“What’s worse? Looking jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy?
Or like, being walked all over lately, walked all over lately,
I’d rather be crazy.”
This lyric from Beyonce’s album Lemonade (which she performed at the VMAs on Sunday) has stuck with me since the I first heard it.
Jealous or crazy? This pairing is painfully frequent. And not just “jealous.” You can substitute any strong, potentially messy emotion and get the same equation: Angry or crazy? Violated or crazy? Sad or crazy?
I can’t even count the number of clients I’ve worked with who lay out precisely how they feel about something, and then, at the end, tack on “Or am I just crazy?”
“Crazy” is an ableist term that is used disproportionately on women to describe and discredit their emotional reactions, particularly when a woman’s boundaries are crossed. So often a woman’s feelings are written off as “craziness” as she is told, basically, to behave herself in the face of something that is not okay with her.
People use the word “crazy” when they want to keep women and femmes from putting themselves at the center of their own emotional experience. It is also an effective way to introduce doubt in a woman about what she is experiencing. How often do we hear “Oh she’s crazy” as a way of saying “Oh don’t take her or her feeling seriously”? How often are women and girls told “Don’t be crazy” as a substitute for “Don’t feel that”?
How often do women tell themselves not to be crazy when they have an emotional reaction to something that isn’t working for them?
One of the core expectations of being a “Good Girl” is that a feminine person remain calm, manageable, emotionally pliant, and willing to set aside her feelings in service of other people. She is not to bring her messy, hard emotions to the table, as it might upset someone. Her emotions are a threat to the service of taking care of other people’s feelings. We’ve internalized these ideas of who we are supposed to be, and we call ourselves and other women “crazy” when we don’t comply.
What I love about Beyonce’s lyric is that she starts with the familiar binary: EITHER having a truly honest emotional reaction (in this case, jealousy about her husband cheating on her) OR writing that reaction off as crazy. But then she looks at the bigger picture. “Hey, wait a second. You’ve been walking all over me!” There is a REASON for her emotions, and she’s NOT crazy. And she will not be gaslit. If having an emotional reaction to her partner disrespecting her boundaries gets her labeled “crazy,” well then, so be it.
And the album proceeds from there.
In my coaching practice and in the Good Girl Recovery Program, I see women and people raised as girls constantly wrestling with fear of being seen as “crazy.” When we work together, I encourage my clients to get honest with their feelings and specific with their fears:
- Who, specifically, are you worried about upsetting?
- Who, specifically, are you trying to take care of by not being emotional?
- Whether or not it’s “reasonable,” what are you feeling right now?
- What might happen if you were to feel that fully?
By getting honest and specific, we can then look at how a particular situation needs to be handled. There are more options than only having big emotions or dismissing those feelings as “just crazy.” When you accept your emotions as legitimate, even if they are potentially messy for other people, then you can choose how to engage with the world from a more honest, empowered place. And that isn’t crazy at all.