When Pain Masquerades as Crazy in Relationships

“Crazy” relationship behavior might not be what you think.  If you really care about your partner but are being put off by his/her behavior, consider the possibility there’s more there than meets the eye.

I don’t like using the word “crazy” when it comes to labeling people’s behavior but many identify with this way to describe when they are with someone who is acting in ways they don’t understand.  It can be easy to leap to a negative conclusion when you experience boundary violations, desperation or intense need.  Sometimes pain can masquerade as crazy and if you care about your partner and have the inclination to dig deeper then consider what this might really be about.

From the time we are born, we begin to develop belief systems about who we are, how others relate to us and whether the world is generally a safe place.  These learnings usually begin in the quality of relationship with our parents or primary caregivers. Generally speaking, if you felt secure in the nest in which you came from you likely feel fairly secure in your sense of self, feel people can be relied upon and that there are many options for you in life.  If you did not feel secure in your family of origin you might feel uncertainty about your inherent value, find it difficult to trust that people won’t eventually leave you or let you down and the world is a scary place.

If you have experienced a partner who acts “crazy” in relationship with you, it is highly possible that he or she carries wounds that have never been worked through and tend to get activated in the same setting in which they developed – intimate relationships. Their attachment style was likely anxious which can be reflected in behaviors labeled as “crazy” by the layman.  There are other attachment styles that show up differently but we will stay with the more anxious style here.

“Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving; anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.”  – Amir Levine, MD

When a child doesn’t receive adequate attunement and messages that things are okay from their primary attachment relationships their nervous systems can be wired for relationship fear, encoded in the neural circuitry of the brain becoming attachment patterns.  This child can become an adult that struggles with affect regulation, a tendency for hypervigilance and emotional reactivity in relationships.

Consider the following situations that might be mistaken for “crazy” but are actually understandable responses to relationship trauma of the past:

  • He or she is demanding, possessive or clingy with you.
  • He or she behaves as if they are constantly emotionally hungry like a bottomless pit that can’t be filled.
  • He or she is highly suspicious and struggles to trust you.
  • He or she excessively reaches out for contact when apart, particularly if there is no response by you.
  • He or she sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy to support his/her story that you will “eventually leave” by pushing you away.

If any of the above resonates, perhaps you will begin to be able to reframe your “crazy” story to one of compassion for a wounded other.  And perhaps not.  It can be challenging to help your partner work through the issues at hand but if you have the desire and inclination to stick it out, change can occur.  Secure attachment can be attained and the original wounds can be healed through your relationship. Talk to your partner and let them know you are concerned there are deeper issues at hand and you’d like to help him/her though it to have the best relationship possible.  It will require patience and likely, support.  If they have some ability to be self-reflective and are ready and willing to dig deep, there are many possible rewards to be reaped together.

Educate yourself further.  Find a couples therapist who works through an attachment lens to help you navigate.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in,, and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.

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