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S2 EP170 – Crazymaking: A Major Relationship Challenge

Episode Summary

Crazymaking interactions lead to anger, frustration, confusion, and feelings of loneliness, heartache, and helplessness over the other person and over the interaction. Learn about what crazymaking is and what to do about it. Discover the only thing you CAN do! 

Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding Podcast. Today I want to address a challenging topic, crazymaking.

Have you ever felt confused, immobilized, angry and frustrated at the other end of a conversation and not known why you were feeling this way? The chances are you were being crazy made.

Crazymaking is not easy to talk about or describe. It’s behavior that on the surface is saying one thing but underneath is really saying something else. It’s often behavior that is a projection from the person who is crazymaking onto the person who is being crazy made. It is behavior that is not logical or rational and not based on truth, but on manipulating the other person into feeling wrong and changing their behavior.

Here is an example.

Rita and Stanley have been married for 14 years and have two children. Stanley makes a good living as an attorney while Rita stays home raising the children. Rita has also been the one who handles the finances – making investments and pays the bills. Rita has a good head for finances and has done well managing things.

However, Stanley has a spending addiction. He will suddenly spend huge amounts of money on things that Rita considers unnecessary, without consulting her. The result is that Stanley has put their family into a lot of debt. However, when Rita tries to place any limits on Stanley, he yells at her that she is trying to control him, and that it’s her fault that he doesn’t consult with her first because she always says no. Rita ends up feeling confused, frustrated, and angry. She is being crazy made by Stanley in that he is blaming her for his lack of financial responsibility. 

Crazymaking comes in many forms. For example, Kathy is a very successful physician. However, she comes from a family that is threatened by her success. Her family has always wanted control over her being there for them emotionally and fears that if she does well, she won’t care about them. So, when Kathy visits her parents, feeling happy and successful in her life, her mother will often look at her and say something like, “You look so tired and pale. Are you well? You must be working too hard. We’re so worried about you.”

While these comments may sound caring, they are anything but caring – they are crazymaking. They are geared to get Kathy back into the fold, back into being controlled by her parents. They are meant to undermine Kathy and create doubt within her regarding her path and her success.

Rudy has been on a spiritual path for the last few years. One of his old friends, Andy, is very threatened by the changes he sees in Rudy. He fears that if Rudy continues to grow emotionally and spiritually, he will no longer be interested in spending time with Andy, since Andy has no interest in personal and spiritual growth. So, when Rudy told him he was planning on attending an Inner Bonding intensive, Andy gave him a crazymaking response: “When are you going to give up looking for a guru to take care of you? When are you going to stop using God as a crutch and get back to reality?” 

The problem with crazymaking interactions such as these is that it’s difficult to know how to respond.

I’ve discovered that the only way I can take care of myself in these interactions is to be mindful that my sense of confusion is telling me that I’m in a crazymaking interaction and that I need to disengage from it. The response that seems to make my inner child feel cared for is when I say, “This feels crazymaking. I’m not available for this conversation,” and walk away. If I try to explain why it’s crazymaking, I get nowhere, because you can’t explain the illogic of crazymaking statements when the person making the statements is in a wounded state, which they always are when they are crazymaking. You will just get deeper into crazymaking if you try to logically explain why what the other person is saying makes no sense, is a projection, or has no basis in fact.

If the controlling part of you gets activated, you are likely to respond to crazymaking with anger, explanations, denial, or even rage. Then you appear to be the crazy one because you are so reactive to a seemingly benign statement. The crazy maker is off the hook once you become reactive to the crazymaking. Your reactive behavior becomes the focus.

The challenge here is to tune in to your body and get to know what it feels like to be crazy made. Then, you can begin to take care of yourself in the face of it.

Marcus grew up the eldest of three, with a highly critical mother and an absent father. Marcus’s mother frequently told him or implied that he was too stupid to take care of himself – that he would be nothing without her. She programmed him to believe that she was his only source of love and safety, but that she wouldn’t give him the love he so desperately needed until he proved himself worthy of it by doing things “right”. She taught him to be confused between love and approval, and to be constantly trying to control getting love and avoiding the pain of rejection. Marcus was deeply addicted to self-judgment as a way of trying to have control over getting himself to do things right.

