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  • Tonie Phillips, LMHC

Let’s Talk About Pink Flags


When was the last time you felt regret in a personal or professional relationship? Once it ended or settled, did you take a moment to sift through the initial interactions for behaviors to look out for in the future? If not, consider this your invitation. 


This post won’t have a fun television show tie in or anything cutesy to grab you. This is purely about sharing a tip that completely changed how I operate in my business and personal relationships. I sincerely believe it can save you time, energy, and hardship. The tip is so simple, I’m going to lead with it: pay attention to the pink flags. Pink flags are defined as small, dismissible issues that come up in the early stages of a relationship. They make you mildly uncomfortable, but you brush them off in the name of good intentions. All you need to do is be mindful of those flags, and they'll tell you the true nature of a person. That’s it! You can stop reading now. I mean it! Everything below is about providing examples and explaining how I’ve applied it in my life. If you’d like a long list of examples of pink flags, scroll down to the bullet points. 


Whew, now that they’re gone, allow me to share my source for this gem. I’m immensely grateful to the man that offered it, and it is only right to give him credit. Also, I really just want to tell you how recently I learned this information. Whenever I mention pink flags on a call with a client it is immediately followed by “...oh my goodness! How did I miss that! I’m so blind.” No, you aren’t blind. You, like most people, have been encouraged to believe people come into our lives with the best intentions. I believe that too! Still, believing in the good nature of people doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be observant of behavior and notice how that behavior makes you feel. 


About four years ago I had the pleasure of working alongside a psychiatrist who gave me an endless supply of gems for life as a clinician. The best gem of all was the following tip: Pay attention to everything that happens when someone first reaches out to you for care. He offered that in his 40+ years of experience, he’s observed people explain exactly who they are and how they will engage in counseling during those opening exchanges. He urged me to notice how small comments, questions, and requests made me feel. He insisted I loop my intuition in from the first moment of contact. Consider their tone, he suggested. Is it desperate? Do they claim you as their savior before you’ve started the work? That can be a sign of codependency, among other things. Consider their reactions to boundaries. Do they expect to be seen immediately? Do they ask if you’re available earlier or later than your stated hours or on a day off? Did they ask for a deep discount? Lack of respect for time and pricing indicate a lack of respect for you as a provider. It may indicate a sense of entitlement or a desire to be the exception to every rule. 


Now, I encourage you to apply this tip to your life. Do you notice when people disrespect your time, personal space, or values in small ways? If you do, are you able to be upfront about the concerns or do you hold things in until they build up? Confronting a mild warning sign is not judgmental, it is exercising your right to discernment. Moreover, if someone dismisses your question about a particular behavior, that pink flag just turned bright red. For me personally, I usually choose not to progress in spaces riddled with tufts of blushy pink fabric. I protect my peace before all else. 


I want to offer a list of tendencies to pay attention to in your travels, and I encourage you to add a few of your own in the comments! I cannot tell you what to do once you’ve noticed one of these flags. You are your own guidepost on the consequences of the observation. My only suggestion is to discuss it openly and set any relevant boundaries to clarify why/how that behavior was not okay for you. 


Get attuned to the signs. Pay attention when someone... 

  • Tells ‘white’ lies about arbitrary things

  • Writer’s note: Beyond the obvious, listen to how they discuss an experience you both shared. Did their story align with what you witnessed? Do they rely on embellishments or hyperbole to be interesting?  

  • Talks to you with false familiarity, as if they know you very well at first meeting 

  • Writer’s note: A person fostering a sense of artificial closeness can be harmful to you in a number of ways. A less obvious example would be an attempt to grab power in a dynamic. They may want you to know they see you clearly, so you’re at a disadvantage. 

  • Overshares their hardships, relationship problems OR talks about themselves constantly

  • Writer’s note: Do they lack insight on appropriate disclosure? Are they looking to form a trauma bond? 

  • Gossips OR demonstrates how they’re deeply judgmental of others

  • WN: Even if you wouldn’t do anything noteworthy, they could be willing to distort facts for a good story

  • Sticks to you immediately with intense, constant, communication. 

  • WN: Some of you may not like this one but if a person can give you all of their attention prior to getting to know you - it could burn out just as abruptly. Ask yourself why they’re so available all of the time. I read a brilliant IG post by @unhealed_man on this subject. He explained that women assume the feverish messaging is in reaction to the man feeling as if he’s finally found love. In reality, he’s just experiencing a high from the validation of his desirability. He wrote ‘the fire that burns the hottest burns out the fastest.’ 

  • Offers to hire you immediately, without a formal interview process

  • WN: Ask yourself, why would they bring someone unfamiliar into their space without proper vetting? If they don’t care about this, what else don’t they care about? How might they be looking to exploit you in the position?

  • Displays an increased sense of privilege/entitlement

  • Writer’s note: Is someone all too happy to explain how they’re special, and thereby worthy of special treatment, a free pass, or all of your attention? 

  • Acts as if they’re doing you a favor by giving you something you’ve obviously earned 

  • Gushes about why you’re so much better than whatever came before you

  • WN: In general, pay attention when someone gives exuberant praise that isn’t yet justified. It could be a butter up or manipulation to ensure you work extra hard for them because you don’t want to let them down. 

  • Brags about the consequences they dole out for perceived wrongdoing 

  • WN: Do they boast about punishing others? They’re showing you how they will treat you the moment you’re no longer in their good graces

  • Displays excessive overconfidence in their abilities

  • WN: Is the person’s perspective misaligned with reality? If so, take note, as they will be more likely to assume things will work out for them when they’re behaving inappropriately 

  • Breaks a  touch barrier sooner than you would prefer

  • WN: Ladies, this is a big one. A man who is pushy at the gate will remain that way in all things. Run for your life 

  • Becomes heated or aggressive when discussing a past slight

  • WN: This may indicate a red hot temper that may burn you down the road 

  • Cycles between intense hot or cold, rapidly changing their attitude/mood

  • Apologizes for a mistake but doesn’t change their behavior 

  • WN: Are they apologizing to express remorse or just to smooth things over so they can continue the mistreatment? Are they making an effort to improve or learn how you prefer to be treated?

  • Seems to need ongoing admiration and/or validation from others

  • WN: They’re showing you they are unable to affirm themselves internally. Insecurity will lead to all sorts of issues in business and personal matters

If you look closely, you will see that people are leaking their truth all around us. As Angela Bassett said in the Tina Turner Biopic, ‘don’t get nuthin on ya!’ 

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