Lately, I’ve been reminiscing about my younger days- the tender heart that could be seen pumping wild and free through my translucently “thin skin”, my naiveté, my unyielding belief in the goodness of humanity and especially the men I cared for. I was an easy sell. And of all the lies I’ve believed throughout the years, the ones I am most ashamed of trusting and upholding, the most tragic ones, were those directed towards the “other women” in the lives of my romantic interests. You know, the crazy exes and “baby mamas”, the random girls that the dudes were never “with” that just couldn’t let go. The women that I became when some of those same men decided they were done with me.
Back then, after hearing those one sided half-truths, I would quickly sashay to the side of my man. Yes, his baby mama was crazy to insist that paying child support wasn’t enough, that he also needed to be present in the raising and rearing of his children. She needed to be happy she had a man contributing anything, financial or otherwise, because so many women did not. Absolutely, she HAS to be nuts for continuously calling his cell phone. He told her it was over, regardless of whether that telling happened only a week ago- if at all. Like many women who suffered under but perpetuated patriarchy, I always seemed to make those men into victims. Over time, with age, experience, and the building of a strong circle of sister friends, I began to notice that pretty much every woman I knew was given the title of “the crazy bitch”. And with that reflection came one of the greatest “aha moments” of my life.
In her book The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life,Robin Stern describes gaslighting as “the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.” (Yes, it is a real term used by psychologists; also, Yashar Ali wrote a very popular article in The Huffington Post about it last year that you should check out.)
Sounds familiar right? I mean, as women, we know women. We understand that most women, certainly not all, but most, don’t exhibit sporadic and mentally and emotionally unstable behavior sans provocation. And instead of blindly believing that the men in our lives are telling the truth about people, circumstances and events that our guts and intuitions tell us are peculiar, we should invest in at least exploring more balanced explanations. Now listen, I am by no means instructing women not to invest in their relationships or trust the people they have chosen to commit to. Sometimes, women (actually humans) have vices, addictions, and traumatic experiences that elicit inappropriate behavior. We are wise to acknowledge that sort of acting out deserves compassion, not meanness. And as we practice compassion, we should listen to our inner-selves and stand on the side of our sisters, sometimes. After all, if he’s really telling the truth then a few questions won’t mar it. Practice empathy. Remember that you, yourself, have been christened the “crazy girl” when you didn’t act the way some loser wanted you to.
For good measure, here’s another great article that discusses the “crazy lady syndrome”. ( In it Jennifer Wright makes the following awesome point:
What men mean when they talk about their “crazy” ex-girlfriend is often that she was someone who cried a lot, or texted too often, or had an eating disorder, or wanted too much/too little sex, or generally felt anything beyond the realm of emotionally undemanding agreement. That does not make these women crazy. That makes those women human beings, who have flaws, and emotional weak spots. However, deciding that any behavior that he does not like must be insane – well, that does make a man a jerk. And when men do this on a regular basis, remember that, if you are a woman, you are not the exception. You are not so cool and fabulous and levelheaded that they will totally get where you are coming from when you show emotions other than “pleasant agreement.”