Maybe you’re not so crazy after all!

People will say you’re crazy when you make no sense. They’ll also call you crazy when you DO make sense—but they don’t like what you’re saying. So how do you know the difference?

Consider Ted. He’s angry with his wife Luanne because he feels that she spends too much money. Rather than trying to talk reasonably with her, he tells her that she’s ‘crazy,’ and encourages her to ‘get help’ with what, in his opinion, is a self-evident problem. On the surface, Ted’s attitude sounds rational and even caring. But, in reality—and with naivetand arrogance—he assumes that Luanne’s ‘problem’ will be obvious to any objective mental health professional.

Luanne may or may not have a spending problem. Surely, there are people who live beyond their means. But in many cases, these conflicts are nothing more than a difference in priorities. What Ted’s missing here is that if Luanne is to change her behavior, she must first conclude, in her own mind, that it makes sense and is in her own interest. Ted evades that fact, not so much by suggesting outside help, but for bypassing Luanne’s mind in favor of some outside ‘authority.’

There is such a thing as reality. Feelings are not necessarily facts. If Ted lays out the facts for Luanne and proves that she is, indeed, living beyond her means, then it’s not authoritarian to say, ‘We have to face reality. Look, here’s the proof.’ If Luanne then turns the other way and refuses to respond, then she’s the one evading reality. She may not be literally ‘crazy,’ but she’s on a path to what might be called craziness.

The key here is to understand the method by which people use their minds. Are they applying reason in an honest way? Are they willing to look beyond their emotions, and carefully search for the facts about a situation—including ones that might lead to a different conclusion? There’s no question that the more reality-oriented you are, the more sane you are. But sanity is first defined by your method of thinking.

The purpose of life coaching (by a qualified professional), psychotherapy and the like is to help ensure that your method is thorough and honest. An impartial outsider can ask you, ‘I understand you have considered A and B. But, have you also considered C?’ In this sense, Ted is right to hope that Luanne will consider ‘C.’ But he has to understand that the purpose of Luanne’s therapy is to help her to not only consider ‘C,’ but also ‘D,’ and maybe even ‘E’ —and not to just blindly agree with him. If he expects the latter, he’s going to be disappointed in Luanne and her therapy.

In the former Soviet Union, as well as Fidel Castro’s Cuba, there is extensive documentation of psychiatric ‘care’ being forcibly imposed on political dissidents. Ted is obviously not Castro, but he might be operating on the same underlying premise. A dictator does not care if his subjects agree or disagree with him; he only cares that they obey. If they refuse to obey, he sends them for ‘psychiatric treatment’—in short, behavioral change. Similarly, Ted is ignoring the initial need for Luanne to change her own thinking. He evades the responsibility of trying to persuade her, and sends her away to ‘change.’ Not everyone who encourages a loved one to seek help is guilty of this, but my experience shows that some surely are.

The issue has to do with the nature of the human mind. To force or intimidate someone into ‘change’ is not to truly change them. Of course you can refuse to enable them, and you can try to persuade or reason with them, but these methods only lead to behavioral change if some form of reasoning occurs. The mind change has to come from the person, choosing to allow him- or herself to be influenced.

If someone modifies their behavior without first changing their mind, then the behavioral change will be short-lived. Consider people who stop smoking or drinking because of pressure from an employer or a loved one. After a while, they usually return to that behavior. Why? Because they never really changed their own minds. They ‘did it for others’ rather than using their own minds to reach the conclusion that they should change—for themselves.

It’s hard enough to modify certain behaviors even when you genuinely commit yourself to it. But it’s downright impossible if you haven’t even made up your mind. In spite of well-meaning friends or family, no amount of intervention, pleading or guilt can bring about permanent change. The subject has to make up his or her OWN mind by thinking about the problem, and choosing—for themselves—to solve it. Psychotherapy, counseling or medication can’t do the thinking and the choosing for them.