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Have you ever spotted a red flag and held your tongue?

When you catch a glimpse of deception or manipulation, are you quick to defend your boundaries and call it out, or do you second-guess yourself, wondering if perhaps you’re mistaken?

It’s crucial to keep your red flag detector active to avoid being drawn into a troubling scenario.

The term “emotional abuse” includes the word “abuse,” yet many people hesitate to acknowledge that their relationship could be abusive.

They rationalize, “My partner—or friend, or coworker, or boss—is fundamentally a good person. How could they be abusive?” They associate abuse with physical harm, with visible bruises or being pushed around.

But what isn’t emphasized enough is the lasting impact of emotional abuse. I’m not talking about physical scars; I’m referring to the emotional wounds that result from being manipulated, emotionally harmed, or deceived. These experiences leave a mark on your feelings, creating emotional scars that are just as real.

In a romantic relationship where emotional abuse is present, those painful emotions are a constant companion. You’re caught in a protracted cycle of exposure to harmful behavior that seems to have no end.

The challenge with emotional abuse lies in its subtlety; it’s difficult to identify without observing the cumulative effect over time.

If we were to examine just one day in the life of someone enduring emotional abuse, many on the outside might say, “That person doesn’t seem so bad. I don’t see anything objectionable with their actions. In fact, if I were in the same position, I might even do the same thing they did.”

That’s the quandary with emotionally abusive relationships: it’s easy to find oneself in a situation that nobody else recognizes as abusive.

This article aims to assist you in recognizing various harmful behaviors, including emotional abuse, verbal abuse, manipulation, coercion, and general misconduct. It will provide you with essential knowledge and a deeper understanding, preparing you to effectively handle encounters with difficult individuals.

This knowledge is your shield, preventing you from being drawn into that destructive cycle, from being trapped in a continuous process of degradation, depreciation, and dissolution—choose any ‘D’ word that fits. It’s about protecting your soul and spirit from these harms.

Now, this is different from a transaction with a salesperson who’s trying to con you. Let’s be clear: not all salespeople do this, and most are honest, but there are those who are so fixated on making a sale that they’ll say anything to close the deal.

I’m not knocking the profession; I’ve been there, and it’s an honorable line of work. However, some individuals are so driven by money and profit that they’ll resort to outright falsehoods just to get you to sign on the dotted line—to hand over your cash.

And that’s a different beast from a relationship riddled with manipulation or deception. With a salesperson, you encounter them once, and then you’re out of there.

I recall an incident I shared on my other show, The Overwhelmed Brain, where I visited a music store. The salesperson I usually dealt with seemed like a nice guy. I approached the counter to make a purchase, and without my knowledge, he tacked on an extra charge.

I noticed he was fast-talking me into believing that everything being charged was normal and just the standard pricing.

He said, “And you get the two-year warranty for thirty-seven dollars…” without pausing to ask me if that’s what I wanted.

That caught me off guard because it was so matter-of-fact. I interjected, “Hold on, what’s this extra charge for?”

He casually mentioned, “Oh, that’s the two-year warranty.”

I responded, “But I never asked for that. You just added it without my consent.”

I felt my personal boundaries and values were being crossed and told him that it was unethical to add this surprise charge to my purchase.

He just froze and apologized.

It wasn’t a misunderstanding or a one-off mistake. I’d been to this store multiple times and noticed his tendency to sneak in extra charges or push the most expensive products, regardless of my needs.

This particular sale felt coercive, as if he was influencing me in an unethical manner.

When you feel that buildup of doubt, when your instincts are alerting you, and you sense that something is off but can’t quite put your finger on it, but you finally catch them in the act, all your suspicions are confirmed.

Then comes the critical moment when you’re faced with a choice: to confront the issue or let it slide. In many relationships, this is where the rubber meets the road. When we catch someone in the act, we have the power to speak up or stay silent.

Ideally, we should address concerns when those red flags first pop up rather than downplaying them, doubting ourselves, or convincing ourselves we’ve just misunderstood the situation.

That’s the trap, right? Misunderstandings do happen, so we think, ‘Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe it’s not what I think.’

That’s the core message I want to convey: we often overlook the initial warning signs.

I remember when I first started interacting with this salesperson. He was persuasive and seemed genuine, and I thought, “Why would he try to take advantage of me? Why would he want to manipulate me?”

