Bipolar mania can really foul up the family dynamic. One minute, your family is cruising along on autopilot, and the next minute you’re in a tailspin. It can begin innocently enough with a barely perceptible increase in irritability and criticism, and then quickly escalate into knock-down, drag-out conflicts, all of which contribute to worsening the mania.
Recently, when I began feeling the ground shift under my family, I sketched out the cycle as I see it.
- Mania: Various factors can contribute to triggering a manic episode, and they can generally be broken down into two categories: biological and environmental. People with bipolar typically have a genetic vulnerability to bipolar, but then environmental factors, including stressors, trigger the expression of it – the mania or depression.
- Fear, Frustration, Anxiety: Loved ones, suspecting that another episode of mania is in the works, can begin to feel fear and anxiety over what’s happening and frustration over not being able to do anything to stop it. This is especially true if their attempts to help are rejected.
- Anger: Fear, anxiety, and frustration can express themselves as fear, anxiety, and frustration, but they can and do frequently find expression in anger.
- Conflict: Anger almost always leads to conflict, which feeds the mania the additional stress it needs to thrive. Mania is like an energy-eating monster. Blast it with TNT and even nuclear weapons, and the monster gobbles it up and grows bigger and stronger.
As the vicious cycle continues, it intensifies. The mania becomes more severe; fear, anxiety, and frustration increase; anger intensifies; and conflict escalates. Something has to break the cycle, and it’s best to break it at each and every stage in the cycle:
- Treating the mania: Medication and various forms of therapy can help quell the mania.
- Dealing with fear, frustration, and anxiety: Loved ones could benefit by seeking counseling themselves to determine ways of managing their emotional responses to very stressful conditions. Learning about bipolar is a great start, but it’s not enough when you’re actually involved in confrontations.
- Alleviating the anger: Fear, anxiety, and frustration can express themselves as fear, anxiety, and frustration, but they can and do frequently find expression in anger. Again, loved ones could benefit by practicing techniques for dealing with emotions more effectively and productively.
- Disengaging from conflict: Anger almost always leads to conflict, which feeds the mania the additional stress it needs to thrive. Mania is like an energy-eating monster. Blast it with TNT and even nuclear weapons, and it only gets bigger and stronger. When you feel attacked, instincts tell you to fight back. Disengaging, however, is often the better choice.
Whenever I find myself involved in the nasty family dynamics that often result from (and contribute to) mania, my first reaction is typically the “woe is me” response. I hate mania. I hate what it does to my loved one who’s experiencing it, what it does to me, and what it does to my family. Every single time, I have to remind myself that regardless how I feel, engaging in conflicts with loved ones doesn’t make anything better and often makes it worse. Unfortunately, when you’re trying to convince someone to get help who doesn’t think they need it, confrontation isn’t always avoidable.
Please post a comment to share your insights and observations of living with bipolar, whether you or a loved one has bipolar disorder. How do you feel during an episode of mania or depression? How does this influence the interactions among family members? What, if anything, have you identified as making the situation worse or improving it?
Last reviewed: 5 Aug 2009
Kraynak, J. (2009). Bipolar Mania: A Vicious Cycle. Psych Central.
Retrieved on January 30, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar/2009/08/bipolar-mania-a-vicious-cycle/