There’s a quote from the TV show Bojack Horseman, written by showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg, that goes, “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” And though the original context talks about red flags in romantic relationships, the same can certainly be true for ourselves, too, don’t you think?
Because as hard as it is sometimes to spot the warning signs in our own relationships and in the people we love, it might be harder to do it for ourselves because of our tendencies to self-empathize and rationalize our own choices and actions.
With that said, here are 6 red flags you need to look out for in yourself, according to experts:
1. Unconstructive self-talk
Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Scott defines negative self-talk as “any inner dialogue you have with yourself that may be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities, and to reach your potential.” So if you’re guilty of constantly putting yourself down and having a lot of self-deprecating thoughts (even the ones you pass off as jokes), then that’s already a red flag. In fact, research by Kinderman, Schwannauer, Pontin, and Tai found that negative self-talk increases the risk of mental health problems such as decreased motivation, feelings of helplessness, and even depression.
2. Neurotic need for social validation
Do you feel that you’re too much of a people pleaser? Does your self-esteem often go up and down depending on other people’s opinions and feelings towards you? Do you feel a strong need to always get everyone else to like you, regardless of whether or not you even like them? All of these things are signs that you may have a neurotic need for social validation. And this is a red flag because, according to mental health and wellness author Marissa Pomerance, people with too high a need for social validation will often have low self-esteem and stay in (or even chase after) unhealthy one-sided friendships and relationships.
3. Neurotic need for control
Constantly needing to fix other people\s problems for them, running to their rescue even when you want to, and micro-managing everyone around you are all not only red flags but tell-tale signs that a person has a neurotic need for control. And according to Dr. Christine Adams, in an article for Psychology Today, these kinds of people most likely grapple with strong feelings of helplessness, and to cope, become overly demanding in their way of relating to other people.
4. Toxic perfectionism
Related to the earlier point, Dr. Christine Adams also talks about something she calls “self-control freaks” or what many may more commonly know as “toxic perfectionism. ” The problem with these people, according to Dr. Adams, is that they “expect themselves to perform perfectly and without error” and as such, are only setting themselves up for failure and disappointment. This is not only a definite red flag and a weakness, but a toxic habit for your mental health as well.
5. Avoidant attachment
In an article from Better Help, medically reviewed by licensed clinical social worker April Justice, people with avoidant attachment styles tend to be emotionally dettached and closed off. They often feel uncomfortable with long-term closeness and intimacy in relationships. And as a result, their knee-jerk response to conflict isn’t to openly communicate with the other person and collaborate on resolving it with them. Instead, they’re more likely to avoid the other person altogether or manifest other self-sabotaging behaviors (e.g., cheating, ghosting, never asking for help).
6. Social media addiction
Another red flag you might not realize you have is social media addiction. Researchers like Hou et al. found in a 2019 study that it negatively affected college students’ mental health and academic performance. An article from HealthLine written by mental health practicioners Dr. Kristeen Cherney and Dr. Timothy Legg cites that some possible downsides of too much social media consumption could lead to: low self-esteem, increasing feelings of loneliness, anxiety or depression, the onset of social anxiety disorder, disrupted sleep patterns, decreased physical activity, ignoring real life relationships, and reduced ability to empathize with others.
So, do you see any of these red flags in yourself? If the answer is yes, then know that you’re not alone. Most of us are struggling with at least one or more of these. What matters most isn’t that we strive for perfection but for growth and self-development. And as with any other challenge we encounter, the first step to overcoming it is to acknowledge the problem.
- Scott, E. (2022). “The Toxic Effects of Negative Self-Talk.” VeryWell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-self-talk-and-how-it-affects-us-4161304#:~:text=Basically%2C%20negative%20self%2Dtalk%20is,in%20yourself%20to%20do%20so.
- Kinderman P, Schwannauer M, Pontin E, Tai S. Psychological Processes Mediate the Impact of Familial Risk, Social Circumstances and Life Events on Mental Health. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(10):e76564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076564
- Pomerance, M. (2019). “People Pleasing Doesn’t Make You Nice. It Ruins Your Relationships.” The Candidly. Retrieved 04 Mar 2023 from https://www.thecandidly.com/2019/people-pleasing-doesnt-make-you-nice-it-ruins-your-relationships#:~:text=%E2%80%9CPeople%20pleasing%20occurs%20when%20you,D%20candidate%20in%20clinical%20psychology.
- Justice, A. (2023). “Understanding Anxious Avoidant Attachment.” Better Help. Retrieved from https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/anxiety/understanding-the-anxious-avoidant-attachment-style/
- Hou, Y., Xiong, D., Jiang, T., Song, L., & Wang, Q. (2019). Social media addiction: Its impact, mediation, and intervention. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 13(1), Article 4. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2019-1-4
- Punjaabi, D. [@selfworkco]. (n.d.). Posts [Instagram profile]. Retrieved 04 Mar 2023 from https://www.instagram.com/p/CmZVdbCPYro/?hl=en