10 Signs Your Family Is Crazy-Making

One of my mentors once described families like the one I grew up in as crazy-making. I thought, “Wow, that’s a fantastic description.” Take a perfectly normal infant child, bring them up in a crazy-making family and you’ve pretty much got a recipe for insanity. But how do you know if you’re living in a crazy-making family? Well, I’m glad you asked. So here’s the top 10 signs that your family is crazy-making:

1. Denial of Feelings

Everyone’s got feelings, but in a crazy-making family everybody’s pretending that they don’t. We’re all walking around like emotional robots pretending that we don’t have feelings, and yet still responding to the feelings that are going on inside us, just without ever acknowledging them.

Now, as a child growing up around people that are all walking around pretending the whole time that they’re a robot, that’s pretty confusing because I knew, for instance, that I had very strong feelings inside and yet the other humans around me were pretending that they didn’t exist and then they acted in really weird, volatile ways that suggested that actually they did. So talk about crazy-making. So that’s my number 1.

2. Complete Avoidance of Conflict

Crazy-making people kind of pretend that there is no conflict; when there is conflict, they run away and they hide because they’re very, very scared. They don’t want to face it. So, instead, they avoid conflict. Now, obviously humans living in the same environment, like a family, are going to get into conflict over time. So it’s good to know how to deal with that.

Now, if your parents don’t know how to deal with conflict and don’t model it for you and your siblings don’t know either, then you end up in a sick situation whenever there’s any kind of conflict. And people who don’t know how to deal with conflict either respond by becoming very aggressive or by becoming very submissive, either of which is going to really mess with your head over time.

3. Fear Instead of love

So, as human beings, we’re always acting out of one of either fear or love; they’re our two main driving motivators. So in a crazy-making family, everything is dominated by fear. Love is kept on the back seat, on the back shelf, and rarely even talked about.

If you had crazy-making parents, you can probably recognize them because they never say “I love you” because that would be an expression of love. Instead, they act towards you out of fear. Now, this kind of messes with a child’s head because when you acted out of fear all the time, all that happens is you’re just having more fear instilled in you and this is completely crazy-making in the end and a total recipe for massive amounts of anxiety down the track.

4. Treating Family Members Worse than Strangers

This is a weird one; it really kind of fucks with your head. The family I grew up in, my parents were really quite kind to other people, did a lot of community service, helped a lot of other people out, were always doing good work that made them look and feel good. But the way they treated each other and the other people in their family, particularly when they were upset, was shit. And you’d think it might be the other way around, that you would treat the people who are closest and dearest to you better than you would treat strangers because, after all, family comes first, right? Well, not if it’s a crazy-making family.

In that case, you treat other people outside the family really well and you treat the people inside the family kind of like crap because they’re there all the time and you’re kind of annoyed with them and you’re kind of over it, you know? So, yeah, that’s my number 4.

5. Religious Escapism

Obviously living in a family where there’s a denial of feelings, avoidance of conflict, fear instead of love and people are being treated worse in the family than outside, it’s going to get stressful after a while; you need a means of escape. Well, what better than a religious-invented belief system. Fantastic. All you have to do is take off every Sunday to church and sit in the pews and learn stuff about beliefs that have been made up by other people thousands of years ago. It gives you a nice little stress relief from the actual stress of living with real human beings at home.

I remember many times my parents would come home from sermons at our local church where the minister preached about love and they’d have a screaming argument. What’s with that? Talk about crazy-making.

6. Criticism Instead of Encouragement

If you really want to fuck with your child’s head, what you do is you criticize relentlessly every opportunity that you get. No matter what your child does, you respond with criticism, negativity and put-downs. Yeah, that’ll make your kid happy. Definitely a recipe for some crazy-making behavior down the track.

Whereas encouragement, you don’t want to encourage your kid too much because then they might actually start learning to think for themselves, become an independent human being and might go off the rails doing things that you don’t really like. So much better to criticize and kind of fuck with their head a bit.

7. You Mustn’t Feel Good About Yourself

This is a powerful belief that runs endemically through my extended family. I don’t think any of us really feel good about ourselves. In fact, I had one of my family members say to me the other day, “Graham, I think you’re only doing this because you want to feel good about yourself.” As if feeling good about yourself is a bad thing. Talk about crazy-making.

