Someone recently told my child he was “just like so-and-so.” So-and-So is a person who had traumatized this particular child, and when this child told me about the accusation, he said, “When they said that to me, I felt like I was going crazy in my head.” Sound familiar? Let’s talk about why your marriage may be making you feel crazy in the head.
Why DOES Your Marriage Make you Feel Crazy in the Head?
People feel crazy when two realities clash, creating cognitive dissonance.
According to Wikipedia, “cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, and is typically experienced as psychological stress when they participate in an action that goes against one or more of them.”
So in the above example, my child had his own idea about who he was, but he was told he was like someone else (in other words defined by someone else), and this caused a feeling of craziness inside of him. Because he’s a child and has an emerging identity rather than an established identity, he has no way of coping with opposing realities like this, so he feels “crazy in the head.”
He is struggling inside of himself to understand if he can trust his own emerging identity, or if he is wrong about himself. Perhaps he IS like the person in his life who has traumatized him. In that case, he begins to feel that he, himself, is disappearing and unknowable. This is a confusing and scary experience for a child.
It’s confusing and scary for adults too.
Adults who have struggled to form their own identity during their development years will be vulnerable to cognitive dissonance when other people define them in ways they can’t identify with. And yes, this will create a feeling of being crazy in the head.
If you’re confused about who you are, you will be susceptible to the stories others tell about you. If those stories don’t match up with how you perceive yourself, you’ll feel a bit crazy. You’ll either question their perceptions, or more likely, in the case of emotional abuse, you’ll question your own.
Don’t worry. I’ll share some ideas of ways you can protect yourself from the Crazies toward the end of this article. But first I want to talk about why and how people try to define other people. I’ll also show how defining other people damages lives.
Why Do People Define Other People?
Because it makes them feel good. Everything we do is because of how it makes us feel. We feel good when we are in control. We feel bad when we aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with having control of your own life to the degree that you’re able, but some folks feel best when they are controlling not only their own lives, but the lives of others as well.
Abuse is all about power and control. So defining people is an abusive behavior. And if you want some great examples, hop on Facebook in any discussion about politics.
How Do People Define Other People?
Everyone has a manual for life. From the very beginning of our lives, our brains were objectively recording everything we took in through our senses, and then our brain turned all that data into a program. That program runs 95% of our behavior. We can change our programming (that’s what we do in Flying Free and Flying Higher), but it requires focused, motivated effort on our part.
Sadly, most people will never do it.
One of the things our brain’s program does is put people into categories so we can make sense of them. We put people who agree with us into the “nice person” category. We put people who don’t agree with us into another category. Depending on your programming you might put them in the “Doesn’t agree with me on politics but it’s okay” category. Others might put them in the “Hateful no good stupid arshole” category. (I’ve been watching a lot of British drama lately.)
See? It all depends on your programming.
There are some people who have a program that says everything is “all or nothing.” Those people tend to struggle in their relationships with others because of this. They define others as “all good” or “all bad.” And their definition of you may change depending on their day at work. It’s hard to live with someone like this. If you do, you often feel like you’re walking on eggshells so as not to get put in the other person’s “all bad” category.
People with this type of programming cannot see their own behavior as anything but good and right because their self-image is fragile. They must put all the responsibility on someone else when they aren’t perfect, or when they make mistakes, or when they misbehave. They are unwilling to see themselves as “sometimes good and sometimes not-so-good.” (Which is human, by the way.) And they are unable to see others that way as well.
How does a person with this type of programming cope? He defines everyone around him based on how those people are reflecting back his own skewed image of himself as perfect. If you give a person like this feedback, they will recoil and put the blame/shame back on you. But do you see that it isn’t your feedback that is the problem?
It’s his programming.
(Want to get super clear on the emotional abuse dynamic you may be experiencing? Sign up to get the first chapter of my book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage FREE. I’ll even throw in the first chapter of the companion workbook!)
What Happens When You Get Defined in Your Marriage? (Hint: CRAZY!)
You may know someone like this. Someone who defines you as a nice person as long as you do what they want you to do. As long as you have the same opinions they have. But when you have a different opinion or do something they don’t like, they will change their definition of you to be less positive. They may define you as rebellious or an unbeliever or a stupid person.
Let me be clear here. Defining someone is much different than disagreeing with them.
It’s not destructive or abusive to say, “I believe differently than you do.” It IS destructive to say, “You aren’t a Christian because you’re not voting for the same person I am voting for.” See the difference? One gives everyone freedom to make their own choices and be their own person. The other strips that freedom away and says only certain people in power get freedom.
