I hope everyone is having a great summer. It has been HOT here in Texas. With heat comes a lot of extra stress and studies have revealed that road rage and other stress factors can increase in the heat. Some of the reactions can be physiological as many get overheated, dehydrated, and their adrenals get overtaxed, leading to heightened emotional reactions. Sometimes, however, people are not nice at all. In fact, they can be downright crazymakers. Following is an excerpt about Crazymakers from my Ten Keys to Staying Empowered in a Power Struggle book. An updated and revised edition will be out soon. In the meantime, you can take advantage of an Amazon special this weekend and get a free e-version of the 1st edition. Click here to order.
Read on to learn about the different type of crazymakers and the typical tactics they employ to manipulate others. Don't forget to check out my other posts on Psychology Today. Nine types of love, modern childrearing, communicating through conflict, and finding sanity in political chaos are a few of the topics.
A mother gave her son two ties for an upcoming family occasion. She then got mad at him when he showed up at the party wearing one of the ties. She wanted him to wear the other one. Years later after the son had grown up and married, he presented his wife with two dresses for their anniversary dinner. He then got upset with her for wearing the wrong dress of the two. A few years later, after they had a daughter, the wife accused the daughter of hugging the wrong parent first—even if the little girl switched whom she hugged each time.
Crazy-makers come in all shapes and sizes and can have good and bad intentions. Some know they are being manipulative and oppressive while others haven’t a clue. Some engage in tactics consistently and others provide intermittent surprise attacks. The challenge is to recognize the behavior, assess if it’s from a healthy or unhealthy place, and then employ the proper strategies to stay sane and empower yourself.
First, let’s look at the definition of crazymaking. Crazymaking is when a person sets you up to lose. Much like the example above—you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You’re in a lose-lose situation, but too many games are being played to help you reason yourself out of it. There is no rhyme or reason or emotional-understanding with a crazy-maker. Worse, when the behavior is stealth and so confusing, it becomes easy to feel crazy. It feels like you’re caught in a whirlwind of chaos with the life force being sucked from you as you are manipulated with nonstop crazy-making tactics.
Key: Consider if You're Dealing with a Crazymaker
The granddaddy of all crazy-makers is the narcissist. Narcissists cannot empathize with anyone, meaning they cannot relate to another person’s feelings. They can only feel their own wants and needs. They are emotionally stunted, like a perpetual demanding two-year old. It is always about them. However, they can be extremely charming and charismatic, as they have learned how to be the greatest salespeople to get their needs met. These shallow con artists can charm and mimic compassion for brief moments in order to get their needs satisfied. They expect only the best and can be the most materialistic—demanding trophy-relationships, endless objects of success, only well-known acquaintances, top-notch services, lavish vacations, etc. They have disdain for emotions in others and often think even less of people close to them. They try to control everyone around them and will use every available tactic to gain control. Many high-ranking executives are narcissists and consequently tend to create a narcissistic culture in their company or division.
Another famous crazy-maker is the drama-cultivator. Whether histrionic or borderline or a version of other similar diagnosable personalities, the drama-cultivator is best known for their perpetual crises. They are like Chicken-Little screaming “THE SKY IS FALLING,” but they expect YOU to fix it. Now. On their time. On their terms. Some people do experience an excess of rough times (and statistically it’s true that A LOT of crises can happen in one burst), but the drama-cultivator has an overabundance of crises. Plus, EVERYTHING is a crisis for the drama-cultivator. They expend their energy AND YOURS by responding to crises. They cannot empathize with others because they are too wrapped up in their chaos. Yet, they need you and your energy and don’t want you to leave them, so they go to great lengths to get and keep your attention. Like a wounded child, they also swing from loving and supporting you to getting angry and detesting you. Their moods and responses are inconsistent and dealing with them feels like you are walking in a field of hidden landmines.
The final crazy-maker is the stealth-bomber. They are the passive-aggressives that look like roses compared to the narcissist and drama-cultivator, but beware of their sharp thorns. These highly dependent people try to please you, but the nice things they do have a cost. They are the martyr that keeps score. Like a stealth bomber, just when you think everything is okay, they get you. Their modus operandi is to sabotage you while they look innocent. For instance, they will commit to doing something when they really don’t want to do it and then consistently bail out at the last minute. Or they’ll conveniently forget. Perhaps they’ll run late and miss the deadline. Everyone has these experiences now and again, but stealth-bombers do it ALL the time and they get YOU to feel guilty about it. They will make up excuses with the most ambiguous details and then sulk and act like a victim if you get upset. They will conveniently lose items, forget dates, miss deadlines, ruin plans, and then become sad and withdrawn because they’ve tried so hard. Whether it’s a narcissist, drama-cultivator or stealth-bomber, it is critical to ascertain if your power struggle stems from one of these crazy-makers. If so, empathy and rational problem-solving will not work (although paying attention to your own hot buttons is still key because crazy-makers have a keen ability to immediately spot your hot buttons and use them against you). Additional strategies are going to have to be used.
