. And that should never be done.

It might be a way to punish someone else or revenge for some hurt, but if you find yourself a second before doing that, think if maybe the best solution is to break up. Sometimes that’s the only thing left to do, and that’s okay. It’s part of life. I’ve been through many breakups, and it hurts, but that abuse was more painful than any breakup. It stays with you. It scars you.

I wish I had an intelligent conclusion or great advice on relationships. I don’t. Instead, I’m wallowing in thoughts about sad things that shouldn’t have happened, things that could’ve been avoided, and also something that can save a life from reaching the same lows I did.

Today, many resources exist for that woman I mentioned. They’re abundant and easy to find. A simple Google on “red flags in relationships” will land you with this fantastic result:

This tells you so much already: You have a list of terms you can look up and plenty of articles, subreddits, books, and pages dedicated to this subject. This isn’t something I had back then, and I didn’t even know how I would name it even if it did, but it all exists today. Use it, educate yourself, and stay safe.

So eventually, I did the only thing I could do in the Facebook 'verse. I left a comment dishing those douchebags, told her to look up the term “narcissist,” and decide if she wanted to stay with the abusive a*&hole. I hope she hears my voice amongst the lot.

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