Has narcissistic abuse ever made you worry that you were going crazy? Almost every single client that I have worked with has confessed that being around a Narcissist left them feeling like they were going crazy. Unless they used a synonym like “weird” or “losing their mind”, or feeling “out of control”. Craziness is an accusation beloved of all abusers.
Still, whatever word(s) they used, the general idea that came across was that something was happening to them that set them apart from and made them less worthy than other people. Naturally, this only increased their stress — and distress — levels.
Sadly, none of the public sensitivity and compassion expressed around mental health issues trickled down into their own feelings about their perceived craziness.
During my abusive marriage, I was doubly un-blessed as regards feelings of craziness. The longer I stayed in the marriage, the more I felt like I was going crazy. Plus, the wasband, a physician, frequently labelled me “crazy” in his most professional tones.
The power of the Craziness accusation
Actually, the wasband was not exactly a trail-blazer in that department. Throughout my childhood, my parents had pinned the “weird” label on anyone who did not think as they did. Anyone who did not live their life (or want to live their life) by my parents’ norms was irredeemably “weird”. That was the party line. (No matter that most people considered my parents a tad weird. In my family of origin, other people’s opinions were surplus to requirements.)
Having the “crazy” label slapped on you, is not a great feeling. It turns you, exactly as it is intended to do, into an emotional pariah. On the other hand, it is a great ploy — for the user.
My family, doubtless, never came across the term “Gaslighting”. Nor, I suspect, did the wasband. But that did not stop them showing a real talent for the brutal art of Gaslighting.
A splendidly terse dictionary definition of Gaslighting defines it as, “manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.” Quite.
Gaslighting is a toxic thing to do to another human being. However, if power and control are what matter to you, then it is a great tool to use.
The “crazy narrative”
The family narrative went something like this,
“Once upon a time, there was someone who had their own opinions and wanted to do things in a way other than ours. They were weird and they were WRONG. The decisions they made as a result of their weirdness led them to fall off the edge of the known world. They plunged into a hell of their own making forever after. The End.”
That was quite a cautionary tale for a sensitive child (“too sensitive” according to my parents) to handle. I grew into an anxious adolescent and, subsequently, an adult(-ish).
The attractions of someone else’s certainty
At that point, I met the wasband. That man had a whole raft of certainties. I had very few. (Except that I would, likely, die of misery if I could not get away from the stifling environment of my family.)
The wasband extended his hand and invited me out of the turbulent sea of self-doubt onto his raft of certainty.
That looked like a very good idea at the time…
The downsides of being with Mr Certain
Sadly, too much certainty has its downsides.
How was I to know that the wasband bobbed up and down on his own raft of certainties — and labelled all who disagreed with him as “crazy” or “stupid”.
It didn’t take too long before I earned both of those badges from him.
This time, however, something slightly subtler was going on. Inasmuch as I was, by then, an adult(-ish) with my own ideas, tastes, friends and achievements, I wasn’t quite the pushover that I had been as a child. I now took a bit more pushing.
How someone else’s certainties can rewrite your sense of self
The wasband rose ably to the challenge by constantly rewriting my experience of my world together with my sense of self.
- The friends that I liked were cold, self-centred people. I was just too stupid to see it.
- The decisions that I made were disastrous. I was just too stupid to see it.
- My successes were really failures of one kind or another. I was just too stupid to know it.
- My responses to the wasband’s words and deeds were just deranged and selfish. I was just too stupid to see it.
At some point, “crazy” and “stupid” became interchangeable in the wasband’s judgment of me. Most likely, I was crazy because I was so stupid — and because I “overreacted”. If I found the things that he said and did hurtful and felt diminished by them (and Heaven knows, I did) then I was stupid and CRAZY.
The effect of the “crazy accusation”
The “crazy” accusation, of course, was even more worrying than the “stupid” one. The worst case scenario with “crazy” is that you end up being taken out of your life and cast into a mental hospital. And if you don’t end up in a bona fide mental hospital, you still end up in the virtual mental hospital of your abuser’s accusations — which don’t deserve to be dignified with the term “judgment”.
By now, I hope you are beginning to see that what made you feel like you were going crazy were the accusations and agenda of narcissistic folk who were implacably hostile to you.
But do you feel like you’re going crazy when…?
So, let me ask you something. If you are,
- a) Out in nature somewhere by yourself.
b) Absorbed in doing meaningful work.
c) Engaged in doing something that you really enjoy.
Do you feel like you are going crazy?
Or do you feel more or less at peace?
In other words, when you are outside that Crazy framework, do you find yourself feeling kinda normal?|
Long experience of the whole “crazy” scenario, both in my own life and in the lives of my clients, proves that when you feel like you are going crazy that is because something crazy is going on.
You’ve spotted it…
But because you are around someone who normalizes it and has an unnerving certainty about their utterances you end up doubting yourself and your sanity.
Especially when they make sure the word “crazy” or “weird” hovers over the whole transaction.
You get so used to having the “crazy” label pinned or projected onto you that you accept it — more or less as your birthwrong.
Feeling “crazy” is a message
So, here’s the deal, whenever you feel like you are going crazy — and will be judged crazy — that is your nervous system telling you that something in a situation is quite wrong.
That creeping anxiety about being crazy is a message. An important message. It tells you that SOMETHING — or someone — is triggering those feelings in you.
Your nervous system is telling you that you are being gaslighted by your “nearest and dearest”.
Chances are, the gaslighters won’t stop trying to make you feel like you are going crazy. Not even if you ask them nicely. But you don’t have to make their toxic beliefs about you. They created that craziness all by themselves. Leave them to get on with it by themselves.
You surely don’t want to come between a gaslighter and their craziness. If you are struggling because someone or something is making you feel like you are going crazy and you need help to reclaim your self-worth and sanity, get in touch. You are NOT crazy — but you may well be disconnected from your own sense of self.