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On your ‘psycho’ ex girlfriend

I’ve been called some crappy things in my time, and I’ve hurled a good few insults myself. But there’s one word that, when I hear it, makes me boil with rage.

That word is ‘psycho.’

As in:

“When I dumped her, I realised she was a proper psycho.”
“He’s got a psycho ex girlfriend.”
“She’s been stalking him on facebook like a psycho.”

Why you’re not a ‘psycho’

Let’s begin by stating that applying the word ‘psycho’ to anyone is pretty offensive. Remember Hitchcock’s classic shower scene? That’s what you’re alluding to when you use this word. Whether you’re using it to belittle your ex or to try and humiliate people with mental health problems, it’s a nasty word to use in anger.

What’s more, it’s frequently used as a weapon to make women (and ex-girlfriends in particular) feel small. Not when they’ve done things that are dangerous or troubling – I’ve seen the word ‘psycho’ applied to people because they’ve done something as innocuous as:

  • asking an ex to talk to them about the reasons for a break up
  • crying in a public place because they were upset about a break up
  • texting someone when drunk to tell them they love them
  • looking at someone’s profile on Twitter or facebook

Compare these to the ‘shower scene’ – are they really ‘psychotic’ actions? Or are they, more realistically, natural things to do if you’re in a state of emotional turmoil?

I’m not talking about genuine stalker behaviour here – none of us want our bunnies boiled. None of us want ex-partners turning up at our workplace and screaming wildly on the street “why don’t you love me?! What did I do?!” I think we can all agree that actually being stalked by an ex is a terrible, frightening thing.

But labelling someone a ‘psycho’ because they’re visibly upset about the breakup of a relationship, serves to trivialise the idea of ‘stalking’ by lumping all of this behaviour in together. If your ex is sending you threatening messages, harassing you, and making you uncomfortable, that’s a very serious thing. If they’re looking at your publicly-available information and shedding a few tears over the good times you had when you were going out, that’s quite another.

‘Psychotic’ men

I’ve rarely heard the word ‘psycho’ applied to men who do similar things. That’s not because they don’t do them – men can be just as emotional about breakups as women, it’s just that their emotions are less frequently used as a weapon with which to humiliate them. Ex-boyfriends of mine who have cried over our lost (or, more realistically, mutually abandoned) love affairs have never been skewered by my friends saying ‘oh, I knew he was a psycho’ or ‘he texted you again? What a mental.’

Guys are shamed in other ways for emotional behaviour – being expected to keep a stiff-upper-lip when they’re being torn apart inside, for one. Being told that ‘boys don’t cry’ and invited to shake off their upset by rebound-fucking their way around town, as if their emotions and their erections are just two sides of the same coin. But that’s a discussion for another day.

There’s an entire minefield of shit surrounding the way we discuss people’s more extreme emotions surrounding break ups – sobbing gentlemen are obnoxiously induced to ‘man up’, and female despair is painted as something oddly sinister. Her justifiable sense of grief is framed as dangerous instability. Guys might shed a few tears or get drunk to dull the pain, but you’d better watch out for these ker-ay-zee women – with their wailing and their texting and their unreasonable sense of sadness.

The worst thing you could do

There are those who handle breakups badly – the ones who cut up their ex’s clothes, send increasingly alarming and desperate emails, show up at their house at 2 in the morning and wake the neighbours by banging on the door and demanding to be let in. I’ll stress again for those who might have missed it – these things are unacceptable, and often downright scary.

But most of the time when the ‘p’ word is applied, it’s to behaviour that is perfectly understandable and normal: crying or mooning over your ex, or wanting some form of closure at the end of a relationship. These aren’t ‘psychotic’ things to do, in fact if you’ve broken up with someone you love, even if the break up was mutual, it would be abnormal not to be emotional about it.

The very nature of love is that it’s a powerful emotion, and when we mess with powerful emotions we do strange things. I’ve done things that would justify a fair few  insults – from getting crying-drunk at parties to mentioning a new partner in front of the ex I’m not quite over.

I’m ashamed of and angry at myself for doing these things, and if you were to call me a ‘bitch’ or a ‘hypocrite’ or a ‘cold-hearted bastard’ you’d be bang on the money. But the word ‘psycho’ says so much more than that.

It says ‘you’re not normal’ in a way that is coldly calculating. It says ‘you’re hysterical, you’re overreacting, your pain is not significant as you think it is.’

Above all, the thing that makes me shudder and cringe: it tells someone that their affection is not only unwanted but repulsive. That the most unacceptable, horrific thing this person has done is to love you.


