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Red Flags According to students


We recently attended University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Fresher’s Fayre in both Dornoch and Thurso campus to raise awareness of our service among students, staff and UHI. We asked the students to engage with our stand by telling us what they felt were red flags in relationships. We were delighted to get a good response with many students stopping to chat to us and were really encouraged with what we were hearing about their knowledge of red flags.

You might remember in August last year, we wrote a blog post about red flags in teen relationships. A red flag in a relationship can be understood as:

  • Something which perhaps makes you think or feel in your gut “hmm that doesn’t feel/sound right/okay”
  • A warning sign
  • A sign of potential or actual danger
  • Something you would consider a “deal breaker”
  • It might be a behaviour, a comment, it might be a tiny thing, it might be a big thing, etc..

At CASWA, we often talk about red flags, but they aren’t always easy to spot. Here are what students attending UHI thought were examples of red flags in relationships…

  • Controlling – We had students write this red flag a number of times and each time it was worded a little differently. “Treating you in a controlling way”, “Controlling the situation to be the hero”, “Restriction and controlling behaviours”, “Not allowing you to be yourself” “Making you account for every penny you spend” and finally “Controlling saying what to wear. Control is about “power over”. If we experience power and control in a relationship, it is not a healthy relationship. We should feel EMPOWERED in our relationships (see more on this at the link at the end).

  • Manipulation – When a partner can use strategies such as lying, silent treatment, being passive aggressive and gas-lighting among other strategies and behaviours for the purpose of gaining power and control within the relationship. It is a form of emotional abuse.

  • Doing something themselves and then getting angry when you do the same thing – This links into manipulation and controlling behaviours. By doing a certain behaviour say putting their feet on the coffee table, then becoming angry with you when you do the same behaviours is a way of manipulating you and have you walking on egg shells around them.

  • Being rude or bad to you – These types of behaviours are not ok in any form of relationship whether it is professional, romantic, friendships or family. It can be useful to really reflect on how you feel when you are spending time with people. Are you coming away feeling energised, great, valued, loved, cared for…? If not, it is worth considering if this relationship is a healthy one and putting some boundaries in place for yourself.

  • Bullying – Bullying behaviours are common in unhealthy and abusive relationships and can take many forms from put downs to humiliation to physical violence.

  • Taking intimate photos & videos without permission. – this not only shows a massive lack of consent and little respect for a partner and their rights, but is actually illegal.

  • Gas-lighting – Gaslighting is a term used to describe when someone manipulates you by psychological means and can make you doubt your sanity and perception of the world. An example of this might be: When your partner does something abusive and then denies that it ever happened. People who gaslight will often convince their partners that they are too sensitive, over-dramatic or mentally unwell and is incredibly harmful. One example provided was “You are pathetic… Imagining things” – this is a great example to explain what gaslighting is: constantly making you doubt yourself and question your understanding of a situation, your beliefs and sanity.

  • Shouting – We can all disagree from time to time and disagreements or the occasional argument are not necessarily signs of an unhealthy relationship. However, healthy relationships have communication and equality at their core and shouting at someone can be a sign that a relationship isn’t heathy. Verbal abuse can and does form part of an abusive relationship.

  • Trying to change your world (in a bad way). – This is a particularly good example especially for new relationships. When a couple enter a new relationship there are often lots of change and compromises, however if these changes are negative such as you stop going to clubs and activities you enjoy, make a scene when you want to do things on your own or you stop seeing family and friends these changes aren’t healthy and can be seen as abusive and a form of isolation.

  • Distancing themselves from you and not speaking – this is another form of emotional manipulation. By distancing themselves without reason or explanation and making you second guess what you’ve done and why they are acting this way. This is not healthy.

  • Lack of consent – Consent is huge in any relationship and usually we talk about it in relation to sex, but consent plays a part in a number aspects of life. At a basic level it is about having a choice, being respected and our right to make decisions without force or influence. It could, for example, be to do with finances for example spending joint money on buying a house etc.

  • Calling you nasty names – having your partner call you nasty names is a form of bullying and emotional abuse. It can be degrading and humiliating and can have a significant impact on confidence, self-worth and self-esteem.

  • Being ignored – this is a form of emotional abuse which can be used as part of the power and control dynamics within unhealthy and abusive relationships.

  • Wanting you to themselves & stopping you seeing your friends and family – These are both forms of isolation and controlling behaviours serving to limit support networks.

  • Being “a bit off” – This can be seen as manipulative and a lack of communication. If your partner is acting out of sorts or shrugging you off without being willing to talk to you about what they are feeling this is not a healthy way to communicate with each other.

  • Unpredictable behaviours. – Unpredictable behaviours from a partner can leave you feeling worried or anxious regularly and feeling like you are tip toeing around your partner so as not to “set them off” or make them angry. This feeds into the power and control aspect of an abusive relationship and is extremely common. It can be very confusing to experience, as things might be lovely one minute and fly “off the handle” the next. It leaves people walking on eggshells and on edge.

  • Physical abuse – this is the behaviour most often associated with domestic abuse and abusive relationships and certainly can form part of a power and control dynamic in abusive relationships. It is important to highlight that a relationship does not have to include physical violence to be abusive.

  • Love bombing – Love bombing is a fairly new term, however it is VERY relevant particularly in new relationships. The term means to show someone extreme displays of affection and bombard you with gifts, compliments, kind loving words and even saying I love you very early into a relationship. Love bombing can feel overwhelming, but also can feel nice and this is where it can be confusing and problematic. It can often lead to a person feeling or becoming dependent on their partner and sometimes even feel obligated to remaining in a relationship with the person.

This is a really comprehensive list of red flags identified by students from UHI and it was really useful for us to gain some insight into what students considered red flags and we were encouraged that red flags were recognised and understood!

We’d like to say a big thank you to all students and staff from UHI who came to chat to us at our stall. Here’s some feedback we received from one student:

'It was really good, the red flag topic is such a big thing on social media, TikTok and Insta right now. I didn't expect to see CASWA but it was really nice to see, I wrote down a red flag and pinned it on the board. I was delighted as I also received a wristband and a pen.'

If you or someone you know are concerned about your relationships or any of the red flag examples above feel familiar, please know that there is support available. The “essential information” section of our website contains lots of information which may help.

CASWA are one of many organisations providing support in the Highlands. We cover Caithness & Sutherland and accept self-referrals. You can do this by contacting us on 0345 408 0151, emailing or by contacting us via the “contact us” form on the website.

Other Women’s Aid groups in Highland are:

RASASH (Rape & Sexual Abuse Service Highland) also provide support across the Highlands to people over 13 years of age.

Other blog posts written by us which might be of interest: