Feeling Crazy? Unstable? Unhinged?


If you weren’t “crazy” or “unstable” before you were involved with an abusive manipulator, chances are good that you aren’t now. But after being blamed and called crazy by the abuser, disbelieved by family and friends, and perhaps misunderstood by a therapist who gave you the wrong diagnosis (due to their failure to understand character disturbances and abusive relationships), you may be left wondering if you might really have some psychological disorder. Or you may be misinterpreting your own very normal stress reaction to having been exposed to emotional and psychological trauma. You may even believe that the abuser succeeded in driving you crazy, and that you’ll never be well again.


Close involvement with a person lacking in empathy has serious consequences on our emotional and psychological well being. When manipulation and betrayal are added to it, the effects will be severe. Many emotional manipulation tactics are designed to make you doubt your own perceptions of reality and even your sanity, and the deep betrayal of your partner misrepresenting who they were and what they wanted will leave you morally injured, mistrustful and feeling unsafe in the world.

 “Their disregard goes far beyond simply not caring very much to purposely wanting to hurt, exploit, manipulate, and most especially, to dominate those with whom they come into contact, and that makes this group capable of the most serious kinds of relational abuse.”

~ George Simon, PhD, “Abusive Relationships: From Disregard to Dominance”

Most survivors suffer post-traumatic stress, and some even end up with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress can resemble paranoia, according to Dr. Simon. Other symptoms include shame, self-blame, anger, rage at the perpetrator, guilt, hopelessness, depression, grief, mistrust, obsessive thoughts, fear, confusion, bad dreams, emotional numbness or hyper-emotionality, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, social withdrawal/isolation, substance abuse, and feeling overwhelmed, helpless, powerless or alone.

If you’re doubting your own sanity, rest assured that if your symptoms started during the abusive relationship, you are experiencing post-traumatic stress. If you’ve sought help for your symptoms and have been diagnosed by a therapist with anything other than post-traumatic stress, get another opinion from a therapist with expertise in character-disordered people (psychopaths, narcissists, etc.), the effect they have on those close to them, and abusive relationships. Treatment based on the wrong diagnosis can’t help you.

According to Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW, “Many of the survivors who do seek out professional help during and after these types of abusive relationships (narcissistic abuse) are misdiagnosed. I have found it deeply troubling just how many survivors of Narcissistic abuse who are suffering from PTSD and complex PTSD are diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder.”

Please get help if you’re having trouble functioning at home or work; suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression; unable to form close, satisfying relationships; experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks; avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma; isolating yourself; feeling emotionally numb and disconnected from others; or using alcohol or drugs to feel better.

According to “Posttraumatic Relationship Syndrome: A Treatment Model,” by Ami Rokach and Debra VanderVoort, treatment for Posttraumatic Relationship Syndrome (PTRS) involves four stages: (1) Understanding, normalization, and desensitization (which focuses on coping with the initial traumatized state); (2) Reflection and acceptance (which focuses on processing the trauma); (3) Integration of the trauma into the self-concept; and (4) Empowerment and growth. The treatment approach emphasizes that traumatic relationships can not only be survived, but post traumatic growth can—and often does—occur.

You’re not crazy; you’re having a very normal reaction to the trauma you’ve endured. You can and will heal from post-traumatic stress. Have faith in that, become determined to do so, and seek the help you need. And don’t forget to have patience and self-compassion as you go through the healing process. Self-compassion is vital and it will make a world of difference.

“Traumatic relationships can not only be survived, but post traumatic growth can—and often does—occur.”


A poem by Linda, a reader of this blog:


Sweeping down the years
Across infinity, and upward through the stars
My line of life
Under momentum
Surges forward, streaming histories.
And the line
Is intersected
At an interval of instants
By another
In a wrong encounter:
Static, stunned
I stand. The patterned flow
Is flawed.
I cry:
Silence answers.
And the line spins on and on.

© Linda


Post-traumatic Relationship Syndrome

Life After A Manipulator

Toxic Relationship Aftermath: Doubt, Mistrust, and Paranoia?

ROAD MAP to Recovery

♥ Thank you for reading.


Comments are closed.

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48 thoughts on “Feeling Crazy? Unstable? Unhinged?”

  1. Linda

    Wonderful post Adelyn! All so accurate… the aftermath of a relationship with one of these sick predators is a kind of madness! The right information, and counseling when appropriate, are vital! Your blog was – and is – my education and “therapy”, but that might only be one part of what some of us need. And thank you for honoring my poem on your page! xx

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Yes, it is definitely a kind of madness.
      Thank you for the amazing poem, Linda!

      1. Linda

        What irony! My poem, just below that image: he was a sculptor.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          Synchronicity, I guess! I picked it because of the word “spin” in your poem, and because all of the other images were of hands, so… there it is, and it’s just right :-)

        2. Babs

          Awesome poem…like none I have ever read.

          1. Adelyn Birch

            Isn’t it amazing? Linda is a rare talent, and I’m very lucky to have her as Resident Poet!

  2. lauralee

    thank you, thank you, thank you….your writings have been extremely helpful…although I have worked as a therapist, taught domestic violence, have good gut instincts, I still got sucked into a relationship/marriage with a very intelligent pharmacist that presented as an incredible match for me, too good to be true…

    I thought I had done all the right things, took him around all my friends, took him to church, he was well known in the same 12 step recovery meetings I attended, yadayadayada….I ignored my gut, and I listened to the feedback of others…those he had fooled by his Dr. Jyckell mask….I had had years of healing from C-PTSD from previous abuse.

    I, as stated, had worked in the field of chemical dependency counseling for years….however, his manipulation tactics, gaslighting, so forth, was so well utilyzed that I just ignored my guts because “I was used to the crazy chemicals of toxic relationships” as my close friends told me upon my saying I wasnt; really attracted to him “that way” “You’ve been through so much in your life, now you have a man that will adore you, support you so you don’t have to work so hard, yadayadayada….I bought it all….with an underlying uneasiness…

    No wonder I was a wreck on my wedding day….Rather than be excited and happy, I was on edge…soon after the honey moon was over, the “fun” bagan….OMG…..its a very long detailed story, but, lets just say that within four months I was suicidal, could not eat, sleep, I lived in fear and anxiety. The so called Christian therapsit that advertised herself to be trained in EMDR, in order to heal all sorts of abuse was a charlatan. She ended up colluding with my husband (I brought him in for a session cuz I knew the man had serious issues by then.) She took him on as a client RED FLAG….between the two of them, I believed that I was seriously unbalanced and THE PROBLEM…..

    Anyways, because of my background in ethics, etc I soon realized that she was not doing us any good, and quit after confronting her….he continued to see her, to the detriment of the marriage…we went to another therapsist…he ended up verbally abusing me in front of my husband….which,, of course, the abusive husband loved …so, that so called Christian therapisit ended up colluding with him…so, I was re-traumatized on almost a daily basis, betrayed and re-victimized by these so called Christian therapists and this is AFTER we had both sat in front of them and told them what was going on…he admitted he was a Jyeckll and Hyde!!!

    I have left him twice, the second time checked myself into a hospital…he managed to manipulate them also after I interviewed the therapists, told them my story, warned them, and they bought his B.S. I could go on and on….I am sure you get the pic….we are now divorced….he continues to be in denial about his behaviors…he minimizes them…however, he did recently confess that he was playing the stock market (gambling) the whole time we were married and would lose money (lawyer says 700,000 while we were married….5 years), upon losing money during the day, he would come home feelings shameful and take it out on me….meaning he would abuse me because he felt so bad losing money cuz he was gambling….

    Gaslighting was the norm, as was belittling me, I was placed under a microscope, every meal time I was studied (as I was in childhood) and my mood, tone of voice, look on my face was fodder for more emotional abuse…augh….I shake my head in disbelief and wonder that I survived being suicidal for years…relapsed on drugs and alcohol after being clean for so long…I was taking Xanax to calm my anxiety…Oxycodone for the high level of physical pain I was in…after leaving and going to shelter, then getting my own place….

    I was lonely, without my beloved Jack Russell Terrier that had been my companion for many years prior to meeting the ex…so, the overwhelming trauma, nightmares…fear, anxiety, depression, isolation took its toll…but now, I am strong, I am moving ahead, planning to get off disabiltiy and go back to work…I have people like you to thank for keeping me somewhat sane through this whole ugly nightmare…there are way too many therapists, counselors, pastors, friends, family who are NOT AT ALL even remotely understanding how these people operate…I had very very few people that supported me, which drove me further into isolation…thank you so much for all you do for us….blessings…

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m sorry to hear of the ordeal you’ve been through. I agree, too many counselors, etc. don’t have the knowledge they need, and it can be a real problem when we need validation and help. That’s why I like Dr. George Simon so much and frequently quote him here; he GETS it, and his goal is to help other therapists get it, too. Anyone who gets it—or has experienced it themselves—will be able to help far more than those who haven’t. I’m so glad to be here as a peer who has been able to validate you, Lauralee, and so glad to hear you’re moving forward! That’s very good news xx

  3. Danielle

    Maybe worse than thinking you are going crazy is feeling that you are not worth much at all. You can intellectualize that you have achieved a lot in your life and career, that you have had the strenght to walk away…but at the emotional level is not holding you, is no longer wanting you. It is false reasoning of course but it is so painful. Because some psychopaths can be dangerously sweet and tender…until they know that you know,a game is a foot, and they walk and find somebody else. They don’t all beat you up or put you down…they sometimes have a much more subtle arsenal that can be just as deadly. Beware some of them are so subtle…and poof! They are gone. You know you are not crazy, but you emotionally are going nuts with longing . I know, I have been there twice twenty years a part.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I had all of the above—feeling crazy,filled with longing, and doubting my own worth. While healing from the trauma, the feeling of “not being worth much at all” healed, too. A big part of that was learning about the manipulation involved, which enabled me to stop blaming myself. Rhonda Freeman, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and an expert in psychopathy and narcissism, says that in order to heal, survivors must learn the facts and gain an understanding of what happened to them so they don’t have to suffer “unnecessary blame and confusion over why they are in such intense pain.” She writes that the pain will last much longer if victims don’t know the facts: “You have to know what you’re dealing with in order to take steps to move forward.” (HEALING AND RECOVERY: MOVING ON AFTER ABUSE) Stopping the self-blame is key to regaining self-worth and healing.

      1. Danielle

        Oh I kow and understand. It was like an addiction, in both cases. I dated two other men after that, to fill that longing and that did not work, of course. I did EMDR therapy over issues of abandonment( by the way , abandonment is the number one issue in therapy) it is an addiction and I have to get ride of it….it goes away and I am at peace ,than it comes back.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          How was the EMDR? I’ve heard from several people that it really helped them.

          1. Danielle

            EMDR worked very well for me on two toally unrelated situations. One was over the murder of a young uncle that haunted my childhood
            Although, I never met him, followed by the accidental deaths of two other very young uncles when I was 8 then 9. The other was about my dad being humiliated in front of me when I was 12 and I felt powerless. EMDR was amazing. I can be sad , but no longer devastated.

            1. Adelyn Birch

              I’m sorry to hear what happened to your uncles, Danielle. Good to Know EMDR can help.

          2. danielle

            mmmm….I just wrote a long comment on EMDR but it did not post. Maybe because it was not related to psychopaths. It can work very well, but you need an highly trained, certified EMDR therapist

            1. Adelyn Birch

              It should have posted even if it wasn’t about psychopaths; my mail filter is not that picky. I don’t see it in trash or spam, either, where a comment ends up every now and then. Sorry about that, Danielle. Good point—“you need an highly trained, certified EMDR therapist.” We must be very careful when choosing therapists!

  4. danielle

    Thanks Adelyn. It did post after all.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      OK, good. I thought you meant there was another.

