Lessons in Crazy-Making
It was not just a bad night among many, it was an insane night. Our four kids were all asleep in their beds when my husband and I got into an argument about something rather menial, but he quickly escalated into a rage. Having no success in calming him, concerned for the kids and seeing the extreme manner of his response, I simply said, “I think you need to leave.”
At that point, he exploded.
“Oh, you want me to leave, do you!? Well, if that’s what you want, then that’s what you’ll get!” He immediately went out into the garage and grabbed a couple of suitcases, returned and marched upstairs, tromping as he went while he continued his tirade. I followed him up the stairs and tried to calm him down and asked him to be quiet so as not to wake the kids, but this was his moment to make a scene. He went into the bedroom, tossed the suitcases on the bed and began grabbing his clothes from the closet and loading them up. He grabbed his conga drums and other instruments, dragged them downstairs and began loading them and other favorite possessions into his van.
“I’m asking you to leave until you can calm down,” I tried to explain.
“You said you want me to leave, so that’s what I’m going to do!”
It wasn’t long before the kids were awakened. When they came out of their rooms rubbing their eyes and asking about all the commotion, their father loudly told them that I was making him leave. They all gathered together on the eldest daughter’s bed, held one another and cried, while I working to convince the man that he was being irrational (which didn’t go over too well) while simultaneously trying to assure the kids that everything would be okay.
After about 45 minutes of loading up his van, he came in and told me he was tired and was going to go to bed and would finish up in the morning.
“Fine,” I conceded. He went to bed, I was able to get our somewhat traumatized kids back to their beds, and I slept in the sofa-bed downstairs, where I had been sleeping for months.
The next morning, I woke early and called my supervisor at work to let him know I would not be in, as my husband was moving out, and I needed to make some arrangements for the kids. I got the kids off to school, returned home and was drinking a cup of coffee at the kitchen table when my husband slowly trudged downstairs. Seeing me in the kitchen, he said calmly, “What are you doing home?”
“I stayed home to take care of the kids,” I reminded him, “since you’re leaving.”
He gave me an incredulous look and shook his head as though I had lost my mind. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not going anywhere,” he said, and retreated back upstairs to take a shower.
I would like to say that I was surprised by the absurdity of it all at that moment, but I wasn’t. My former husband had obtained pro status when it came to responding severely and irrationally. By the final year of our marriage, the word I mentally used to describe our relationship was “insane.” It was.
The man could leap from mere sarcasm to rage in a matter of seconds. But it wasn’t just his unpredictability that took a toll; it was the crazy-making – the conversations that had no rational beginning or end. There was no traceable trail of logic and absolutely no possibility of being heard. There were times when I would try to speak, and he would verbally run me over and then shame me if I dared to interrupt. He spoke as though he was god-like, pronouncing what I thought or believed even if his pronouncements were untrue. Disagreement was fruitless. His decrees were law.
I can recall lying awake many nights in full stress mode, mentally endeavoring to construct the perfect sentence that might induce him to consider my position on a matter, whether it related to his overspending or his unnecessarily harsh treatment of the kids, or my need for some help from him with household responsibilities. Yet the most carefully worded petition on my part to incur some measure of consideration would be met with contempt. After 18 years of marriage, any conversation that began with common sense concluded somewhere that felt a lot like “The Twilight Zone.” It was crazy-making.
I found myself alone in the relationship, a ghost, a voiceless non-entity. If we ever had a relationship, that notion was long gone. This was all about power and control, about winning. And in order to win, he had to make me feel crazy. He did.
There is no easy way to explain crazy-making. It seems no one could possibly understand what the dynamic looks and feels like. Yet in the book of Ecclesiastes King Solomon writes,
“Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness.” (Ecclesiastes 10:12-13)
Here we can see the crazy-maker clearly described (and in other places in Scripture). The phrase, “…the lips of a fool consume him,” means more literally, “… the words of a fool swallow up himself [destroy him or bring him to ruin]…”
The Revised Matthew Henry Commentary provides added insight into King Solomon’s words of wisdom.
