One type of puzzle piece that we often love to talk about with each other is “crazy” people. At least that’s what we often call them. How many times have we heard or said “You should have seen this “crazy” person!” Maybe we describe a “crazy” driver, speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, and we just know he’ll end up in an accident. Or we might talk about someone who has to check the locks on the doors of his home 3 or 4 times before he can leave the house, and we call him “crazy.”
I think we like to describe people as “crazy” because it makes us feel “normal,” whatever that means. We can then avoid admitting our own “craziness.”
Usually, we’re not bothered too much by such people unless they directly affect our lives. I may have difficulty with my “crazy” boss who constantly looks over my shoulder and micromanages everything I do, and drives me crazy. Or I have to deal with my spouse who is a “crazy” perfectionist and has to have the linens lined up just the right way, and all the clothes in the closet arranged according to color.
If I have to deal with a “crazy” person, it will feel awful. But another definition of “crazy” is a person who behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. That’s a little different. In working with people, I’ve learned that people never do things for no reason, and usually, they have a good reason. They never do something just to be “crazy.”
We can’t always know why people behave the way they do.
And we feel uncomfortable when we don’t know why.
I heard the story of a woman who couldn’t drive by a particular fire station in her hometown. Some thought she was “crazy” because there was no apparent reason for her to avoid that. It was a street just like all the other streets in town. But she said that the fire station was the place where she was informed that her child had been killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting, and seeing the fire station again caused more pain than she could endure. It took years for her to drive down that street again. Past trauma is often the reason for people’s apparently “crazy” behavior, and the more severe the trauma, the “crazier” the behavior.
Less traumatic experiences can be the source of behavior that doesn’t appear to make sense. A child whose parents pressured them to make straight A’s in school may, later in life, feel worthless unless they are perfect. Their perfectionism then appears “crazy” to others. Or a child who was ridiculed or “slapped down” when they expressed their opinion may, as an adult, rarely says a word and never disagrees with anyone. Or a person who experienced extreme chaos in their life because no one was in charge. They may look “crazy” because they have to control everything around them or else they think something bad will happen.
We can’t always know why people behave the way they do. And we feel uncomfortable when we don’t know why. It feels like random chaos, and that makes our world feel unsafe. It can help us feel a little better if we can believe that people’s behavior isn’t just craziness, but has a reason. We probably can’t just change our thinking like this automatically, but there is something we can practice that might help.
One way to practice is if you see someone behaving “crazily” (or you remember an incident like that), consciously list five reasons the person may be behaving that way. Maybe even reasons that might make you behave like that. For example, that “crazy” driver. He may be rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital because she’s having contractions. Or his kids at home just called and the house is on fire. Or he’s having a stroke and is having difficulty controlling the car. And so on. These would be alternatives to simply labeling the person “crazy,” and reassurance to us that the world is not just a “crazy”, chaotic, dangerous place where you never know what will happen. Practicing something like this could also help us see others more like ourselves and not as totally different. That might enable us to be more understanding and compassionate, and God knows our world needs more of that.
It’s never easy dealing with people who behave in ways we don’t understand. But we can’t change them and we can’t always avoid them, like the micromanaging boss or the perfectionistic spouse. But entertaining the possibility that others have some reason for behaving as they do might make it a little less irritating and stressful for us. It’s an alternative way of looking at things that will probably feel better than if we think we’re just stuck with “crazy” people.
All of the videos in this series can be found here: Assembly God’s Puzzle.
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[Fr. Garry Richmeier, a Precious Blood priest and spiritual director, holds a Master’s of Divinity Degree from St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and a Master’s of Counseling Psychology degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist.]