Don’t Call Me Crazy

I’ve been wanting to talk about this post on The Good Men Project for a while now. But you know – one thing after another, etc etc. It’s called Why Women Aren’t Crazy and when I saw the title I internally rolled my eyes and got ready for some lame list on how “Men are the real crazy ones! Doesn’t it drive you bonkers when they can never remember to put the seat down?! Har har har.” Harty har har. Yuck. But then the intro slayed me. Right there on the spot. Slayed.

You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You’re crazy! I was just joking, don’t you have a sense of humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!

Even re-reading it I feel instantly defensive, instantly ashamed, instantly silenced.

In relationships and in my life I am not a player of games. I am very straightforward. If I have hurt feelings, I make it clear. Usually by saying, “Hey, that really hurt my feelings.” It’s that blunt. But I am also very straightforward about all of the good things as well. If my partner crosses a line, I make sure it is clear that there was a line and it was crossed and I’m not a fan.

When Kamel and I were first married we had to adjust our arguing techniques. Communication when we are both pissed is always a work in progress, but at the very beginning nothing productive was happening when we fought and things were just escalating. It was super not pretty and it was really dramatic and there was a lot of crying. Sometimes things were thrown. Like keys or a bag of graham crackers. Doors were slammed. It was puberty all over again, except not at all. Yay.

So I adjusted my approach. Instead of exploding in a fiery ball of rage, I worked hard to stay calm and straightforward. I mean, it didn’t always work, but I think even Kamel will admit that we both have absolutely come along way in the way we disagree. And I think he’ll even agree that I’ve come a few steps farther than he has. (Just ask him about his desire to win arguments for the sake of winning… yeah, productive.)

But something we still struggle with is my need to feel validated and his desire to brush aside the issue. His brushing aside comes in the form of, “Oh whatever, Lauren. You just need to get over it.” “Well I only responded like that because you’re crazy!” “Stop making a big deal out of nothing! You’re always doing this!” “Here we go again with you always focusing on the negative.”

It’s a problem, I’m not going to pretend like it isn’t. A lot of the time our disagreements dissolve into a disagreement about how we’re handling the first disagreement. I just want to be heard, Kamel doesn’t want to hear it …. or he wants to hear it for 30 seconds or less and move on. That doesn’t work for me because I’m not feeling like he GETS IT and this annoys him. He argues back because he wants to win, even if it is something really small that could be fixed with a hug and I get confused on why he is being such a jerk which deepens my need for him to get me and therefore increases his need for me to stop talking and lo and behold we are off and running.

And then I read this:

And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It’s patently false and unfair.

Because it’s not like Kamel is so very strange. I mean, I’ve pretty much been told I’m over sensitive, over reacting, crazy, crazy bitch, just need to get over it, emotional, pmsing, on and on and on and on and on from every romantic relationship (and even some of my friendships) from the beginning of time. I don’t think that I’ve ever had a boyfriend who didn’t at some point try to push me down because my opinions and feelings were really inconvenient for him.

And the worst part. We believe it. As women we talk badly about ourselves, and badly about other women in general.

Just the other day, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a flight attendant who had come to recognize me from my many trips asked me what I did for a living. When I told her that I write mainly about women, she immediately laughed and asked, “Oh, about how crazy we are?”

Why Women Aren’t Crazy made me want to print it out and pass it around to everyone I knew, staple it to light posts and bulletin boards. And of course I emailed it to Kamel who read it and said, “Wow. I totally do that. I am really, really sorry.”

It is exhausting to have to constantly fight for the validity of my feelings, not just in my relationship with Kamel but out there in the world as well. Just because I think about things differently, just because my communication style is different, doesn’t make it less. It doesn’t make mine an optional voice, something that can be muted when inconvenient.

How many times have you been called crazy? Did you know it was something that happened to more than just a handful of women? How do we stop the cycle of emotional manipulation in our sons? How do we teach our daughters to continue to push to be heard even in the face of, “You’re so crazy, you should really just get over it.” It kills me that this is an actual thing we are talking about.

23 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me Crazy”

  1. Women are half of the humans on the planet. Actually, slightly more since we live longer. So it baffles me that how men behave is deemed sane and how 50+ percent of the world behaves = crazy. Fuck.