Even as adults we’re still walking around with these fucked up beliefs in our heads. So, yeah, this one really messes with yourself. The idea that you don’t want to have a big head, you don’t want to feel proud, you don’t want to feel good about yourself; yeah, that’ll really fuck with your head.

8. Getting Punished For Being Assertive

This is a beauty. One of the most valuable skills a human being can have in the modern world is assertiveness, which is basically the ability to say what you want and how you feel to other people, which gives you a much greater chance that you will get what you want from other people and that your feelings will be validated and that you’ll feel like a real life human being instead of that emotional robot you were trained to in step number 1.

When you get punished for being assertive, you learn to be very passive or you just go completely off the deep end because you start going completely mental. So if you’re a parent and you want crazy-making kids, then definitely punish them any time they stand up to you and say what they want and just make that bad, evil and wrong, and that’ll be a real beauty.

9. Crushing Your Confidence

If you’re in a family that crushed your confidence, that’s going to be real crazy-making. And, once again, this is an effect that tends to last a lifetime unless you wake up one day and go, “Hey, actually, this is a crazy system and I don’t want to be part of it any more.”

I recently had a mother whose rather controlling say to me, “I don’t want my son to have self-confidence. I want him to have confidence in God.” That’s a real beauty. Now, sure enough, this kid has grown up completely lacking self-confidence, has no idea what he wants to do with his life and is basically very, very timid. Well, that’s sort of understandable given a mother whose attitude is “I don’t want you to have self-confidence”. What the hell are you thinking?

10. Control and Manipulation Instead of Freedom and Exploration

If you’re a parent and you want to really screw with your kid’s head, then just try and control and manipulate their behavior all the time rather than encouraging them to actually go and explore the world, find out what they like, find out what’s real, what’s true, go explore and treat life as a big adventure.

No. Crazy-making families instead use control and manipulation to try and make you do what they want rather than allowing you to learn what you want or giving you the skills to work out how to make what you want happen.

I recently had another controlling mother say to me recently, “My job as a parent is to tell my kids what to do.” And I thought, "Well, I wonder how your children’s experience of life would be different if you thought that your job as a parent was to love them rather than to just tell them what to do all the time?"

You’ve got to wonder.

This person basically tries to tell me what to do a lot, and I really don’t like that. So, yeah, it’s just another symptom of a crazy-making family that hasn’t really been dealt with, which leads to the question:

How do you deal with growing up in a crazy-making family?

Well, you’ve got pretty much Buckley’s chance of changing the family that you grew up in, and that’s probably years ago now if you’re an adult anyway. But you may still be carrying some of the scars. So if you grew up in a crazy-making family and you want to bust out of your box that they put you in and you want to actually have a life that you enjoy rather than one that’s kind of shit, then I highly recommend that you get onto The Confident Man Project.

Grab a copy of The Confident Man Program, read it, implement it, start taking action and you can actually bust out of the crazy-making situation that your family indoctrinated you into when you were a kid. If you need help with this, contact me and let’s talk about how you can bust out of your crazy-making family.

  1. Basically, that entire list was my family.

    My favorite line from my controlling mom was "don't be a sheep." Then, she would tell us exactly who were are supposed to be. WTF? She spent our entire childhoods delivering this contradictory message. She wanted kids who were religious conservatives, dressed like they were going to the office instead of out to play, only watched the news and documentaries on television, didn't listen to anything other than the most saccharine pop music, and were 100% obedient to her and my dad.

    Mom didn't want any friends in our lives who would question this set-up and as a result I didn't have any friends growing up and would have to listen to my mom telling me I wasn't trying hard enough to find appropriate friends. Then, she would suggest I befriend a girl named Jana who had parents who were even more controlling than my mom. I didn't like Jana. I tried to be friends with her but while I questioned my mom's decisions internally, Jana didn't and Jana was angry and resentful of anyone who questioned our religion which I was doing by the time I entered middle school. Jana was home schooled and her only social activities were school related. At least, I was able to attend public school and play little league. That way I had some exposure to children outside of my family unit and their hand picked friends for me.

