20 thoughts on “Stop Trying to Stop Enabling Bipolar Behavior!

  • November 5, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    I agree with a lot of what Dr. Fink is saying.i think this needs to start much earlier in the life of an individual and their family. I would also like to add that most of the misunderstanding around enabling begins early in the life of a child. When the parent has the responsibility of raising a child who is living with mental illness that parent is scrutinized for everything. Their lives are put under a microscope as if to determine what the parent could have done to cause the illness. Families are given all kinds of language that sends mixed messages. The focus in treatment becomes the child’s behaviors and if the behaviors are bad then parents are advised not to support those behaviors. In addition as the child transitions to adulthood the parent is excluded and every decision becomes this young adults and this is fine however in most cases families are exhausted and have spent many years in this incredibly confusing cycle of misinformation so they give up. We must remember that we are serving families and not just individuals. These parents have other children, jobs, dreams and bills. If we want support to continue for the entire life cycle for an individual who is living with mental illness then we have to be willing to educate families early with the correct diagnosis and information. Helping families to heal is difficult and possible.

  • November 6, 2015 at 8:33 am

    The concept of enabling for change is actually very useful with bipolar or any mental health issue. Enabling for change is all about consequences for things like not taking medication. Helping recovering person understand that not using their tools affects others etc. It asks everyone in family to do their best. Unloving intervention means they need to work on exactly what drives fink says…the families feelings and boundaries

  • November 8, 2015 at 3:44 am

    The whole thing about “enabling” theory and it’s associated accusations of co dependency is that it’s full of beating those affected by someone’s behaviour over the head, expecting them to attend endless numbers of “talk it through until you figure it out” sessions without providing education or strategies. With mental health it’s really about education of families of what is part of the condition, how to support the person, what is reasonable to ask the person to do to help themselves (therapy, rehabilitation, engage with services, giving back where they can) whilst looking after yourself. And support people/families can’t be expected to know how to go about this without being given education and taught strategies.

  • November 8, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    I am the spouse of a person diagnosed with bipolar/manic depression. Early on in our marriage, my spouse was mostly on the high end of the spectrum with bouts of depression. While not diagnosed until 7 years ago, there was no doubt in my mind of the problem from the very beginning. Now my spouse is always at the depressive end of the spectrum, having not worked since the diagnosis. I have been the best support I know how to be, however the depression takes it toll on me as well. I struggle with what to do to not “enable the behavior”. Understanding sometimes that my spouse does not have control, but often times in the midst of the daily grind of life where I have to bear all the burden of the family, I get bogged down in the woe is me mentality. I want desperately to support them, but not lose myself in the process. I am new to this website, and would love some direction to family support so that I can learn how to best help my spouse.

    • September 5, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      I am an only child to a 73 year old mom who suffers from bipolar. I also constantly live in the state of trying to support my mom’s illness and living at the point of “had enough”. The emotional scars of “raising” my mom instead of being raised by her run deep. I want to love her the best I can, but I seem to be taken advantage of because I’m the only family member left that will deal with her.

    • December 20, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      If the Bipolar I patient doesn’t have a child, it’s less complicated. If the patient is a working mother, she could have aa many as 25 hospitalizations, in 17 years, and keep on going after discharges. Spouses who think they are the victim or the afflicted, are selfish and not loving enough. In sickness and in health, til death do us part is just a dream esp. when one is bonafide BipolarI, like me.

      • December 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm

        addendum: The husband waited until the child was in her last year
        of law school because he loves their child. Out of dissolution bloomed

  • November 9, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    My understanding of the term enabling is that you detach with love. This includes removing yourself from the harmful behaviors of others while not doing things for others that they can do for themselves. This includes, for me, separating the disease from the person. This perspective allows me to continue to love and care for the person and love and care for myself.

  • November 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Well done! One of the best things I’ve read regarding this real challenge. Thank you.