If you have a strong identity, you may experience an uncomfortable vibration in your body when they define you in negative terms, but it won’t knock you sideways. You will see them as a separate person with their own manual for life and their own stories they tell themselves about how life is supposed to work. And you may or may not agree with their manual, but regardless, it won’t impact your personhood in a profound way.
You know who you are, and their definition of you is irrelevant.
BUT. If you struggle in your identity (and there may be many reasons you do—all rooted in your programming), when someone else defines you according to their rules of measurement and their beliefs about life and people and God, you will experience some pretty powerful vibrations in your body (emotions) that have the potential to knock you over and out.
If your brain’s program says “other people must know better than I do about myself” or “my heart is desperately wicked and I can’t know it” or “I need the validation of others to feel like a worthwhile human being” or “God loves me only when I’m making everyone else happy” – then you will struggle BIG TIME with how others define you.
Ask me how I know.
So if we go back to the story at the beginning, my child’s programming may say “I am a person who tries hard” and “I get angry sometimes.” So when a person comes along and says, “You are just like so-and-so,” my child can’t make sense of that because his programming ALSO says “adults know best.” So even though he didn’t THINK he was like so-and-so, now he wonders if he can trust his own perception of himself.
Now he feels crazy in his head.
And when his brain feels crazy, it begins to change the programming in order to make sense of all the confusion. It adds some new things to his programming, including “I am a bad boy” and “I’m stupid” and “I’m the crazy one.” Now he hates himself, but at least life makes sense.
He is none of those things, but he believes he is because of the conflicting messages he has been taught by adults in his life. Unless something interrupts this programming while his brain is still developing, he will grow up with a skewed sense of reality and personal identity, and he will either try to control others or he will be controlled by others.
There is a better way for us.
How to Unhook From the Crazy in Your Marriage
So what’s the answer? How do we NOT feel crazy when someone says “You’re ________.”? And we know we’re not?
The answer is in the universe.
No, not the big huge universe. The universe between your ears. The universe you live in. Your mind.
Because here’s the thing. Your mind belongs to you and you alone. You get to decide when, where, how, and why you use it.
Other people can’t touch your mind if you don’t let them in.
When someone defines you, they are pretending to be inside you.
But they aren’t inside you. They can only embody their own universe between their own ears and simply make wild guesses about what is going on inside yours. Do you know that? Do you really know that?
They have stories about you in their own universe. You are like a little Lego character in their universe, and they say who you are and what you think and what you do. In their universe.
BUT YOU AREN’T A LEGO CHARACTER.
You’re a flesh and blood woman with your own universe to tend to. And you get to define yourself. Hopefully that includes your Creator’s definition of you, which is amazing. Because HIS universe encompasses all of His Creation, and He says “IT IS GOOD.”
Relax. God says you are good. In Christ you are perfect just the way you are. Other people can throw their story words out into space and say all the things they want to about who you are in their minds.
But those words are no more relevant or true about you than a misty, moisty fog that comes in and then dissipates.
If I could get my child to see and understand this, I would. I told him, “The person who said that about you is just telling his own story about how he sees the world. He is pretending to be inside your head. He is pretending to know who you are. But nobody can know who you are except you and your Creator who loves you dearly. The two of you get to decide who you are and who you will become. Nobody else. Not me or anyone else.”
So let me give you one last example before we are done here.
Someone tells you that you have a blackened heart because you asked them to stop cheating in a game.
If you’re hooked into their universe you may think “I am a bad person for wanting to play a fair game. I must be too picky. There must be something wrong with me.” These thoughts will cause you to feel shame. And crazy. When you feel shame and crazy, you hide and watch Netflix and eat copious amounts of chips and cheese. And the result is you continue to be hooked into their universe even when they aren’t with you.
If you are unhooked from their universe with a strong sense of your own identity you may think “That’s an interesting perspective that person has. In their universe cheating is okay. Calling it out is not. That’s too bad they have to miss out on a real relationship with me. I’m pretty fun in a game, but I prefer to play fair.” These thoughts will cause you to feel a little sad for them, but otherwise neutral. When you feel neutral, you will go on with your amazing life, spreading love to everyone you meet.
Do you want to know what else happens here? The person who cheated doesn’t want to be around someone with a strong sense of identity. You are not manipulatable. He can’t cheat with you, so he’ll leave. In other words, you become unattractive to unsafe people. And that’s the goal. Hey, not everyone is going to like you. Let’s hope the ones who don’t are the unsafe ones.
And by the way, you’re not crazy. You’re just hooked into someone else’s universe. Time to unhook from their universe and live your own beautiful life.
If you want heaps of help with doing exactly that, I’ve got your back. The Flying Free program is designed to teach, coach, and train Christian women in a supportive, non-judgmental community so they can find their own identity and voice. The one God gave to them. Learn more at www.joinflyingfree.com. See you on the inside!