“…See what a fool’s talk is:
It takes rise from his own weakness and wickedness: The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, the foolishness bound up in his heart, that is the corrupt spring out of which all these polluted streams flow, the evil treasure out of which evil things are brought. As soon as he begins to speak you may perceive his folly; at the very first he talks idly, and passionately, and like himself.
It rises up to fury, and tends to the hurt and injury of others: The end of his talk, the end it comes to, is madness. He will presently talk himself into an indecent heat, and break out into the wild extravagancies of a distracted man. The end he aims at is mischief; as, at first, he appeared to have little government of himself, so, at last, it appears he has a great deal of malice to his neighbours; that root of bitterness bears gall and wormwood. Note, It is not strange if those that begin foolishly end madly; for an ungoverned tongue, the more liberty is allowed, grows the more violent…”
So it is from the lips of fools that corruption pours forth, culminating with wicked madness… an altogether accurate description of crazy-making.
Crazy-making is a multi-faceted mental and verbal strategy designed to invoke deep confusion in the mind of its victim, to churn up doubt and confusion and overwhelm the victim to the point of mental exhaustion. It occurs by design. Here the victim is emotionally bulldozed into submission, cornered and crushed with unsubstantiated evidence of absolute correctness, facts be damned. Crazy-making is a cruel weapon that is manifested in a variety of equally diminishing ways, all of which are intended to rob its victim of her voice and her value.
Let’s consider some of its manifestations.
Abusers are arrogant know-it-alls. No matter how politely or calmly a victim might approach him with a request or to discuss a matter of disagreement, he immediately assumes a posture of superiority, rolling his eyes in a here-we-go-again attitude, attempting to wave her off, stare her down or make it clear that he is truly disinterested in anything she has to say. She is deemed wrong and dismissed before she even opens her mouth.
The abuser will hit his victim with a tidal wave of words. She will be held speechless by wave upon wave of notoriously unrelated issues, engulfing the victim in a depth of confusion that reaches a point where, when she finally has an opportunity to speak, there is no plausible way of addressing anything he has conveyed. The abuser corners his victim into a place of exhausted surrender, robbing her of any opportunity to contend for the truth. By default, he is presumed correct.
An effective crazy-maker claims to know what other people, including the victim, are thinking and feeling. He will pronounce that his victim’s family members have something against him, or that he knows what his victim is going to say before she ever says it. Whether or not any of those things have any basis in reality is irrelevant. He pronounces his perfect judgment on everyone and everything based on his self-proclaimed insights into others’ minds and hearts.
The crazy-maker makes blanket accusations without any evidence to support them. The abuser will claim that the victim said things that she didn’t and didn’t say things that she did. The victim will find herself hopelessly trying to defend herself against imaginary offenses.
“I love you. But I love you more when you don’t talk.”
“You should be smart enough to know that I don’t care what you think.”
There is good mixed with horror and truth mixed with lies.
Here the abuser can say whatever he wants, no matter how caustic and cruel, but his victim can expect to be emotionally assaulted and shut down should she endeavor to speak from her heart about anything.
Try to identify the improprieties of a previous conversation and an abuser will simply assert that he never said the things he most certainly said. He will look at his victim incredulously and grin while she tries to get her abuser to concede to the truth, but he won’t. But he will enjoy watching his victim squirm in frustration, and she will begin to wonder if she is indeed going crazy.
“No, we’re not going to visit your family next weekend.”
“But I assured them we would be at the graduation.”
“I have made my decision, and that’s final,” the crazy-maker will say.
The verbal abuser doesn’t need a reason or an excuse. There is no flexibility, no options and no concern with regard to his random decisions’ impact on others.
Expect to hear the words “always” and “never.” You are always exaggerating. You never listen.
The crazy-maker may ultimately bring destruction upon himself, reaping the natural consequences of his toxic, self-serving tongue – perhaps suffering rejection and the loss of relationship, for no one should ever be expected to tolerate such insanity. Still, rather than admit to his transgressions, many an abuser will wander away in anger and choose to blame others for the calamity that befalls him.
It is no one else’s responsibility to attempt to rescue such a self-willed fool. Rather, we must see him for what he is and release him to stew in the venom of his own wicked madness. Maybe then he will see the terrible truth. Maybe then he might change.
But probably not.
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