Red Flags in the news again

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

Last week I wrote an article about the captain of the sunken Italian ship who said he “fell into a life boat by accident” and that was why he got off the ship very early, not waiting for the rescue efforts. It also turned out this married man was with his lover and was drunk at the time the ship was steered, on his command, closer than normal to an island so he could show it off to the residents and his friends there, crashing it into known rocks.

Even after the ship had hit the rocks and was stuck, he denied to the company and potential rescuers that anything other than an electrical “black out” occurred and delayed even issuing an “abandon ship” until it was on its side an hour later, making the ability to abandon ship at that point almost impossible. Amazingly there was actually a small number of dead and missing out of about 4,000 people on the ship since it happened close to shore. I stated that his unbelievable lie (alone) made me think the man was a psychopath, and subsequent information confirms this to me that the man is high in P-traits.

Josh Powell

Another horrible tragedy, which also had significant “Red Flags” displayed, was reported this past week in the news. Josh Powell, whose wife had “disappeared” a couple of years ago, blew up his home, killing himself and his two young sons on a “supervised” visit. His father, who had lived in his home, had previously been arrest for secretly videotaping others undressed.

Read: ”˜Mommy’s in the turnk’: Sons of missing woman gave chilling account of her disappearance before father killed them in gas blast, on

Here is a short quote from the article:

It is a horrific end to a long, bizarre tale. Josh Powell was under investigation in the disappearance of his 28-year-old wife Susan from their West Valley City, Utah, home in December 2009. He claimed he had taken the boys on a midnight excursion in freezing temperatures when she vanished.

His explanation of how and why his wife “disappeared” is bordering on the unbelievable level of the Captain of the Concordia “falling into a life boat by accident.” His children later said that they went camping and “mom was in the trunk.”

Another red flag to me is that the Josh Powell’s father is a pervert, and was arrested in the home with pornography he had secretly recorded of girls and women. He is currently in prison awaiting trial. Since we know that psychopathy and dysfunction tends to run in families, both by genetics and by environmental influence, I would say that Josh’s father being a sexual criminal would put him high on my list of “red flag” people associated with Josh, and would give Josh a second look from me.

Learning from the news

Learning about “red flags” doesn’t have to be done by being around people. We can “practice” looking for red flags in the evening news, the news we read online, in the papers and the stories we hear about. When we hear about some horror story, or just some person’s divorce, we may be able to use that as a “learning experience” and see the red flags that, as we practice, will become more and more obvious to us.

I was also glad to see an article in yesterday’s Sunday paper by Carolyn Hax in her column Tell Me About It. A young man talked about catching his girlfriend in a lie and how controlling she was ”¦ and he asked Carolyn her opinion of this relationship. Carolyn didn’t call the woman a controlling witch but she told him to dump the woman, that there was no chance a control freak who was a habitual liar was going to be rehabilitated. Good advice. I’m glad to see more advice along this line in some of our “advice to the lovelorn” columns.

If we look around us in the news, in our neighborhood, we can watch for the “red flags” that show themselves all over the place. The Flags that tell us “get out of that relationship” or “don’t start a relationship with that person” or “aren’t we glad we didn’t have a relationship.” Not all of these people will be full fledged murdering psychopaths or sexual perverts, but they will have some character flaws that we don’t want to deal with ”¦ like pathological lying or controlling behavior. It helps us learn and the “tuition” cost is zero.

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42 Comments on "Red Flags in the news again"

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Thanks, Ox and Strongawoman. This (role of the State in prevention of/watchdog for child abuse) is something I have wrestled with a lot.

Before my experience, I felt differently. I was more in agreement with the “need to break some eggs” line of thinking. That is because it never occurred to me, really, how people under investigation are treated. I figured — child abuse and neglect is a horrible thing, and we just need to protect those kids at any cost!

I know my experience is not singular… I researched “CPS investigations” just about as madly as I researched sociopathy. There are some terrible stories out there of miscarriage of justice (false accusations and taking children away from homes unnecessarily). Very traumatizing.

I used to think that CPS was benign and helpful and would never make mistakes. That they are careful and truly helpful. I no longer feel that way. I know some individuals are, but that was not my experience.

I used to trust a lot more than I do now.

I know for a fact that most of the people working in the justice system and social services system and educational system and mental health system are there because they care deeply about helping and wanting to make a difference. And they have a lot of training and can be considered experts in many cases. But experts can still be misinformed.

And most people want to save abused children and prevent abuse.

But I think this system is really broken, in a lot of ways.

Once my children are adults, I plan to speak up about my experience and hope that I can help effect some change in the ways CPS investigators approach their investigations.

I never, never, never will think that it is OK to harm an intact, safe and healthy family just to err on the safe side in case they might be abused or neglected children. I will never think it is OK to threaten and manipulate and selectively twist details in order to get the investigation to come out the way the CPS investigator wants it to. I will never think it is OK to coerce through threats and intimidation. I really think there has to be a better way.

But to get this back to the original post of Sparklehorse that I was responding to… she was really addressing the abysmal lack of knowledge about sociopaths in the criminal justice/family courts system. That ties in directly to the point I was trying to make. There was NO WAY that I could get across to the CPS investigator that my ex-husband is a sociopath and that the children are safe with me, and that he was lying about me (it was lies mixed with truth — very hard to defend without sounding crazy). You know as well as I do that if I were to open my mouth and say, “my ex-husband is lying” that they would think I was “protesting too much.” His lies were so attractive and believable. He played the role beautifully, of the poor daddy who only wants to see his children, but I am alienating them against him. (lies: he alienated them against himself, without my help. I tried for YEARS to facilitate the kids’ relationship with him, but they have not wanted much to do with him because he SCARES them)

I wish very much that people in the system will have as part of their training, awareness of sociopaths, so that hopefully people under investigation will be treated fairly and compassionately, children will not be frightened that they will be taken away from their safe parent, and the sociopathic parent will be recognized as such, and his/her lies will not be believed quite so easily.

And I also hope that in so doing, finally perhaps social workers will not be forced to take kids to visitation with spath parents. Poor kids.

Well, it’s complicated.

20 years, yea the situation is such that the psychopaths can make the nurturing parent appear crazy. The gaslightring that they do, and the lies they tell….truth mixed with a small amount of “lie” or just even out right outrageous lies–the ones with a grain of truth though are the ones that are the most dangerous as they SOUND SANE.

They also can provoke us until we ACT CRAZY (I’ve been there my friend!) Then they use that “craziness” to prove we are crazy….and it goes around in the “spin cycle” with us getting worse and worse. Poor kids caught in the middle.

That’s why it is important that we learn to SPOT THE RED FLAGS before we get too deeply involved with these creatures, so we can avoid the worst of the abuse. Sometimes those flags are reeally RED and sometimes they are just small pink things, but we must become educated.

That is one reason I am glad that Donna is doing a red flags book, and why I try to look at even news articles so I can see where the red flag might be easily seen…something that sticks out like a LIE TOO FAR OFF TO BE BELIEVED….JUST ONE LIE LIKE THAT IS A REAL “TELL” and if we can realize that from reading the news, then when someone we know does that we don’t “explain it away” and make excuses for it we see it for what it is A BIG RED FLAG and we HONOR ALL RED FLAGS and use caution around that person from then on.

I am of the “one and done” rule….and if I see a big red flag with a person, that is the end of me trusting them without a lot of vetting over a long period of time. If there is a second red flag, no amount of time will make me trust them no matter what they say or do. By ruling out people who are dishonest in one way or another I may be “over reacting” a bit but you know I will weed out most of the truly toxic people from my life in the process.

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