When we were small, our parents were supposed to be channels of the unconditional love that is God, and they were supposed to be role models of bringing that unconditional love to themselves so that we could have grown up learning to access the love that is always here for us. But this is the opposite of the crazymaking that happened to Marcus and to many of us.

Because Marcus never learned how to access unconditional love from his higher guidance, he constantly tries to get women’s approval. When he is not in a relationship, he does a fair job of taking care of himself, but the moment he is around a woman he likes, he abandons himself in his efforts to get what he thinks is the “real” thing – her love. He is programmed to believe that he cannot tap into the source of love himself – that a woman has to be his higher power.

Marcus is stuck in the crazymaking trap that his mother taught him – that he is incapable of opening to spirit and bringing love to himself, that he has to get the love he so desperately needs from a woman, and that he has to constantly prove himself to be worthy of love by doing things right in order to have control over getting the love that he can’t live without.

Even though Marcus has been on a spiritual path for a long time, he cannot get beyond believing that God is like his mother – that he has to prove himself worthy before he can access the love that is God. And, because of his core shame programming and the resulting constant self-judgment, he is never worthy enough.

In his Inner Bonding work with me, Marcus discovered the dead-end crazymaking bind that his mother had put him in. As long as he believed that he was incapable of accessing his higher source of love and receiving love directly, he was stuck constantly trying to prove himself – over and over and over. And he was drawn to women like his mother – crazymaking, critical, controlling women who would withhold love until he did it “right.” He was deeply addicted to trying to have control over getting a woman like his crazymaking mother to be unconditionally loving to him – a project that was, of course, always doomed to failure.

As Marcus learned to shift his intent from controlling a woman to get love, to learning how to love himself, he began to discover that his mother was wrong about him, that she had been constantly crazymaking him, and that inside he is a good and caring person inherently worthy of love. He discovered that when his heart is open to learning about loving himself, he CAN access the love and truth of spirit and fill himself with the love that he was constantly trying to get from a woman. As he healed his core shame, he found himself attracted to caring women rather than crazymaking, judgmental, rejecting women, and discovered the deep joy of sharing love.

When you grow up in a crazymaking household, as I did, you don’t know that it is crazymaking. As a child, you have no way of knowing that your parents may be projecting on to you their own woundedness. You have no way of knowing that they can’t see who you are because they can’t see their own true soul selves. You just know that their behavior doesn’t feel good. You might not have a word for the feeling that feels so awful – you just know that it feels so awful that you need to try to do something about it.

What you were likely feeling was heartbreak, loneliness, and helplessness over their behavior. You might have been aware of feeling alone, empty, afraid, abandoned, isolated, anxious, agitated, confused, sad, and angry. These are some of the emotions we experience when we are lonely, heartbroken, and helpless – when we want to feel a connection with our parents or other caregivers and we can’t because they are not only not available to it, but they are blaming us for their unloving behavior. This is the crazymaking – treating us in unloving ways and acting as if it is our fault that they are behaving the way they are.

Crazymaking takes away a child’s sense of safety – of being seen, heard, and validated.

Because it created so much inner pain, we all learned ways to protect against the heartbreak, loneliness, and helplessness over others that will always result from crazymaking. Each of us chose different strategies, or a combination of strategies, to attempt to have control over getting the love and connection we needed. Some of us chose to become caretakers – good girls and boys attempting to do everything right in the hopes of warding off the crazymaking blame. Others chose to act out with anger and temper tantrums in reaction to the crazymaking. We might have learned, as we moved into adolescence, to adopt the same crazymaking judgmental and blaming behavior that we grew up with, becoming crazy makers ourselves. Or, we might have resorted to resistance – shutting down or procrastinating in our attempts to not be controlled by the crazymaking. All of our protective behavior had the intent to get love, avoid pain, and feel safe. We became addicted to our protections as a way to avoid the heartbreak, loneliness, and helplessness of disconnection and crazymaking. 