  • December 5, 2015 at 11:10 am

    As someone who has struggled with bipolar disorder for my entire adult life, I can tell you that the worst thing someone can do to me is “tough love.” Even if the intentions behind it are well-meant, the message I receive is that I am to blame for my illness: That I am unworthy of the love and support that I so desperately need to make it through each episode; and if I am in a really bad head space, that I deserve to be punished.

    I know how hard it is on friends and family to have someone in their lives who has a mental illness. I’ve been in that position as well, and I understand the frustration and stress. Each person and each situation is unique. Cookie-cutter or bandaid solutions rarely work out in the long run. The best thing you can do for a person suffering with a mental illness is love them unconditionally. Be (gently) honest with them when you are worried about them, and be honest about how you feel and what you go through. If you really feel the need to detach, explain your decision clearly and compassionately. The goal in doing so should not to be to make someone feel worse, but rather to communicate how you feel. Too often I have seen in my life my friends and family don’t want to “burden” me with their feelings, when that is, in fact, exactly what I need to hear. Open and compassionate communication is used far too rarely with people suffering from mental illnesses.

    Please remember: no one chooses to have a mental illness. We go through all the same stresses as everyone else. But we also have a whole other massive layer of stress that is our illness that we have to deal with on top of everyday life. We need just as much compassion, love and respect as everyone else.

    • March 5, 2016 at 1:46 am

      Well said.

  • March 5, 2016 at 1:42 am

    I have learned that my internal boundaries in being with my dx’d family members is one of the most important things I can offer. After a turbulent year, I told my son that I was tapped out, not blaming you, but the emotional well is dry. I backed away for several weeks, which gave us both time to process. There were no immediate crises, but things were not going as I thought they should. It may be more that our idea of enabling is not accurate but that we family members are over managing. Dr. Fink, Sandra’s parents sound like good candidates for the NAMI Family to Family program.

  • July 7, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    My daughter’s boyfriend has bipolar and her relationship with him for the past six years has torn three family’s apart. He is 29 and has 12 felony convictions. She got pregnant, he went back to jail. He got out of jail and camr back to her. I told him I would pay for Dr, evaluation for meds and counseling if he was living with my daughter and Grandchildren so I could feel safe. He refuses all treatment of any kind. He is controlling and manipulative .

  • July 24, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    I need some advice as a primary caregiver for my bipolar sibling . This is his 3rd episode where he goes from manic to severely depressed. Since he stops meds and prior to that stops going to docs.

    This time he is in total finicall disaster and is in foreclosure. It has been 4 continuous months doing almost everything for him.

    Prior to this past episode, we didn’t have contact for 18 months. He shit me out –I knew his triggers and he didn’t want to listen.

    My stress has now interfered with my husband and kids. How do I take a much need break to take care of myself and not feel guilty ?

  • December 20, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Since Bipolar Disorder is believed to be an imbalance of the brain’s biochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, how can Bipolar behavior be controlled or enabled? Those mentally healthy don’t have this neurotransmitters’ problem. They might be affected by enabling. Many Bipolars seek help from their p-doc during depression. But manias and hypomanias are a party and a Bipolar doesn’t make time to see their p-doc. Unless you get a 5150 from the cops, then he/she will witness it at the hospital.

  • December 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Is anyone realhere? lol

  • July 1, 2017 at 8:56 am

    My father did exactly what the author of this article encouraged him to do for my sister for decades. When he died she was worse, not better and she continues to go downhill. When will mental health professionals finally own up to the fact that they still don’t have a clue how to help people with mental illness? When will they stop blaming the rest of us?