  2. it’s so hard. I had an ex who made it clear I was emotionally unbalanced. which made me try really hard to be emotionally balanced to keep him, which put me on edge…and you guessed it- made me more emotionally unbalanced. The man I’m with now (who I see a future with) is a lot less severe with it, actually sounds more like Kamel. but he still teases on occasion. And a fast way for me to apologize for blowing up at him is “Sorry I was crazy.” But i never liked the way it felt. Just this weekend I told him I was over that dynamic. “I’m tired of playing the crazy girlfriend role, and I’m tired of you playing into it.” He happily accepted that.

    It’s very hard to break that cycle- we worry about different things. heck, we WORRY at all. And this comes off as crazy? We have ideas for random stuff, our life, our relationship which are not the same as our man’s and we’re crazy? I think the hardest part is taking the baggage of previous relationships and walking into a new one and continuing the dynamic because you feel crazy.

    I’m not crazy. I’m emotional and I’m quick and I’m observant. Sometimes I’m anxious and I put together things faster than my partner. I’m a lot of things, but crazy ain’t one of them. And I’m not going to pretend it is anymore.

  3. Interesting. I’m still thinking about the article, but your post reminded me of a technique for arguments that a friend just told me about the other day, called “executive meeting.” The premise is that anytime during an argument, one partner who is not feeling heard can stop things by calling an executive meeting, and then they get five sentences to explain their side of the problem. The other partner then has to restate this, in their own words, until the first partner says that they have correctly summarized what they said. We have not tried it yet, but my friend says it’s a great way to get at the deeper issues (rather than the often-petty surface level argument) and for her to feel like she is being heard. Anyway, thought I’d share, since it seemed like it could be really helpful in acknowledging each person’s feelings rather than dismissing them as crazy.

  4. YEP. This socially acceptable gas-lighting makes me see red. Calling the other person crazy or emotional is the fastest way to discredit them in our culture, but there’s nothing wrong with emotion, and framing it that way does a great disservice to the roundness of our characters. UGH.

  5. “I don’t think that I’ve ever had a boyfriend who didn’t at some point try to push me down because my opinions and feelings were really inconvenient for him.”


    When I read about gaslighting, it was like someone put their hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said “Sometimes when the world feels insane, it is NOT you being crazy.” It really helped to know that was a Thing, despite it being, you know, SUPER SUCKY that it is a Thing.

    1. Yes. That is how I felt reading about it as well. Like a lightbulb went off and so many shame-filled conversations came rushing back to me. And now I know they are even more BS.

  6. I love this.

    My ex cheated on me, and I found proof – PROOF! – that he did so. Even then, his only defense was, “you’re crazy! It never happened! Why can’t you let it go!” Oh okay, ahole. I guess I’m just CRAZY and your penis didn’t really fall into another girl or OH WAIT A MINUTE.

    The crazy-claiming-as-defense in an argument drives me…well, crazy. Actually. But prior to that, I’m quite sane, thank you.

  7. When you posted this article on Facebook I read it, and now that I’ve had time to digest it I have some feelings on it. I will admit that I have said these things about myself. I have called myself “crazy” on many occasions. I feel like it is a go to word that I use when I get super emotional about something and then act in accordance with that. Reading this article makes me see that that is not the issue at all. Having heard all my life that “women are crazy” has made it a part of my vocabulary.

    Now, when I think about this more in depth, I don’t actually believe that women, or myself, are any crazier then men are. So I won’t be using that term anymore. However I do feel as though women have completely different emotional responses then men do. Even if I’m only speaking for myself and my husband, I can honestly say that we are completely different when it comes to emotional response.

    For the most part my husband and I can discuss things rather than having them turn into an argument. But when it does reach that level, I get super angry and emotional, or just shut down completely. It’s made even worse if it started out with me trying to approach a subject calmly, and feeling like he wasn’t taking in the full effect of what I was saying and blowing me off. In those type of situations I feel like the only way to get my point across is to turn everything up a notch. I know he doesn’t want to fight, and I know he wants to make me happy, but when I feel like he is ignoring how important something is to me by making jokes or ignoring it all together, well, then things have to get REAL.

