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.’
“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.
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.