  5. Mary

    I had something very interesting happen to me today with the abuser I was with. He tends to go to dating sites to get his victims and acts all charming until you make him mad then all Hell breaks loose real fast with this one. Anyway, like an idiot I believe his crap that he no longer goes on dating sites but I checked because I knew of one he frequents and there he is with the words “online now” and here he is at work but I am sure he had it where he could get alerts on his phone. Anyway, we had plans for this weekend (Valentine’s Day) and I sent him a text stating I can’t make it, invite who you want. He eventually caught on and gave me every unreal excuse he could think of (pathetic). Texts have been going back and forth for the last two days which is not normal for him. Usually once you make him mad, he gives the silent treatment for weeks or months but this time was different. He just kept sending text after text saying weird things. I have a key to his apt that I don’t want any part of so today I took it and put it under a potted plant outside his door. After I left I then sent a text letting him know the key was there. Didn’t hear anything for hours so I thought for sure that was the last of him and then wham! I get another strange text stating that his gf saw him and said I am a joke. Then for the rest of the afternoon on/off I got texts – I am sure his gf was thrilled. I have to admit I was adamant that I want nothing to do with him and will never see him again. Usually that does it and its done until weeks or months he may try to appear. Is this something I should worry about or am I like your article being paranoid. I was furious when I saw he was online on a dating site so I really let loose and I have never done that with him before. I am usually careful with my words not to make him mad so I don’t get the silent treatment but this time I didn’t care I was ready to be done and move forward. It has been right with this guy for a very long time and I was tired of the strange things he would do. When things seem off with a person – you need to run in the other direction that’s my advice to everyone that has a psycho abuser… Thank you. Mary

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Hi, Mary. I think the very best thing for you to do would be to block his number and email, and stop checking for him on the dating site or anywhere else online. Cut off all contact. As you said, you need to run in the other direction, which is very good advice. You will eventually be very glad that you did. Good luck with it. Don’t let this abuser waste any more of your precious time!

      1. CAROLYN Kidwell

        AMEN!!! Adelyn. Big hug to you and to all your courageous followers out there !! CONTINUE GUARDING YOUR HEARTS ! YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL….WORTHY ……PRECIOUS. …..and so much more…

        1. Adelyn Birch

          So true, but it is so easy for people to lose sight of the truth about themselves when involved with such toxic, abusive individuals (which is exactly what they want). Thank you, Carolyn!

    2. Danielle

      Cut it off totally. Block his number and do not answer any number you do not recognize. My ex sleeze used a friends phone then his skype number that I did not know. You cannot really block eml, it just go into spam…so try not to peak or change your Eml adress. I am off facebook totally. I am not that strong, just tired of hurting. We are SO, SO much better than these pathetic jerks, but as I said earlier it still can hurt like hell at times. I don’t agree that a quick new relationship helps as some friend might suggest. I tried, bad move.

  6. Kirsten

    The underlying patterns that happen in psychological abuse relationships are the very same that cause borderline.
    Please don´t use it as a synonym for “crazy” -having experienced this state yourself, you should be aware how bad it is for people whose injuries go even deeper – because they were younger and just forming their entire selves on this basis.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Hi, Kristen. When I said “borderline” I actually meant “borderline,” and was not using it as a synonym for “crazy.” Indeed, post-traumatic stress and borderline are similar, and that’s why some are wrongly diagnosed with it in the aftermath. I will append the post to clarify this!

      “Many of the survivors who do seek out professional help during and after these types of abusive relationships (Narcissistic abuse) are misdiagnosed. I have found it deeply troubling just how many survivors of Narcissistic abuse who are suffering from PTSD and complex PTSD are diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder.”
      ~Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW

      1. Kirsten

        thank you.. i am very happy i just understood wrong!! :-D …. i am rather annoyed by the widespread “wrong” usage of this diagnosis.. it is doing so much harm. so i assumed it wrongly here… so thanks once again :-))

        1. Adelyn Birch

          It was my fault for not making it clear. I’ve added the MSW’s quote to the post. From what I’ve heard, it seems to me that psychotherapists apply the label of BPD when they can’t figure out a diagnosis, for whatever reason. And they use the diagnosis when nothing they’ve tried is helping the patient (how could it if they don’t recognize what the real problem is?) which only serves to cover for their own shortcomings; they mistakenly believe there is no effective treatment for BPD, so if their treatment isn’t working, it must be BPD! There are, in fact, two (one is DBT, I can’t think of the other).