At some point, if we want to grow into loving adults and have loving relationships, we need to become aware of crazymaking – our own and others.

We need to become aware of when we are saying one thing but meaning another, when we are being dishonest and manipulative, when we are projecting our own unloving behavior on to another, when we are turning things around and putting it on the other person, and when we are blaming another for our own feelings and behavior. And we need to be aware of when another is behaving this way with us.

I have discovered that if someone is crazymaking me and I don’t attend to it and name it, I will feel agitated. My agitation lets me know that I have not taken care of myself in the face of crazymaking behavior. I’ve found that if I just say, without blame or judgment, “This feels crazymaking,” then I feel fine. It’s not another person’s crazymaking behavior that causes me to feel upset, angry, defensive, or to resort to caretaking. It’s my own lack of naming it and getting hooked into it as a result of not being aware of it.

No matter how crazymaking another person is – blaming you, accusing you, lying to you, resisting you, acting nice as a manipulation, not accurately seeing you or not hearing you – you can maintain your equanimity if you become aware that it is crazymaking and name it out loud. This is challenging if you grew up with crazymaking, but when you learn to do it, your inner child will feel safe and happy!

Our society has long trained children to be “nice,” which sometimes is a form of crazymaking. Being nice might mean:

  • Telling white lies so as not to hurt another’s feelings, such as agreeing with them when you really disagree.
  • Listening politely when someone is going on and on, even when you are so bored you can hardly stand it.
  • Pretending to not be affected by rudeness or sarcasm.
  • Giving compliments that you don’t really mean.

In your relationships with others, being nice often means being inauthentic. It can be a crazymaking form of control – attempting to control how others feel about you or how they respond to you.

Being loving, on the other hand, means being honest and authentic. It means being kind, but truthful. Being loving is about caring about yourself and the other person, rather than trying to control the other person by being inauthentically nice.

Projection is a common form of crazymaking in relationships.

Matthew, in his late 20s, and married to Sarah for 2 years, had consulted with me due to relationship problems. He was feeling a lot of confusion about their relationship system.

“I think I’m an open person,” he said, “but Sarah keeps telling me how closed I am. She gets furious when she wants to talk about our relationship and I don’t.”

“There must be a good reason you don’t want to talk about your relationship with Sarah,” I said.

“I’d be happy to talk if she wanted to talk about her,” he said, “but she always wants to talk about what she thinks I’m doing wrong and what I need to be doing differently. And it’s never a discussion – it’s a demand. It always leads to a fight, which I hate.”

“Matthew,” I said, “it sounds like Sarah is projecting her lack of openness onto you, which is a form of crazymaking. She is getting angry rather than opening to learning about why you don’t want to talk, or why you do whatever it is she doesn’t like, which means that she is the one who is not open. Sarah is in denial about herself and her own lack of openness and is instead accusing you of doing what she is doing, which is called projection. And she is acting out of her wounded self by getting angry at you rather than taking responsibility for her own feelings. She is indulging her wounded self in blaming and attacking you, rather than looking within. Does this feel crazymaking to you?”

“Yes, it does,” he said, “and I don’t know what to do about it.”

“What are you doing? How do you respond when she gets angry at you for not talking about your relationship?”

“I usually try to do what she wants because I don’t want her to continue to think that I am closed, but it is always a disaster.”

“So she is trying to control you with her anger, and you are trying to control how she feels about you and sees you by giving yourself up. As long as your intent is to control her rather than take loving care of yourself, you will be participating in the dysfunctional relationship system.”

“But when I try to walk away,” he said, “she gets even angrier and accuses me of running away. I feel like I need to prove to her that I am open.”

“As long as your intent is to avoid her anger and to prove to her that you are open, you are trying to control how she acts and how she feels about you, and you are perpetuating the system that you don’t like. Until you are willing to focus on what is loving to you rather than on controlling her, nothing will change. If you had an actual child and someone was treating him this way, what would you do?”

“I would get him away from the interaction and let him know that how she is acting is not his fault.”

“You see, you know exactly what you would do with a child, which is the same thing you need to do with your inner child.”

“But I’m afraid that things will get even worse – that she will get even angrier and that we will end up in divorce,” he said.