  • So true, and it is amazing how casually these terms are thrown out there. Can’t wait to read your post about the men’s expectations.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thanks – that one might be a bit trickier, but I’ve had some bits of it in draft for a while, so might be time to muster them and unleash the rage at some point soon =)

  • Martina says:


    Awesome blog! As an ex-gf who’s been called a psycho, I’ve never truly understood why it hurt so much to be called that, now I know. My subconscious feelings of being called such a “branding” term were perfectly reflected in your post. It’s amazing to me because for as much emotional damage these often male Ex’s inflict during the relationship, and alot of times during the breakup, when I happens to them, they never go

    • Martina says:

      Out of their way to rectify the hurt or the pain they’ve caused. I was called a spycho for my new son, “Nothin but Love”, on my website But ironically it was my own friends who thoughts it was “psychotic”, my bf, with whom we were trying to decide whether or not to take a break, told me that the feelings I’d expressed in the song helped coax him into expressing his feelings. It saved our relationship.

  • Kitty says:

    “That the most unacceptable, horrific thing this person has done is to love you.”

    It never ceases to amaze me how horrible, spiteful and downright nasty some people can be to others who were once, by their own admission, the centre of their world.

    I’ve been lucky enough never to be on the receiving end of much more than petty unpleasantness, and I’ve never subscribed to it myself either. Compromising photos should be deleted / burned, not put up on Facebook.

    I’ve had messy breakups, even with an abusive partner in one case (and I’m male), but I wouldn’t wish ill on any of them. In some cases we’re still very good friends – after all, we hooked up for a reason in the first place. I just don’t get it.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I agree – although some relationships are irreparable, and it’s for the best if you just go your separate ways and avoid contact if possible, ideally I’d like to remain friends with exes. They usually started off as friends in the first place, and unless they’ve done something really awful chances are there’s still some benefit to having them still around. It can be tricky, but I think it’s worth trying to leave people with a good impression of you. Apart from anything else, it means you can still go to the pub and reminisce about fun times rather than bitch about them to your friends and look back on the whole relationship through a veil of misery.

  • Chaz says:

    I’m very lucky to have never had the term “psycho” used against me by an ex. In fact, the only place I’ve been called a psycho is on Twitter (always by men) when I’ve had a Twitter rant about being unjustly accused by said bloke about something I never said. Men love to twist your words when they’re in the wrong and you call them out on it.

    Anyway, I know this is completely off the point, but I had to get that off my chest. Thanks for reading.

  • Towards the end of last year, I broke up with my girlfriend and was in a new relationship (which I’m still in) within two weeks. This wasn’t deliberate or malicious on my part. I hated myself for breaking up with someone, even though I could feel she was going to do it at some point anyway – and, whatever she thinks, I didn’t break up with her “for another girl”. I’m now with said other girl, but – as above – this wasn’t a contributing factor.

    What my ex did afterwards was inexcusable, though. She re-registered an account on Twitter that night (as I was travelling on a train) specifically in order to badmouth me to all of my Twitter friends. She insulted me on Facebook, messaged a lot of my friends, replied to every tweet with something sarcastic and cutting, and posted a lot of comments on my blog, some of which I had to delete.

    I understood how she felt – I’ve been dumped out of the blue in the past, too – but if I may say so myself, I handled those quite well. I grieved, I went through a lot of soul-searching, I moved on (eventually). I did go a bit crazy at points and did some stuff I’m not proud of – I still have the scars on my arm from self-harming and reckless behaviour – but I didn’t immediately try to defame anyone, least of all my ex(es), and essentially didn’t interfere with anything that would have been over the line. I spent time with my friends, and went on with my life in the knowledge that I’d never, ever get closure.

    Which is a bitch.


    A few weeks later, my ex called in order to remind me that she was still alive – and then a couple of weeks after that, she sent my dad a 10-page letter in which she told him that now only did I write a sex blog, but that that was how we met and that she thought my writing a sex blog was damaging to my health. She ‘named and shamed’ a few fellow sex bloggers along the way, including three who had stayed the night in my house after events such as Erotic Meet and my new (and now not-so-new) girlfriend. She made the same points over and over again, and it’s clear to me that what she was doing was trying to ‘out’ me to my parents, which would cause a lot of grief and hassle.

    My dad sat down with me and we decided not to respond in any way to the letter, and then another week or so later – on my girlfriend’s birthday – she called the house ‘phone at about 10:30pm, asking to talk to my mum. She went on a long rant to her saying all sorts of stuff, including mentioning that I’d posted a naked picture of her on my blog (which I had removed at her request by that point). She didn’t mention her blog, which consisted almost entirely of naked pictures of her, and neither did I, because I didn’t want to press the point.

    Among other things, what she did was insulting my friends, trying to defame and out me, and consistently trying to get me into trouble of some kind – I think her eventual aim was to get rid of my blog, which as you may have noticed, is still there. There was no point to it. It just seemed really, really spiteful. I felt like I didn’t deserve what she was doing to me at all, and that there was no reason. Being a bit hurt at the end of a relationship, fine. Letters and calls from nowhere a month and a half later… to my parents, not me, no less… well, that takes a bit more explanation.

    And she also demanded I send her £200. I did.

