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Terms you NEED to Know: Crazy-making

Crazy-making is a facet of gaslighting - it disorients the victim and places control with the narcissist. Psychology Today defines crazy-making as, ‘setting up the other person to fail.’

Here are some examples (To increase anonymity, all names have been changed):


Carissa had been married for almost a year. She was getting ready for Bill's family gathering - the first once since getting married. Carissa wanted to make a good impression so she put all of her effort into picking her most flattering outfit. She did her hair in a fancy up-do, and did something fun with her eye make up to make them sparkle more. She debated about shoes for a while. Should she wear her favorites: stilleto heeled boots with a pointed toe; Or Bill's preference: neutral color flats. Carissa LOVED the boots. They were her favorite shoes, however, Bill hated the pointed toe because it made her, “it look like a witch”. Carissa decided it was his family gathering and she was going for him - so she would wear the flats. Bill arrived home from work, Carissa came out from her room, excited about how she looked, smiled a cute little smile, and then pointed to her shoes, “AND I decided to wear these shoes instead of my favorite boots because I know how much you hate those. You’re welcome.” Bill chuckled. Gave her a quick kiss and then disappeared into the bathroom to get ready for the party. A few minutes later he emerged. “So…. is that really what you’re wearing?” “Um…. yes.” “It’s just - never mind….” He gave a disappointed sigh as he turned around to brush his teeth. “What?” “I mean. This is my first family party that you’re coming to. I just want to be able to show you off, you know? I was hoping you would wear something else.” Feeling hurt, Carissa explained the effort she had put in, how much she liked what she was wearing, and her purposeful decision to wear the shoes he preferred. “I mean…. You just don’t look as good as you could in something else.” Immediately Carissa felt her energy, excitement, and self-esteem tank. She slowly made her way back into the bedroom and changed into something Bill chose for her.

Remembering that crazy-making means 'setting the other person up to fail' - that is what happened in this situation. On Carissa's part, there is some codependent behaviors that can be addressed, but from Bill it really didn’t matter what Carissa had worn that day. Bill's choice in expressing his distaste for her style and appearance would have been the same no matter what. Because it wasn't about opinion - it was about control. Carissa would have failed regardless because it allowed Bill to exert control over the evening.


A second example relates to another facet of crazy-making, shirking responsibilities. Krista and John had been married for about 5 years. John was off and on with his active pornography addiction. When he was on, his narcissistic tendencies grew as a result of his addict behaviors. With the rise of these behaviors always came a drop in church attendance. When John's attendance faltered around year 5, Krista simply continued to attend without him. Arriving on her own caught the eye of the local leadership. The leadership reached out to John and asked if he would be willing to teach the men's class once a month. He wholeheartedly agreed to it but, once they were in private, he told Krista all of the reason why he didn't want to do it. The first month or two he complained his way through the lesson. But one Sunday he decided not to wake up in time for church. Krista tried everything she could think of. At one point he was awake and they had a conversation about his responsibility to either teach the class or communicate that he wouldn't be able to. He rolled back over and went back to sleep. Krista slunk into church feeling embarrassed at his absence. Immediately the leadership for the men’s meeting jumped into her pew, “hey! Is your husband coming today?” “Honestly, I’m not sure what he’s doing. He was asleep when I left.” At home that afternoon Krista tried to address the issue. John's response was, 'why didn't you wake me up!?" followed quickly by, "I wasn't feeling well so I just really needed to sleep."

Crazy-making, leaves its victims feeling helpless and confused. Remember, the danger of these tactics is that they follow a line of logic. Meaning the reasoning is hard to dispute or nail down. John's response of shifting the responsibility from himself to Krista and rationalizing his reasons for not being responsible are classic signs of a crazy-maker.

If you have a loved one in a similar relationship, you may notice that their partner is frequently absent. Your loved one may stop coming to events so she can stay home with him. But, if she's decided to continue going places (regardless of whether or not he comes) your loved one may still be in a phase of wanting to protect her crazy-maker so you may hear things like, "oh, he's home sick" or "he's super tired from working so he didn't come" on a regular basis. You'll likely get excuses more than you get the person. Crazy-making, gaslighting, and DARVO all add to these confusing interactions.

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