The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy

Part 1: A review of psychoanalytic work on how we do what we do to each other.

Grant H Brenner

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Harold Searles was a brilliant, controversial psychoanalyst who worked with patients at Chestnut Lodge for over 15 years. Chestnut Lodge, a well-known sanatorium in Rockville, Maryland where patients with chronic psychiatric illnesses lived and received intensive treatment, ended its over century-long life, metamorphosing from boarding house to hotel, asylum, and finally proposed high-end condos before succumbing to a fire of unknown origin in 2009.

Many of the patients with whom Dr. Searles worked had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1950s and 60s. While some may have met modern criteria for a psychotic illness, it is likely that a large number were suffering with complex post-traumatic and related dissociative disorders. In retrospect, many of the people with whom he worked had endured significant developmental trauma, abuse, and neglect, evident in the case histories discussed.

Searles’ deep insights are intensely valuable, his writing copious and densely technical. Among his many titles are classics such as The Patient As Therapist to His Analyst, a paper “devoted to the hypothesis that innate among man’s most powerful strivings toward his fellow men, beginning in the earliest years and even the earliest months of life, is an essentially therapeutic striving”; The Nonhuman Environment, in which Searles explores the developmental role of how relations with objects in the world influence later human relationships; and The Effort to Drive the Other Person Crazy, in which he catalogs the many facets of how people drive one another “crazy,” and why. Let’s take a closer look.

Human Beings Can Be “Crazy-Making”

Searles writes that driving the other person crazy is but one factor among many contributing to the development of psychological problems. However, most of us can relate to being driven crazy, having someone “mess with” us, gaslight us, or otherwise relate in a way that is both confusing and emotionally disruptive. Per Searles, “the initiating of any kind of interpersonal interaction which tends to foster emotional conflict in the other person — which tends to activate various parts of…

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Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer