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Mood vs Behavior Disorder

Another notion that needs to be challenged is that depression and bipolar are “mood disorders,” while hallucinations and delusions are “thought disorders.” There is nothing wrong with having moods, thoughts, feelings, visions, delusions, or any other experiences. The problem is our behavior.

Mood is “a conscious state of mind or predominant emotion.”1 Psychology likes to add disclaimers to it like long lasting or long term, but the essential element is not how long it lasts, it is the emotional feeling that we have.

Behavior is “the manner of conducting oneself, anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation, and the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment.”2 I would include our thought process as part of the response.

It is interesting that bipolar is called a “mood disorder” but is treated at a behavioral health clinic. If you think about what the “disorder” is for people around a person with depression, mania, hallucination, and delusion, it is the behavior that is the problem. Does it matter if I hallucinate all day long if my behavior does not bother anyone or myself? Does it matter if I am manic or depressed if my actions are completely under self-mastery?

There is no such thing as disorder of mood. Calling depression and mania “mood disorders” or hallucinations and delusions “thought disorders” is misleading. We should be calling them “behavior disorders.”

This line of reasoning is very difficult for people because it puts the responsibility for the condition where it belongs. The only way to get any of our conditions “in order” is to focus on the behaviors both internal and external. All other efforts are peripheral to this task.

Getting our moods or hallucinations minimized can be an important first step towards getting behavior under control. But, if removal of symptoms is the final goal, then we will never get our condition “in order.” The final goal should be having our behavior under self-mastery no matter what moods or other states we are experiencing.

While medicine and the many other therapeutic and self-help approaches may help manage the symptoms, without the goal of behavioral changes they will not get you to an “in order” condition. Treatments may help relieve the symptoms, but leave you with the same behavioral problems that are the bane of the condition. Better to make the primary focus behavioral change while using the other components in the program as aids to assist in the primary goal.

While I agree that for most people there is a point that we lose the ability to choose how to react, I believe we are capable of moving that point far further than we accept. My premise is that once someone gets to a “stable” condition in a range where he/she has the choice of how to respond, we can help expand that range in areas previously outside of it. While I experience states where my own choice is less than optimal, I would never describe it as having little or no choice at all. The more I experience such states with awareness, the more choice I have.

I don’t think anyone is advocating living a life so diminished that we live in a zero range of no moods at all; at least not permanently. The important questions are: How wide can the range safely be? What is the best way to get there? Do we try to control the moods or do we try to control the behaviors as defined by the mental and physical reactions to the moods?

My own experience, and that of many others, is that the controllable range is a lot wider than generally believed to be possible. As outlined in the Perspective chapter of Bipolar In Order, we are capable of behaving under self-mastery in the full range of moods. This is true at least in those who are willing to do the hard work necessary to achieve it.

There are three main factors influencing our ability to control our behaviors: how far outside of our comfort zone we are, how long we have been there, and what skills we have developed to maintain our behavior. For most, the manic side is much more difficult to control. The extra energy and rapid thoughts make it difficult to maintain composure and have free choice in our reactions. We sometimes need to slow down our reactions so wisdom has a chance to intervene. It is often necessary to reign in our condition in order to maintain self-control.

This is where the original debate about mood vs behavior comes in–I find that if I focus on controlling the moods by trying to not have them, I have no skills to manage my behavior when they do come. When I focus on behavior, the moods become less relevant and I see that mood and behavior are not linked as we have been led to believe. I am in better control of the experience and can function just fine in whatever mood comes my way, while recognizing when it is time to reign in the mood.

Calling it a “mood disorder” makes us focus on trying to control our moods, which minimizes our lives. Focusing on the behaviors allows us to experience the full range that life has to offer without suffering the consequences of our adverse reactions to it. The same logic applies to hallucinations and delusions.

Mood vs Behavior Disorder

Tom Wootton

Tom Wootton - see on YouTube, follow on Twitter, or Facebook - is CEO of Bipolar Advantage. Along with experts in complementary fields, including doctors teaching the next generation of therapists, their mission is to help people with mental conditions shift their thinking and behavior so that they can lead extraordinary lives. Tom is the author of three books: The Bipolar Advantage, The Depression Advantage, and Bipolar In Order: Looking At Depression, Mania, Hallucination, And Delusion From The Other Side.

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APA Reference
Wootton, T. (2018). Mood vs Behavior Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Mar 2018
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