          1. Kirsten

            schema therapy is quite promising.. also transference based therapy, mindfulness based therapy, person-centered therapy ….being a classical psychoanalytic approach.
            i only recently talked to people having gotten the schitzotypal personality disorder diagnosis…. because it was handy and nothing else fit.
            only raising awareness will make a change… and you are doing a great job there :-))

            1. Adelyn Birch

              Thank you, Kristen :-)

  7. lola

    Coming out of my toxic relationship I suffered from intense PTSD and because I had no money, I needed to find a way to heal myself. Thanks to this site and many amazing books, I healed myself. The study of psychopaths helped me immensely. The information was essential in unraveling the mess my brain was in and curing the cognitive dissonance. Not only was I acting crazy, after the relationship, I was feeling crazy. The obsession was driving me mad! I hated him, but I couldn’t stop thinking of him. All in all, I think it took about 2 1/2 years to feel completely free of the hold he had on me. I no longer pine for him, nor do I think fondly of the times we shared together. Now, when I have a flash of a memory, I see it for what it really was: a self-serving exercise to manipulate and exploit me,my vulnerability and kind heart. Every time I do this with a memory, the memory dies. Seeing events clearly is like taking out the trash. I have no use for any of the memories. I don’t want him lingering in any part of my subconscious.
    Thanks for another great post!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m glad the site has helped you, Lola. Can you tell us what books were most helpful to you?

      1. lola

        Your book! as well as Woman Who Love Psychopaths by Sandra L. Brown, The Psychopathic Mind by J. Meloy, Out of The Shadows by Dr. Patrick Carnes and Sam Vaknin on-line writings. Vaknin was really interesting because he is a malignant narcissist.

        Whenever I started to spin I’d come here or read books to stop the spinning and start thinking straight again. It was as if I was re training my brain. With every episode of CD, I’d tell myself to see him realistically. Slowly, the fantasy faded.

        Thank you Adelyn, your posts have helped enormously to chip away at the PTSD. Sometimes, I read comments here on this site and I feel the pain many are expressing. I remember when I was in so much pain, too. I thought it would never end, but, it did. Ahh, the relief! : )

        1. Adelyn Birch

          My book! Thank you for sharing that list.
          It’s wonderful to hear my writing has helped you. I remember when I thought the pain—and the obsessive, unwanted thoughts—would never end, and yes, it was such an amazing relief when they finally did. Sometimes I think of all the people out there who are just beginning this journey, today… they believe they’ve just met the most wonderful person… I guess I will see some of them here one day.

          1. lola

            I hope they find this site because I imagine, like me, they will feel alone and misunderstood. Here we find understanding, warmth and support. People who have not lived it can’t really understand. I can’t tell you how many people I tried to explain my experience and my feelings to. I lost quite a few friends and family members along the way: during the relationship with the psychopath and then after I left him. Many just lost patience or judged me and left my life.
            I am so much stronger and wiser now. I have no tolerance for abuse and manipulation. I have extra keen radar for it now.

            1. Adelyn Birch

              I lost friends along the way, too. I had no idea how rigid and judgmental they were. When the going gets tough, you find out who your real friends are. Sad but true. Like you, I have zero tolerance for abuse and manipulation.

    2. Danielle

      I read somewherem maybe on this site…that the first blind attraction that we experience is a mirror, the projection of oursevelves; The charm, the kindness, the sweetness, the warnth, the tenderness…..it us longing in the mirror….and zap they got you. ..and the horror, insidious show begins. That made a lot of sense to me, and that helped me to get out.

      1. lola

        It’s so true! We fall in love with the best part of ourselves. Then, when the psychopath tires and gets bored with us, they reveal themselves and we see how boring they are! They’ve got nothing to give!

