The Traffic Light System

While predators come in many types, they are generally targeting similar prey who operate in similar ways – us. We have similar weaknesses, certain traits, and vulnerabilities which are used to exploit us. We can learn to spot these exploits and armour ourselves against them. More, we can learn to spot when people are moving beyond fair use of our generous traits and into abuse. Here at Joshua Davidson Therapy, we have developed the Traffic Light System, where Green is good, Amber is a caution, and Red is concern.

There are four interconnected parts to this system. We’ll briefly look at them here, and there are links to the full description in each break down.

The Flag System

Full Information [Link]

Actions speak louder than words. Actions are what a person does and the effect it has on the world. Actions are verifiable, evidence based and can be independently confirmed.

Words are nice when they match people’s actions, but very concerning when they don’t.

It is important to recognise that there is a big difference between a person’s intent and their actions. While we can never truly tell what a person was intending, we can see if they recognise the consequences of their actions, and if those consequences inspire them to learn, grow and evolve their choices to avoid outcomes that harm others – or not. This is explored more in the Toxic People Mind Toolset [Link].

In this section, we give some examples of Green, Amber and Red behaviours and what those behaviours may flag (via the colours). Further, we look at why these behaviours warrant the various colours so that you can extrapolate further behaviours that Flag comfort, caution or concern.

Trust Zones

Full Information [Link]

After learning the Flag System, and how behaviours can help to Flag a person’s trend of behaviours, we can now place them into the Zones.

Social Spoon Efficiency

Spoon Theory is the general idea that we all have a finite amount of resources that we can spend throughout the day to get through the day. Some of us have smaller number of Spoons to get things done and some processes are more expensive for us than for most people. Social Spoons are the internal resources that we expend to manage interacting with people.

The Three Zones allow us to figure out whether we can relax and let our guard down (Green Zone), be more attentive but not yet alarmed or concerned (Amber Zone), or whether we need to proceed with extreme caution and put in protective strategies and boundaries (Red Zone). This helps us to conserve cognitive and Social Spoons when interacting with trusted people, increase alertness around uncertain people (a bit more expensive) and be danger wise when interacting with known perpetrators (very expensive).

Green Zone – Comfort

People who mostly trend Green Flags have earned a place in the Green Zone of trust. Some of the people who show these behaviours might be good friends, or even intimate partners. Green Zone People do not have to be friends, they may just be people who have proven themselves to be trusted acquaintances, work associates that you can rely on, or family members who are allies. The point is, people who have earned Green Zone status have matched enough Green Flag behaviours to their words of intent that they can, by default, be trusted.

Amber Zone – Caution

People in Amber Zone either haven’t yet given you enough examples of their behaviours to trust that this is truly their trend, or people who are acting unexpectedly oddly and you need to pay extra attention to what they are saying versus what they are doing, and looking more at what the consequences of what their actions are creating and whether or not the person is making positive changes.

Red Zone – Concern

People who have used too many Red Flag behaviours to be trusted, and they either cannot understand the effect of their actions, don’t care about that kind of consequence, or that actually is what they want. Either way, these people need high levels of caution.

Toxic People Mind Toolset

Full Information [Link]

This method helps us to continue to be the kind and generous, often an important defining part of our self identity, but also be able to recognise when that generosity is being exploited.

It helps us to recognise when people we have assumed are Green Zone people are showing enough Red Flags to warrant recategorising the perpetrator of Red Flag Behaviours into being in the Amber Zone of caution, or the Red Zone of danger.

Three Pillars Method

Full Information [Link]

A part of many cultures is the idea of giving people a second chance, to forgive and forget, and that everyone has the right to a bad day. It is wonderful to give people the space to grow and learn from their mistakes and to have the space to be occasionally self centred. There are limits though, and it is important to know how much of a chance to give people, and when not to.

This guide also helps us to know what is fair for ourselves. It is not uncommon that we are our own worst critics and we can have very unfair expectations of ourselves.

Green Pillar

Ideally, people (and we) learn from making mistakes. Mistakes are unintended consequences from our actions, due to either outside factors, unforeseen circumstances or our own ignorance. Generally, after our actions have led to a poor outcome, we can learn something from the event, and grow.

We like people who grow. It is good for us to grow.

Amber Pillar

We can all have a bad day, where we either need to be selfish for our own self care, or just lack the energy to be our best selves. So long as that only causes minor harm, every now and then, we can consider this to be a right to a bad day.

If, on the other hand, this is happening frequently, then we need to person up and figure out why. Why are we having such bad days, why don’t we have the energy to be our best selves, the selves we want to be? What are we doing about it?

When this is happening to someone else, and their behaviours are affecting us, at what point to we recognise that they are not doing something about it?

Red Pillar

Forgiveness is wonderful. When people recognise the consequences to their actions and do something about it. That is what the other two Pillars outline.

The Red Pillar is for people who don’t, or the harm they have done is too great.

The Red Pillar is our guide for when we should not forgive and we really need to make a change, a strong boundary, and become safe.

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