    I’ve never called her a psycho. But it’s really, really close.

  • dhjd says:

    Psycho is short for Psychoses, the condition of losing touch with reality.

    The movie Psycho is certainly a pop culture reference, but the shower scene, and murder, is not definition.

    Women throw the word around just as much as anyone, and towards men as well, so I don’t see it as having any gender bias, though it does tie into the idea of the over emotional, hysterical female stereotype, I guess.

    Enjoy your blog but this one seems a bit off base.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah well, I can’t win ’em all.

      Someone else brought up the point about men vs women using the word on Twitter. I haven’t heard it used frequently by women of men, and in my experience it’s far more common the other way round. But, you know, it might just be that I have really skewed experience on this. It’s always tricky with these things, as I want to express something that’s struck me, but don’t want to say ‘it’s always this way’ – hence why I’m always careful to say ‘I’ and ‘in my experience’ rather than ‘this is definitely true of everyone.’

    • Tristan says:

      GOTN wasn’t referring to what the definition of the word is. She was talking about how the word is often used against women specifically. At least in American culture (which is the only culture I can speak for), there is a widespread idea that women’s emotions make them “crazy,” but men’s emotions are either completely valid or just shouldn’t be shown (unless the emotion in question is anger). I’m gathering from GOTN’s post that this idea exists in the UK too. The word “psycho” itself doesn’t have any gender bias, just as the words “crazy” and “oversensitive” don’t inherently have gender bias. But all three of those words are used disproportionately against women. This article helped me to understand why this happens:

      • dhjd says:

        Nobody is using the word psycho to reference a knife wielding Hitchcock killer, so that needed to be addressed, Tristan.

        It’s true women are often tagged as crazy, full of hysteria, and overly sensitive, but there are similar biases against males who show weakness, sensitivity, or reveal vulnerabilities pertaining to their mental health. “Psycho” as a pejorative is no gender specific in the US.

        Women are human, and humans aren’t perfect, and sometimes we do display poor behavior that is aptly called psycho, because we’ve lost touch with reality.

        • Girl on the net says:

          Hi dhjd,

          I might have to disagree with you on no one using ‘psycho’ to reference a knife wielding etc. It’s frequently used as a way to imply that someone is dangerous. One of the main points I’m making is that making this leap is unfair, particularly given that the behaviour it’s often purporting to describe is not, in fact, dangerous but rather perfectly normal.

          I suspect we’re not going to be able to agree on this as it sounds like you have had significantly different experiences to me, so it’s worth again me pointing out that this is my view, based on what I’ve experienced. I’m not saying the word ‘psycho’ is gender specific, but that in my experience it’s most often applied to women, and in quite a specific way that seeks to make their relatively normal emotions look abnormal and dangerous.

          I’d like to be able to say conclusively that the word is applied in this way or that way, but as far as I know no one’s done any studies on it, so this discussion necessarily needs to be limited to what we’ve actually experienced. The closest I can actually come to any kind of proof is that a google search for ‘psycho ex boyfriend’ shows 866,000 results, ‘psycho ex girlfriend’ shows 2,050,000. But, you know, although google can shine interesting lights on language usage, it’s not exactly science.

  • Lee says:

    As I was reading the first few lines, I said to myself “Psycho ? Glenn Close in that film”.

    I read down, and lo, we get the bunny boiling reference. Depiction of, bluntly, pretty extreme clinical psychosis.

    Hell of a long way from being upset over a breakup. Indeedy.

  • As someone who has lived with PTSD, been treated for it and overcome it but still living with anxiety, insomnia and trying to get my life back in order, the ‘Psycho’ aspect of these tags, annoy the fuck outta me!

    For example: start chatting to a lad off a dating website, we BOTH text each other non-stop and he’s all into you, he’s pretty much mapping out the next 6 months of ‘you and him’. You meet up a couple of times, do the ‘deed; and then all of a sudden, he isn’t ‘into you’, cus he’s been ‘in you’, Then you are dubbed a psycho cus you’ve texted a few times asking when he’d like to meet up or why he’s ignoring you. He lies about what he’s up to, telling you he is busy and will text you later but 2 days later, no text. You find out he’s not been busy at all and been stringing you a long.

    Now, he will be laughing about this with his mates, saying you’re ‘crazy’ and that he is glad he got away from you. But reality is that he is simply a fucking cockwomble.

    Anyway, my point is that there isn’t anything wrong with the woman in this situation, the issue lies with the guy being a twat.

    • Unfortunately I have seen “psycho” applied to women in the sort of instance you’re talking about, although the relationship may not have begun with any malintent. It’s an easy way for men to rationalise leaving a relationship that they don’t want to progress further, and means they don’t have to deal with the emotional fallout because they can just stick a label on it. There is also a damaging tendency for men’s emotional swings in matters of love to be seen as valid and understandable, and women’s as dangerous and ugly.

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