        1. Linda

          This was one of the most surprising things I came to realize when I left him… that the dazzling, fascinating man who had enchanted me was actually a shallow, tiresome bore! It helped me to stay away too… I do not like shallow bores – especially vicious, dangerous ones who want to hurt me!

  8. Tom

    Well done! Thanks…
    Treating the PTSD or even getting a proper diagnosis is difficult and time consuming… It has been 30 years since I got into the relationship with a psychopath. I was diagnosed with PTSD about 3 years ago, and within the last year have realized the triggers have not been happening any more (where something heard or seen, will trigger me to go into emotional hurt and depression, or numbness)

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m glad to hear you’ve finally found help. It sounds as if you’ve made tremendous progress.

  9. sandra

    Thank you for this blog post it has helped me a lot today. I was married to a narccistic man for 3 years and have been with my bf for 4 years , at first I thought he has aspergers but now I come on here for support and even if he is not a phsycopath I feel like a phsycopaths victim. Often he accuses me of cheating though usually he believes me I am not but it wears on me. last sunday he started again and he kept it up all week, changing the man mid week lol. Anyway I decided last night by text that I had enough and told him all the truths about his ridiculous way he treats me and his evasion and how it hurts me. I actually ended it by text . This morning he turned up at my door and I had a panic attack and locked the doors and hid. I felt traumatised watching him look for me, I love him but I felt paralysed. I wanted to go to him but I couldnt. Now he texted me that usual ‘ I guess you dont want me, its your choice’ and ‘maybe I should find someone else ‘ things. I feel traumatised as I have had to bolt the door to my ex husband before and to the man before that who tried to strangle me who was completely mad. I feel I over reacted this morning but also I feel very traumatised to have to hide from someone that you love.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Sandra, if your gut tells you there’s danger, listen to it. I’m sorry you’ve gone through such ordeals with these men. Please stay away from this latest one; it is not normal to have continual suspicion that someone is cheating on you. He sounds possessive and unbalanced, whatever his problem may be. Please stay safe and take good care of yourself xx

  10. Danielle

    Trust your guts when it comes to therapists. I have written about this before, Mine was a very good EMDR therapist, but lousy and belittling when it came to ” Freudian crap” ….I got out. If you feel put down, you are. As I have said they are not gods.

  11. Peter

    Hi there. I have been following different blogs and sites about this matter. Mostly l see women dealing with psychopaths and similar behavior disordered people. Maybe men don’t want to talk about that, but let me tell you there are also a lot of women with the same disorder. I am dealing with one and l have come to this conclusion after 10 years. I tried to understand what has been going on with my wife all this years. Unfortunately l started to see deeper into this problem just few months ago..

  12. Lita

    I have been a Clinical Counselor and psychotherapist and I agree that a lot of people are misdiagnosed. If you’ve been to a therapist you probably also know that if the therapist takes insurance they have to give you a diagnosis or they can’t bill the insurance company and get paid.
    I was going through a difficult time once and a social worker wanted me to go to a psychiatrist for antidepressants. I told her that in my situation if I wasn’t depressed I’d HAVE to be crazy. My sadness and my depression were NORMAL.
    Borderline Personality Disorder is a long standing pattern. If someone gives you that diagnosis consider getting a second opinion.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Lita, it seems that when psychotherapists give an incorrect diagnosis, it must be because they don’t understand what their patient has experienced. Relationships with psychopathic partners are very different from normal ones, as normal people don’t try to destroy their partner’s psychological foundation by purposely undermining their self-worth, confidence, etc., and the betrayal is of a different kind than what might occur in a normal relationship. Their misunderstanding goes back to a lack of knowledge of psychopaths and other narcissistic personalities and the devastating effect they have on those close to them. My own therapist didn’t even believe psychopaths existed, so she couldn’t understand what I’d been through, even though I told her; she thought I must have been over-reacting. She was an MSW who got her degrees at UNC and Duke, and if they aren’t teaching such things at schools like those, it’s probably pretty commonly left out of the curriculum. George Simon, PhD, writes about this in his article, “Serious Abusers And Psychology’s Failure to Understand Them.” Thank you for your comment.

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