“So,” I said, “you are willing to lose yourself rather than risk losing her? Is this working to bring you inner peace and joy?” I asked him.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I can see that in order to take care of myself, I have to risk losing her. Whew! This feels very challenging.” 

“Yes. It is a huge shift in intent. But in any relationship, we always need to be willing to lose the other rather than lose ourselves. You cannot be loving to her when you are not being loving to yourself, which is what is causing your end of the relationship problems. Sarah feels unloved by you, and she is being unloved by you – as well as by herself – because you resent her as long as you are abandoning yourself by giving yourself up to her.”

“Okay, I’m going to really try to take care of myself instead of control her,” Matthew stated.

It took a while, but Matthew found that, gradually, things started to improve between him and Sarah. By taking loving care of himself rather than letting Sarah’s crazymaking behavior work for her, he was able to gradually shift their system.

A major challenge in relationships is how to respond to another’s emotionally irrational, crazymaking behavior.

Ted sought my help because he was not happy with his relationship with his mother. As a child, Ted’s mother was often emotionally irrational, crazymaking him by demanding irrational things from him, such as telling him that it was his job to make her happy. She would cry and yell when he did anything for himself, claiming that he was selfish and making her miserable. Often, she would scream at him out of the blue, for seemingly no reason at all.

Sometimes she would yell at him for very minor infractions, such as being 5 minutes late getting home from school. Sometimes she would behave in self-destructive ways, such as getting drunk, over-spending or staying in bed for days at a time.

As a little boy, Ted’s mother was his primary source of safety. If she left him or died, he might die. So Ted learned to try to have control over his mother’s crazymaking irrationality by explaining, teaching, and defending. He learned to try to talk her out of her feelings and behavior so as not to feel so helpless at the other end of her crazymaking behavior.

Ted, now 38, still does this, even though it never actually worked to change his mother, and it has never worked to change any of the other people in his life. However, there is a level on which this protective controlling behavior does work: it gives him a feeling of control over feeling helpless, the feeling that he couldn’t feel as a child because he had no way of managing this feeling, and that he still believes he can’t manage today.

In your relationships, what do you do in reaction to others irrational, crazymaking behavior? What do you do to try to control the other person and avoid the feelings of loneliness, heartache, and helplessness that inevitably occur when someone you care about crazy makes you? Take a moment right now to think about how you react to others’ crazymaking, irrational behavior.

  • Do you calmly or frantically try to talk them out of their thoughts and feelings with your explanations, teaching, denial, debating and defensiveness?
  • Do you get angry and blaming in an effort to intimidate or guilt them into stopping their crazymaking behavior toward you?
  • Do you withdraw in angry silence, hoping to punish them into changing?
  • Do you give yourself up and comply with whatever he or she is demanding of you, hoping that compliance will stop the irrational, crazymaking behavior? Do you agree with how wrong you are (even if you know you didn’t do anything wrong) or apologize for whatever he or she said you did wrong, hoping to pacify that person?
  • Do you seemingly comply, and then resist in order to protect against being controlled by them?
  • Do you spend a lot of time and energy ruminating about what to say or do to get the other person to change and stop being irrational?

If you do any of these things, you are wasting your time and energy.

When someone – an adult, not a child – is being irrational – acting out against you or against themselves – they are IRRATIONAL! That is, they are not in their “right mind,” which means that they are not available to hear you or to change. There is NOTHING you can say or do that is going to change them – they are the ones who have to change themselves.

The ONLY thing you can do is to stop engaging – to lovingly disengage. This means that you walk away from the interaction with love, not judgment, in your heart. It means that you do an Inner Bonding process, take loving action on your own behalf, and do not re-engage until the other person is back in their “right mind.” It means you do whatever you need to do to keep your own heart open, so that you do not go into your own irrational behavior and are ready to re-engage when the other person is open.

Being rational with a crazymaking, irrational person doesn’t work! What does work is to learn to trust yourself – your feelings, that you are being crazy made, and learn to take loving care of yourself in the face of it.

I invite you to heal your relationships with my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have so much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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