One of the most insidious and damaging of the behaviors of the emotional abuser is the “crazy”-making behavior. Not only does the emotional abuser often accuse his victim of literally being “crazy” or gaslight to try to trick the abused into thinking she must be “crazy,” but he actually uses what we call “crazy”-making behaviors, which have the same effect.
What is a “crazy”-making behavior? It is behavior that is made to sound very logical and practical, but which actually makes no sense and/or serves to give options that only punish the abused. The double-bind is one of the primary “crazy”-making behaviors.
The double-bind was once considered, among mental health professionals, to be the cause of schizophrenia. This old theory has now gone the way of all old theories, but this fact serves to demonstrate how profoundly disturbing this kind of behavior is. It puts the abused into such a position that she is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.
Imagine driving down a highway that posts a sign saying, “Do not read this sign under penalty of law.” We are, as good drivers, obligated by law to read all signs, but here is a sign we are supposed to read that tells us that if we read it we might suffer the penalty of law. We are going to read it. But then we have to look over our shoulders for the enforcement of the penalty of law. If we don’t read it, we are breaking the law. If we do read it, we are breaking the law. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
The double-bind is like that. The wife leaves instructions for her husband to feed and bathe the kids that night because she’s going to be late. He does feed them and bathe them, but when she gets home, she is furious because he didn’t do the tasks as she would have done them. Nothing he has done is “correct,” according to her, and she tells him just to leave it to her next time, because “you don’t know what you are doing.”
So, the next time she is going to be late, he just waits for her to come home and offers to help her with the tasks. But she is furious again, telling him that he just doesn’t care about her because if he did, he wouldn’t have left this task to her. Further, he obviously doesn’t care about the kids either or he would have taken care of them. He is left trying to figure out how he can do anything right—because he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
Or, the husband communicates to his wife that his love language is touch, and that he will feel really loved whenever she shows affection. But every time she shows him affection or reaches out to touch him in any way, he reacts angrily or with a cold shoulder. So, she gives him more space—because that’s obviously what he wants, right? Later, he complains that she doesn’t touch him enough. She is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.
Another form of “crazy”-making is found in the making of fury. The husband has cheated on his wife again. She has caught him for the third time—this time having purchased a negligee for his latest fling. She is ready to throw in the towel, but he begs her to stay, saying that he will change and that he’s really sorry. But she’s not buying it this time. She’s heard all of this before. Now, she’s just furious. She begins to just let him have it, telling him all of the things he’s done that demonstrate to her that he doesn’t really care about her—so why won’t he just let her go? He sits back in his easy chair and smiles and says, “Just look how crazy you are acting—who wants to be around that?!” She begins to wonder if she is really the problem here. Maybe he cheats because she acts “crazy.”
“Crazy”-making is not necessarily conscious on the part of the emotional abuser, but it is often very effective in intimidating the recipient into wondering where she or he may find the logic—where might she or he do something practical that will offer solutions to the problems in this relationship. As we can see here, however, problem solving is not really an option with “crazy”-making. No, the emotional abuser, like any other abuser, wants control, not solutions.