    Afterwards when we have ended the argument and have both calmed down I usually apologize for getting “so crazy”, but no more. I will no longer apologize for getting upset or emotional over something that is important to me. Instead of apologizing I will explain the reason why I was so emotional in general. Like, “when I feel like your not listening to me, or blowing me off, it makes me extremely angry”. I feel like this will be better for both of us in the long run. I shouldn’t reduce my emotions to being something trivial that don’t really matter. They aren’t, and they do.

    I’m lucky that I have a pretty supportive home and work environment. But I will try my hardest to make sure that this is something to be aware of from here on out. No more getting down on myself, and more calling it out when I see/hear it happening to someone else. It’s a good place to start.

  8. We talked about this on twitter but I am once again dittoing everything here. I sent this to my husband to read, but his reaction was totally different from Kamel’s. Instead he got really defensive like I was accusing him of being a horrible person and we got into an argument. Not the point!

    1. Of course now that I say that, I had a flash of insight…I think it might be kind of like when I tried to convince him that he could be a feminist…it was tough going but eventually he was able to restructure how he thought about the word “feminist.” In this case the word, “manipulative” really seemed to hurt his feelings and prevent him from thinking about himself in terms of a product of societal structure.

      1. Kamel has a hard time with the word “manipulative” as well. He sees it as something only really smart people can be. Like, if you are “manipulating” someone that means you have it all planned out and are super clever and pointed and doing it from a planned out premeditated place. I had to explain that being manipulating comes from a really emotional place. That it isn’t really about being extra smart or mean, but about wanting to get your way at the expense of someone else. It’s a complicated concept… manipulation on a conceptual level… it’s hard to even wrap my brain around when I’m trying to explain it.

    2. I would love to hear the outcome of the argument. Because arguing can be really productive. I think having this discussion at all is a big step. It is hard to realize that something we fall back on and without MALICIOUS intention is actually really wrong. That is really hard. This is so much more of a societal issue and not an individual issue, but in our relationships we can only address it on a 1 on 1 basis. So… there it is.

      1. Too often I think men get defensive when feminist issues get brought up because they think they are being accused of sneaking off into back rooms and all planning to turn down the gas in the lamps, together. Which is obviously not true. Or sometimes they use that defensiveness as an excuse, because thinking critically about how you benefit from a system designed to screw over women (including women you love!) is super uncomfortable and hard. It’s easier to think your wife is crazy because she’s a woman and bitches be crazy than think about all the ways her voice and opinions have been shut down by people just like you for her entire life.

        BUT ALSO. Most of all I think this is hard for men because sexism screws men, too. Men are getting the exact same messages that women are and that means men are being manipulated, too. Kamel and Forrest have been manipulated by the same system that tells them women are irrational and men are rational. If every time they’ve seen a women reacting emotionally they have also seen a man reacting with a “Calm down, sweetie, don’t overreact,” then of course that’s behavior they are going to repeat unconsciously. That doesn’t make either one a “bad person” or suggest that they are maliciously using it against their loved ones. It just means they are alive in this culture, too.

  9. I had a relationship once where that was endemic. Wasn’t pretty. It went up to a point of absurdity where I found out he’d lied about sleeping with people behind my back, had a profile on a sex-chat, etc. I casually brought up that I was unpleasantly surprised by this knowledge (and that’s literally what I said, pleasantly, while we were taking a walk) and he went apoplectic telling me that he’d only omited telling me because he knew I’d not be able to handle it and I’d overreact terribly and make drama and attack him and.. well..

    It was quite perverse. The calmer I was when I brought up issues that warranted serious anger on my side, the more outraged he became and the more he blamed it on me being unreasonable, crazy and emotionally disturbed.

    It’s given me a thick skin in some regards and left me raw in certain others. It took me a while to no longer respond with extreme tension to any remarks possibly implying anything remotely negative about my mental state.

    Currently, in this relationship, I get occasional remarks like “don’t worry about it”, ” just let it go” ” this isn’t a big deal.” ” the problem only exists in your head.” I don’t mind because the intention is different. He says these things because he really wants me to be happy and relaxed instead of anxious and high strung. He acknowledges (often in the same sentence) that he realizes things don’t work that way and that its not helpful to use these phrases, but he has not yet found other words to express his desire for me to not fret about things. Then, I still get my hug and some sympathy and the assurance that I can count on him to help me with whatever problem I worry about.