  • November 4, 2018 at 6:33 am

    I see both sides and I am in an ultimate struggle. I love this man, but he hurts me. I know what I deserve, and that is not to be called a bitch, yelled at, put down, and nit picked all the time. He feels like I don’t treat him right, I can’t help to see this as a delusion….. I am he one who is being hurt. I don’t yell at him or put him down, I rarely have any complaints or qualms…..in the moments of his bipolar disorder affecting me I try my absolute best to express my emotions of hurt while listening to him. I speak calmly, tell him I love him and that he may be experiencing an episode. How can you tell someone who is bipolar that they are having an episode and hurting you? How can you determine the difference between an episode or them just being abuseive? My partner compares small annoyances to the abusive behavior he displays, when I try to explain the difference I am “not understanding of his feelings” . He also has a mother who says I “knew what I was getting into” which is very hurtful……I knew he was bipolar but I didn’t understand how this could effect my daily life. I’m 24. I understand that it is very hard on him, I give that understanding. I have said so many times how I want to learn how to react to his disorder better, how I’m willing to go to any session. Even in times where he has screamed at me in my face and I reply calm he will find a way that I didn’t react properly and put it on me. He will yell at me and then say that I don’t let him express himself….I try to explain it is not his emotions that are the issue, it’s how he displays them. I try to stay and love him through it but he usually hurts me in the process. Then if I leave I am “abandoning” him. I am not perfect but I know I have been trying my best…….he continues to say that I need to learn how to react to his Illness better yet reluctant to understand that he can form some type of system to learn how to control his anger……but when I try to express the hurt and resentment of his emotional abuse he says things like “well I am bipolar and you aren’t so you should know how to react” or “you make me feel guilty all the time” I DONT WANT HIM TO FEEL GUILTY FOR HURTING ME I WANT HIM TO STOP HURTING ME OR AT LEAST TRY. He says he is trying his best…..but in the same breath he blames me. He has moments of lucidity where he realizes how hard it is to be a punching bag…..but then he goes right back to doing it and saying it is becuase of his disorder. Where is the understanding for people in my position . I have extreme empathy for anyone effected by mental illness….I can’t imagine how scary it is to not know how you will wake up the next morning…..all I am asking for is can anyone understand how hard it is for us? We also don’t know what we will wake up with the next day. That can create resentment between both people. I just want to go back to feeling understood and I want him to feel understood, before this cycle of hurt and apologies turned into hurt and resentment. He used to make me feel so safe and open. When I try to tell him these things all he can focus on is that he has a disorder and that I don’t so he requires more and the reason for the change in the relationship is on me. Four months ago I tried to sit him down and explain that I felt a change and that I wanted to save our relationship. Two months go by, more hurt feelings, more resentment. Then I ask for therapy again, he says no so I give him one month to make an appointment or I will leave. It’s like after he made that appointment (the same day as the deadline) he has began to resent me for bringing all this up. He wants to stay the same partly and blames me for not being able to accept the behavior, then he halfway wants to change and doesn’t want to lose me. Would he have an easier time if I was not there? Or worse? I love him and want him to be happy and have a real healthy relationship, unlike his other relationships where everyone is on eggshells. I don’t want to lose myself. I don’t want to make the wrong decision either cause I dearly love him, I know he can treat me better, that doesn’t mean I don’t love him the way he is.

  • November 5, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Sydney
    It is true that someone can be ill – have bipolar disorder – and also be emotionally abusive to their partner. They are not the same thing. Keeping yourself safe – emotionally and physically – is the priority, even when you know that the person you love has a mental illness.

    Maintaining your health and safety is not about enabling or not enabling. It is the first step you must take before you can offer any kind of compassion or support to someone you love who is struggling. Think of the speech about oxygen masks in an airplane – always put yours on first before trying to help anyone else.

    I encourage you to talk to someone outside of your relationship – family, friend, therapist – privately – about what’s going on. Don’t talk to your man until you have set up some safety steps. The book, “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft – is very very helpful. Or call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-788-7233 Please do these things privately to help yourself get more information before doing anything else.

  • March 22, 2019 at 1:52 am

    My son is 23, and was diagnosed with bipolar 2 at aged 15. I am 61 now and after several psychiatrists, counselors, med changes, rehabs (dual diagnosis), job instability, I tried to get disability for him in Texas, only to be told no. I am going broke, he cannot fully function by himself. I am so afraid for him. Who will help him when I’m gone? How will he survive? What are we parents to do? There are no homes or resources to take him in or help him. I am truly beginning to lose hope.


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