By Dana Morningstar
“Crazy-making” behavior is abusive and manipulative behavior that is designed to confuse, irritate, exhaust, or provoke a target into some sort of emotional reaction. The target feels either like the narcissist is trying to make them crazy, or that the narcissist’s behavior is so infuriating that it’s making them crazy—especially when the narcissist is acting like nothing is wrong, or that the target is making a big deal out of nothing, or worse, that the target is crazy, mentally ill or losing their mind.
Crazy-making behavior is behavior that is irrational, immature, and/or illogical. The person who exhibits this behavior tends to play dumb about their behavior, as though they don’t understand what the problem is. Crazy-making behavior attempts to bait, provoke, harass, triangulate, “stir the pot,” irritate, annoy, minimize, or invalidate the target, often to the point where they explode in anger or become so tired of the conversation going nowhere that they give up trying to get through to their tormentor. And if and when the target does explode, the crazy maker acts shocked and confused and may use the target’s reaction to further prove their point that the target is the one who is unhinged, overly emotional, or abusive.
The goal of crazy-making behavior is, in part, for the abusive person to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, as well as to keep power and control over their target (by not giving them the truth or seeking a resolution). This behavior also feeds the narcissist’s ego and self-esteem, making them feel smug and superior by “winning” (controlling the conversation and pushing their target’s buttons until their target reacts).
Example: Jane continually tells John how all these other men are flirting with her, or how certain men are so attractive, and then once John starts showing signs of jealousy, Jane spins things around, denies that she said anything wrong, and blames John for being too sensitive, controlling, and insecure. Jane takes it a step further (because she enjoys seeing John get so upset), and in a calm and condescending voice tells him that he needs to see a therapist.
The most telling sign that you are experiencing crazy-making behavior is that you feel like this person is making you crazy. Because crazy-making behavior is often presented in a “there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing; you are the one with the problem” kind of way, many people on the receiving end of it become very confused as to who really has the problem. A great way to tell where the crazy-making behavior originates is to ask yourself how they would react if you were to do the same thing to them, or how others would react if they experienced it. Odds are you will find that if you were to do the same to them, they’d become outraged, or you will find that you only feel this way around certain people. If you don’t feel this way around others, then it’s not you, it’s them.
Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”