I just read this article by Harris O’Malley called On Labeling Women ‘Crazy‘. In it, he realizes that he was having too many conversations with his male friends in which they were saying things like, “Yeah, we broke up because she was crazy.” Harris started to realize that when they referred to women as “crazy” they weren’t talking about real personality disorders, they were talking about women being assertive, expressing their feelings, and/or behaving in ways that were “inconvenient”. O’Malley realized that using the blanket term “crazy” was toxic, and decided to break the habit.
By dismissing a woman’s behavior or concerns as crazy, we inadvertently take part in a behavior known as “gaslighting.” Named for the classic George Cukor movie, gaslighting is a term used by psychologists to describe abusive behavior where a person is made to feel as though their emotions and reactions are irrational, even (dare I say) crazy. By constantly minimizing and dismissing someone’s reactions, we make them feel uncomfortable with themselves and cause them to start to doubt their own feelings. If they’re being told over and over again that what they’re feeling is irrational or unreal, that what they’re feeling is somehow out of whack, then they start to accept that maybe it is.
Even when it’s not. Especially when it’s not.
Gaslighting — minimizing their feelings, reframing them as being unreasonable — is classic abusive behavior. It’s telling someone that they don’t have a right to the way they feel because what they’re feeling is wrong. Their feelings or their concerns or behavior isn’t “rational.” Once you take away their right to their feelings, it’s that much easier to manipulate a person into the way you want them to behave.
One of my most significant partners did this to me as our relationship unravelled. It was so obvious what he was doing – but it still hurt, and resulted in a complete communication shut down. It’s an automatic red flag when a guy says to me, “My last girlfriend was crazy.” If he adds “bitch” or “slut” to describe her (see O’Malley’s “five deadly words“) I know it’s time to run!
It’s nice to see a man raise his consciousness regarding the way in which he relates to women. Check out O’Malley’s article at the Huffington Post.