    I also don’t mind because I _know_ I am anxious and because I appreciate someone telling me that I appear to be in a spiralling in my anxiety, pulling things in that aren’t part of what is truly bothering me. It helps me refocus on the actual thing we were debating and not get lost in the feelings about the feelings about the response to one turn of phrase ten minutes ago.I do not refer to myself as crazy. However, sometime I refer to myself as acting unreasonably. Which I sometimes do. Sometimes my behavior is unreasonable, but I’m still a sane adult and I still get taken seriously.

    As to ‘not wanting to deal with problems.. I think it is fine to ask to postpone a discussion. “Honey, I know you’re worried about Y, but I’m preoccupied now. Can we talk about this at X PM?” However, an all-out dismissal will almost always come back to bite the dismisser, because it makes the dismissed person even more ferocious about getting their point across. It also adds fuel because now the dismissed person needs to first convince you of why Y is worthy of discussion, before actually talking about Y. The dismissal just caused an even more lenghty and convoluted discussion to take place. Quite counterproductive and not very rational.

  10. Hey, this is called gaslighting! And my fiance and I totally talk about it because it’s absolutely a real thing. Since we read what was I think this very article a couple years ago it was like a freaking light (ha) when on and we understood about pushing each other’s buttons and then getting mad at each other for having pushed buttons. (And yes, I get that this is more about the cumulative disadvantage towards women being told they’re crazy but a form of this can operate in both directions in a relationship…)

    Yes I think it was this article! This definition is helpful: “Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals (I am not one), to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.” I love that you’re bringing up this concept here – it’s super important!“crazy”

  11. For me, the term most often used against me is “Irrational.” I’m being irrational all the time, apparently, especially if I dare allow even the slightest hint of emotion into my voice. Then I’m being emotional at the expense of being rational (um, I thought one could easily be both emotional and rational at the same time? They are not opposites?).

    “Melodramatic” is the other one leveled at me a lot, especially in my early 20s.

    For so, so long I believed this.

    I don’t get angry, like seething angry very often, but I did several months ago, at my husband. When we were calmly talking about the incident in question a little later, he confessed that he was worried for me and maybe I should go speak to someone. I cut that shit off immediately. “I am allowed to be angry,” I said. “That is a normal human emotion and I’m allowed to have it, and I’m allowed to direct it at you. I did not call you names. I did not get violent and throw or break things. I was angry, and I raised my voice and yelled at you, because I was really fucking angry. And that is allowed, even if I don’t do it often. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me. You get angry all the time, and there is nothing wrong with you.”

    As soon as I spelled it out for him he was like, “Oh shit. You are totally right. I’m sorry.”

    1. GOOD FOR YOU!!!

      Kamel and I also had a fight (actually on Mother’s day… I wrote a vague post about it) where he said I needed to go to therapy OR ELSE. And I said, “then bring on the or else, because I’m not going and I’m definitely not going out of a threat.” Because I had a strong reaction to something that he was tired of me having a strong reaction to, he for reals tried to pull the “I’m really worried about you and I think you have a major issue that needs to be worked out blahblahblah” and no. Nooooope. I’m allowed to be angry, I’m allowed to continue being angry if issues are not resolved or are recurring. That does not make me crazy, that makes me aware and consistent.

  12. Merging the two disagreement styles is so hard. I haven’t gone over to read the article yet, but this:

    “something we still struggle with is my need to feel validated and his desire to brush aside the issue”

    I dwell. He wants to get on with life. Both of which have benefits – taking time on an issue lets us understand it an not make it again, and moving on means we’re not moping about what’s said and done for ages past when we need to. It’s a hard balance, though, how much depth of understanding we need on any given issue.

  13. I had things to say, but I couldn’t phrase them right. So I went away and have now forgotten.

    Except, things like this peeve me off something wicked. And are probably some of the reasons I’m having anxiety issues – I work so damned hard to be rational because I used to have these fights with my parents. And you know what? Sometimes, you need to be emotional. Because otherwise it just doesn’t come across the way you actually wanted it to – as something that has a major impact on you.

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