      • Both my sanity and self-confidence are a work in progress. I started by insisting on going away to college so that I could move out of the house at eighteen. I deliberately tried to make friends, date and attended workshops and meeting which would expose me to alternative ideas of thinking and people who weren't a part of my social set. They included meeting LGBTQ people and debates on issues like the death penalty. I also found a low cost therapist on campus and attended workshops on assertiveness to help with my mental state. Then, I took a job as a teacher which helped me expand my social skills further. I had to start learning how to stand up for myself and how to handle manipulative people. I also saw kids who had more than your run of the mill behavior problems which led me to researching personality disorders. That is when I started to really see how dysfunctional my childhood was.

        Before then, I was dissatisfied and angry but didn't really understand what was wrong with my childhod that led me to feel that way. I have figured out that I had a childhood where I was used to make my parents look good and I was consistently invalidated and told I wasn't to trust my own judgement. I also was consistently told that I had to be a specific person or my parents would be angry and judgemental even to the point of disowning me. I told my mom that I was dating a secular man who grew up Muslim and my mom told me she never would accept him into our family. I ended up breaking up with him for unrelated reasons but my thought was I have grown up enough to be able to walk away from my family. My brother has left the family. He stood by a girlfriend my mom didn't like and he came out as trans. My mom and dad actually tried to buy off my brother if he would go back to be straight and would dump his girlfriend. Unbelievable.

        I still have to work on my self-esteem and self-love. I have made a lot of progress when I look back at who I was at eighteen but I still have a ways to go. I am much more comfortable, happy and aware of people who don't need to be in my life. I also no longer care what my parents think and can walk away from them if they try to manipulate me into a decision I don't want to choose. My life is so much better now and will only continue to imrpove.

        • Wow, that's awesome India. I want to acknowledge you for the positive way you've dealt with the challenges of your family of origin. Many people in your circumstances self-destruct. It's difficult to look at our own families objectively since that's all we knew growing up, and challenging our parent's behaviour patterns often causes intense inner conflict and fear because we were once dependent on them for our survival. I believe that narcissistic parents breed personality disorders in their children. I've come to conclude that assertiveness, healthy boundaries and self-love are the key to breaking the pattern, so I congratulate you on all the hard work you've done to build a better life for yourself! Let me know if I can be any assistance in the future. Cheers, Graham

  2. Thank you do much for sharing Graeme. Read it all the way through. My first family- mum and dad, and my first marriage were like that/ so my concern for my son is quite high.
    And now I live a life where my new parents relationship affected me positively and my new marriage is filled with I love you- and appreciation. And my children's expression of love towards me is really good as is my expression to them.
    There is always the lingering anger and fear. I would like to work on it. But prefer you to send me stuff - say ten minutes worth oc reading and doing at a time. Then I can reply .
    I have the new job I had hoped for. Up market assistant at workshops. My own workshop for Feb 28 is filled up. And I am. Working on a moon planting guide . So only have moments to work on me till mid March. Warm regards
    Keen to do. Just remind me hey?

    • Thanks Nancy; it's awesome to hear how you've outgrown the relationship patterns in your family of origin. I think that lingering anger and fear do dissipate over time each time we express them. The big problem for me has been shame; I was ashamed of the fact that even at age 46, I felt unsafe around my mother. Communicating that to her has helped me overcome it, even though her response was yet more criticism. Cheers, Graham

      • Dear Graham,

        I am so proud of you. At your age I was still trapped in my own thoughts. Finding Andrew and someone who gave me the time and space and 100% support to first find my mission in life, and then devote tirelessly to seeing my ideas and dreams come to fruition has been amazing. His life has contributed greatly to my success.
        You MUST go to a web sire about Publicity. Headline Hunter is the name of the company.
        I am assisting Tanya to run her fabulous workshops. A new job opportunity that is feeding my love for fine clothing and elegance. If you have ever wondered how your mission could get out there... with free publicity by the media.... come along to her next Sydney one. Not sure of dates.... but I recon you have something that others need to hear about in their hundreds and thousands. Its all so true, and we as humans are trapped until we work our way out. I think you have the key mate.... true....