COMMON CRAZY-MAKER TACTICS
It is imperative to know if you’re dealing with a crazy-maker in the first place. However, the tendency is to be a little blind to this possibility if it’s a loved one or someone close. People seem to resist such a notion, so they end up taking the person’s behavior personally. They believe that the crazy-maker in their life could change if they wanted to change. They also expect the crazy-maker to play by the same communication and etiquette “rules” as everyone else, but they can’t. Let me repeat that again—CRAZY-MAKERS DON’T PLAY BY THE SAME RULES AS YOU. They simply don’t experience the world in the same way. It is as if they are dancing to a different song. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and energy if you realize this now and stop trying to make the crazy-maker in your life dance to your song.
The double-bind sets you up to lose. It can be like the example in the beginning where the mother gives two ties to her son and then gets mad at him for selecting to wear the wrong tie of the two. It can also be as subtle as a person giving a scolding look while saying, “I love you.” Another example is the ever-famous situation with two siblings and report cards. One has made all A’s and the other all C’s and D’s. The parent responds with “I know you did you’re best. Not everyone can be as smart and great as Johnny who makes all A’s,” which puts both siblings in a double-bind with each other. Double-binds are negative messages disguised in a positive message or gesture. The insult about choosing the wrong tie is cloaked in the gift of the tie. The son is trapped because if he complains, she can say he doesn’t appreciate the gift. The “I love you” is coupled with an angry look, so one is prevented from addressing the look because the counter-argument might be, “But I said ‘I LOVE YOU’.” Finally, both siblings are in a bind from saying anything to their mother about the grades as the punch in the stomach is hidden with supposed praise. Double-binds happen all of the time. Start paying attention and you’ll be appalled by the frequency. Crazy-makers employ this tactic most often. So, what do you do? The answer lies in boundary strategies at the end of this section.
Crazy-makers are superior at giving inconsistent praise. Narcissists, drama-cultivators and stealth-bombers are adept at keeping you on your toes and getting you to beg for their praise. There’s even a scientific explanation for it. Inconsistent praise tends to elicit desired behavior the most. As an example, numerous animal researchers have discovered that the best way to train an animal is with an inconsistent reward. Yes, an inconsistent reward produces the most compliant behavior in animals. That is why gambling can be so addictive because it provides an inconsistent reward. We literally get hooked. Crazy-makers have somehow figured this out and provide the people around them with inconsistent praise. Sometimes they are just so loving, present and/or flattering that it feels good. Then it’s gone. Some people get hooked and continue to put up with crazy-making behavior because they are waiting for the payoffs—the praise. In fact, crazy-maker’s praise probably does feel better than the person who is consistent with it. But, like gambling, it can be an addictive high that also has a queasy, unsettling feeling to it along with a high cost.
Crazy-makers have selective memories. We all do, but crazy-makers are exceptional with it. They conveniently forget any problems you’ve had with them when they want something from you. Then they throw every wrong you’ve ever done in your face when they are upset with you. Like above, it’s inconsistent. You never know what your review will be like because you’ve learned that it depends on their mood. You know that the only thing you can depend on with a crazy-maker is that you can’t depend on them. They will hold a grudge against you and then expect you to forget any disruptions. They will manipulate like crazy and use their selective memory as ammunition.
IMPOSSIBLE TO EMPATHIZE
Crazy-makers can not empathize. This is how you really know that you’re dealing with a crazy-maker because they will simply not be able to understand your feelings or situation. They might try to and give you a sense that they understand, but they can’t sit with it very long and generally turn the conversation back onto their feelings or situation. This is an important point. Empathy is a developmental trait. A child at 4 years begins to play with others in a more cooperative fashion for the first time. Prior to that, children play with themselves. If they are with other children, they are most likely playing in an individual fashion while sitting next to other children, referred to as serial play. That’s normal because they haven’t developmentally learned to share and take turns. Such skills kick in at around the fourth year. Empathy begins at this time as well. You’ll see evidence of empathy when you watch a child trying to calm down another crying child by giving them a hug. Typically, a crazy-maker personality has not developed empathy, so they are more like a perpetual two-year old at an emotional level. Knowing this is critical to protecting yourself in a power struggle with them. Keeping strong boundaries is key to dealing with a crazy-maker.