But as it turned out, my gut feeling was correct. So, I kept my guard up and remained polite yet vigilant. And that’s crucial whenever you spot a red flag.

Stay alert and keep your observational skills sharp. If you don’t address these issues early on, they’ll only compound and become harder to deal with later.

It’s vital to take red flags seriously. A master manipulator will try to explain them away and rationalize them, so you must be extra cautious. More often than not, those red flags are a genuine warning sign, and ignoring them could put you in harm’s way.

Be wary of dismissing your own feelings, thinking, “It’s probably nothing. Maybe they didn’t mean it. They don’t seem like that kind of person. So maybe I’m just seeing things wrong.”

Trust yourself enough to dive into the issue and voice your concerns.

Recognize that this might be something you don’t want in your life. Keeping this in mind is beneficial in any situation and any conversation. If you let it slide, the other person will take note, thinking, ‘It worked the first time, so it’ll work again. I’ll just explain it away once more.’

But that’s how we get drawn in, especially in relationships. We’re fueled by love and compassion, wanting happiness for our partners, thinking, “Surely, they wouldn’t manipulate us!”

Red Flags Are Your Signal to Pay Closer Attention

The purpose of this discussion is to help you stay alert to red flags. Activate your ‘red flag radar’ and become finely tuned to what’s happening. If it occurs again, and you can corroborate that first warning, you’ll know it’s time to speak up.

I believe in addressing the first red flag when it happens. With the salesperson, I didn’t address the first red flags I saw when I worked with him previously because his deceit was cleverly hidden, making it hard to discern.

That’s the challenge we face. Sometimes, we just can’t tell. But always trust your instincts.

Even if you’re wrong, expressing something like, “When you said that, it didn’t sit well with me” (or however you choose to phrase it), opens up the dialogue. It could be nothing, or it could be something more.

You want to either tackle what’s happening in the moment or keep it in mind for later. That way, if it does happen again, you’re prepared to discuss it.

Ignoring red flags can lead to a situation like one of my clients experienced. She had spent years brushing aside warning signs and found herself feeling utterly powerless, trapped in a draining relationship.

Every time you dismiss a red flag, you’re essentially dismissing a part of yourself.

Don’t fall into that trap. If you do, you’re setting yourself up for unhappiness, as those red flags will keep surfacing, creating more cracks in your emotional well-being.

It’s like slowly chipping away at your identity. Before you know it, you’re stuck in a relationship that can take years to recover from—if you ever manage to escape at all. You might find yourself lacking the confidence you once had, doubting your ability to make sound decisions because you’ve lost trust in your own judgment.

In other articles, I dive deeper into the quagmire of feeling trapped and clueless about how to break free of emotionally abusive behavior. I also talk about the terminology of emotional abuse in depth because it’s essential for you to recognize terms like breadcrumbing, silent treatment, invalidation, isolation, minimizing, intimidation, and more.

When you’re in the thick of it, it can be tough to step back and see what’s happening within the relationship. That’s why understanding these terms and the behaviors they describe is key to identifying what’s going on in your life.

Take my near-miss with a salesperson, for example. He tried to sneak in an extra charge, and when caught, he simply apologized. I told him it was fine but insisted he remove the charge.

Later, recounting the incident to my partner, I made it clear that I felt the salesperson, someone we both liked before this incident, tried to scam me. And as a result, we’ve avoided returning to that store.

It’s the fear of uncomfortable confrontations that often prevents people from speaking up about red flags. They don’t want to create awkwardness or uncomfortable communication, so they remain silent and pretend nothing happened.

But as you read more of my articles and listen to the podcast, I hope you’ll grow more comfortable with initiating those tough conversations. Not because I want you to be uncomfortable but because it will build your confidence. You’ll become more familiar with your boundaries, your values, and what’s important to you. For me, honesty and respect are non-negotiable.

When I confronted the salesperson, I made it clear that his actions were disrespectful. Perhaps my feedback prompted him to change his ways—or perhaps not. It could simply be the sales culture there. Regardless, it was important for me to communicate that I did not tolerate such behavior.

I want you to reach a place where you can do the same. A place where you let others know that certain behaviors are unacceptable to you.

Stay vigilant, keep an eye out for red flags, and never let anyone take advantage of you.


Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Paul Colaianni is a Behavior and Relationship Coach, and the host of The Overwhelmed Brain and Love and Abuse podcasts.

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