People often ask me ‘what is crazy making?’

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 crazy making onto the person who is being crazy made. It is behavior that is not logical, not based on truth but on manipulating the other person into feeling wrong and changing their behavior. – Margaret Paul, Ph.D.

It is really hard to explain and I know that if I had never been through it, I would not really understand the full impact of being subjected to crazy making. So I thought I would share a small part of the crazy making I went through. My hopes in doing this are that if you are going through it, you will feel a little bit less alone, and you may start to understand what is happening to you. And for people that have never experienced it you will to some degree get what it is like to be subjected to crazy making.

The start of crazy making

For me the crazy making began slowly and this is just one instance that started when we had not been together for long. I got in the car after filling the car with petrol and he looked at me with complete adulation. Being looked at like that is the most amazing feeling you can imagine, it was like I was his everything. I had longed to be adored like that since I could remember.

I asked him, ‘why are you looking at me like that?’

He replied smiling, his eyes overflowing with love, ‘I just admire you so much, you are amazing.’

I was surprised. ‘What did I do that is so amazing? I only got petrol.’

‘You just don’t care what anyone thinks about you, I would get nervous, but not you.’

‘I don’t get what you mean I was only getting petrol, what was there to be nervous about?’ I asked, confused.

‘Well, I have never known anyone who puts petrol in a car so slowly. I could see that everyone waiting was getting really irritated with you. It made me feel really uncomfortable, but not you, you are so confident, you didn’t even notice how angry and irritated everybody was with you!’ he informed me.

‘Oh, I didn’t realise I was slow,’ I said, feeling very self-conscious.

‘I know, that is what I love about you’.

I didn’t question his sincerity because he had said it with such love and pride, why would I think he was trying to make me lose confidence?

Continuing the crazy making

The exchange ended there. I was still basking in the ‘love’ he was showering on me and yet at the same time I felt bad, and I started the internal questioning. ‘Did I get petrol slowly? Was I irritating? How could I put petrol in faster? Maybe if next time I go somewhere really quiet I can practice.’ I was losing confidence in my ability to do something I had never questioned. The next time I went for petrol I felt shaky and I kept looking at the other drivers for signs I was irritating.

Over time I started to have an overwhelming fear of getting petrol, it was becoming almost impossible for me. I talked to my ex, he held me, kissed my head and said ‘I can’t stand to see you so upset, I will get the petrol for you, and don’t you worry about it.’ So he did, and it slowly become something I was incapable of doing. I felt like he was my hero for saving me from the fear of getting petrol when in fact he was the one who had created the fear. Although his attitude soon turned to one of rage at my ‘complete incompetence at absolutely everything.’

Years later we were living a long way from any support network I had built up. I was alone most of the time with two babies, he would travel a lot but he didn’t have to worry about me going out and being with my friends while he was away because all he had to do was leave the car on empty and he could trust my fear to keep me at home.

I didn’t realise at the time that this was how he controlled me.

I still shudder even after a decade remembering his tyrannical rage when I told him proudly ‘I did it, I filled the car with petrol. I won’t have to be dependent on you to do it.’ I honestly thought he would be proud of me after all he had been shouting at me for years about how annoying it was that ‘I was so useless’ but at the time I didn’t realise that he depended on my helplessness to control me.

I thought he wanted what was best for me, but he wanted to control me. He would undermine me and then turn around and save me. This is just one example and his first comment about my getting petrol, to my complete dependence took years, but he was patient. There were many other ways he used this tactic.

Once I had left and had some space to think I could see the ways he used crazy making to undermine me, but when you’re in it, it is almost impossible to see the wood from the trees.