The Difference Between Anger and “Bipolar Anger”
- Everyone gets angry. Anger is a normal human emotion and one that serves a valuable purpose. As an example, anger triggers the fight or flight response, which can help a person survive danger. During the fight or flight response, a person will automatically respond to a threat without conscious thought.
- Much like bipolar disorder, anger exists on a spectrum. From annoyed to enraged, all intensities of anger exist, to some extent, in the typical person. Anger, in and of itself, is not an issue.
- Bipolar anger, on the other hand, is a different animal entirely. Appropriate anger has a general cause and a clear way to defuse it. Using the fight or flight example above, once the danger has been removed, the anger will begin to dissipate.
- When the cause of the anger is due to the symptoms of bipolar disorder (see below), there is no clear reason for the anger and no clear way to defuse it.
- In other words, since a person isn’t sure what the danger is, they won’t know when they have successfully fought it or escaped it. The intensity of the anger can only escalate as a person becomes more and more desperate to defend themselves. At this point, the anger becomes uncontrollable and can be dangerous to the person and to those around them.
- You can replace “danger” with “cause” and the person will be in similar position. Since they don’t know what is causing their anger, they can’t resolve it. Finally, it is possible that what is angering a person has been distorted or “imagined” entirely. Since the anger isn’t based on something concrete, the path to resolution becomes very unclear.
Why Bipolar Anger Needs to Be Taken Seriously
- Like it or not, anger can be a symptom of bipolar disorder.
- Just like depression and mania, anger is relatively common. In my opinion, it is one of the most destructive symptoms, as it relates to interacting with other people, especially friends and family.
- Many people with bipolar disorder describe a feeling of abandonment by loved ones. This is an excellent example of how anger can be a very destructive symptom. Whether the anger pushes a person away or we are angry at someone who isn’t as prominent in our lives as we’d like, anger can rot a person from the inside out. Ignoring anger is foolish for anyone, but it is especially foolish for someone with bipolar disorder, given what is at stake. Unchecked anger can lead to self-harm, irreparable damage in close relationships, and, in rare cases, can lead to violence.
- Managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder is a full-time job and part of that job is to take an honest assessment of all symptoms, even the taboo ones. From hypersexuality to suicidal thoughts to uncontrollable anger, pretending that a symptom doesn’t exist often leads to devastating consequences for everyone involved.
- You can’t flee any of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, so your only choice is to fight.
#1 Dangerous, aggressive and violent behavior in bipolar disorder
- I work with parents and partners of those with bipolar disorder. In the majority of situations, people who are in a strong dysphoric manic episode can be dangerous, aggressive and violent. Physical assault and weapons are not uncommon. Many men go to jail because of this behavior when they actually need psychiatric help. People, both men and women who are mild mannered and kind when well, get super human strength along with the aggression- ripping a sink out of the wall- punching through windows- throwing chairs and other dangerous behavior are not uncommon.
- Families and partners suffer in silence because they are scared to tell anyone about what really goes on at home.
- I have violent thoughts when the dysphoric mania is raging. I used to chase down cars if the driver flipped me off or made a strange face. It is not my goal to scare anyone reading this blog. It’s my goal that we are honest about these hidden and pushed under the rug symptoms of bipolar disorder .
- The solution is management. People with bipolar disorder do not have these symptoms unless the mood swings are raging. Prevent the mood swings and you can prevent the dangerous, aggressive and violent behavior.
#2 Psychosis in Bipolar Disorder
- I have rapid cycling bipolar disorder two with psychotic features. I experienced undiagnosed psychotic symptoms from age 19 to 31 when I was finally diagnosed. I’ve had hallucinations and delusions all of my adult life. What scares me is that no one and I mean no one educated me about psychosis when I was diagnosed. It was as if the symptoms didn’t exist. When I learned the extent of my psychosis, I was appalled that I had lived with it for so long. My symptoms were mostly visual hallucinations and paranoid delusions. I didn’t know that others didn’t have them as well! If you have bipolar disorder one, there is a 70% chance of full on psychosis when you are in a full blown manic episode. This psychosis can be very bizarre and mimic schizophrenia. The difference? People with bipolar disorder only have psychosis during a manic or depressed mood swing. There is no psychosis outside of depression or mania. If a person has psychosis in between episodes, this is called schizo affective disorder. Do you or your loved ones have psychosis? If bipolar disorder is involved, psychosis could be involved as well.
#3 Cognitive Impairment in Bipolar Disorder
- Many people find this scary. We already have bipolar disorder, does this mean we have memory problems as well? Maybe.
- Cognitive impairment from memory lapses, forgetting appointments, being unable to remember information and experiencing brain fog during certain episodes is common! If you have bipolar, you’ve probably felt the sluggish brain that comes with depression. If you have mania, you have probably tripped over your words, said things you don’t mean and had trouble thinking in order.
- My cognitive symptoms visit me daily. I’m not able to remember dates and numbers and need help with calendars and appointments. Mine got worse after [intense therapy I had for severe depression.] It’s something I find distressing, but it’s easy to manage. I want us to be open about cognitive issues. This is the only way we can get help! Mine tend to linger all of the time, but get worse with mood swings. A perfect example of this- I am supposed to put this blog up by midnight the day of my blog slot. I reminded myself all day yesterday to put it up, but still managed to go to sleep without posting it on time. I have to live with these symptoms and even though a few things slip through, I do control the majority of my minor memory problems with a good support system!
Here’s the good news- yes, there is good news!
- Bipolar Disorder is an episodic illness.
- We have all of our symptoms while in a mood swing.
- This means we are STABLE when we are not in a mood swing. The symptoms I list above usually go away when the illness is successfully managed. It can take regular monitoring for those of us who have daily symptoms. Others who have long breaks between mood swings may even forget the symptoms even existed.
- This is why we must have a management plan that can recognize the dangerous, aggressive and violent behavior, psychosis and cognitive impairment as soon as it begins.
- I know we want to protect our reputations around this illness. We don’t want to be seen as different or freaks. But I ask that within our community, we get brutally honest about what really happens to those of us with the illness. It’s the ONLY way to stop the symptoms and make them stay away forever!
Source: 2015: Howard,G. & Fast,J.