The Psychology of Bipolar Disorder | Author: Ben Schwarcz

Bipolar Disorder, (or Manic Depression as it should still be called), has had its share of media attention lately, with stories of Brittney Spears and others. About one in 70 people are affected by Bipolar Disorder and it does not discriminate -- men and women, all races, all socio-economic levels, and even all ages. Most often it first shows up in the late teens or early 20's.

We know from studies of identical twins, that for about 70% of twins, when one is Bipolar, the other also manifests the disorder. What about the other 30%? Bipolar Disorder is a genetic pre-disposition - that is, you are born with the vulnerability - often one or more blood relatives have it -- but you may not show any symptoms until it is triggered by some other factor. Triggering factors can be childhood abuse, a severe emotional or physical trauma at any time of life, a catastrophic loss, a poor diet, exposure to toxins, drug use, ANTIDEPRESSANTS (one of the most common triggering factors), high stress lifestyles, or prolonged lack of sleep. All of these, and more, can kick of the cycle of Bipolar mood swings ranging anywhere from severe debilitating depressions lasting from weeks to months at a time - to hypomanic highs (feeling energized, powerful, creative, needing little sleep, super sexual, productive, talkative and outgoing and fearless) to extreme mania for some (all the symptoms just mentioned, plus lack of judgment, high risk behaviors, delusions, grandiosity, and even paranoia and hallucinations).

As you can see, this is not a light-weight disease. It causes countless suicides, domestic violence, financial ruin, broken homes, and legal problems for people that in their "normal" state of mind are caring, responsible, intelligent members of society, parents, and spouses.
Those who are more fortunate, manage to use the more positive aspects of the Bipolar high (hypomania- or "low level mania") to their advantage. Billionaire Ted Turner is a good example of this.

One of the biggest difficulties lies in the psychological issues that exist, apart from the neurological effects of the disorder. For example, a woman with a childhood history of being sexually abused by a family member, who has never fully resolved that trauma and later develops chronic symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. The latent trauma is a constant, unconscious source of emotional pain, low self-esteem, self-hatred, shame, guilt and anxiety. All of these emotions and negative thoughts contribute a great deal to both the manic and depressive episodes of the disorder.

Both depression and mania can be seen as expressions of deep inner pain, inadequacy and shame. When depressed this is obvious. But when manic, the person with unrsolved self-esteem issues may seem to be confident, powerful, assertive, spiritually tuned-in, artistic, courageous, invulnerable perhaps. And some of these extraordinary qualities may be quite authentic while they last. Nobody would ever guess that at their core, they feel totally inadequate and worthless. And in the hypomanic or manic state the sufferer is also usually completely unaware of their own feelings of emptiness or shame. It has an element of narcissism to it - the grandiose sense of power that comes with mania. It's not the person's fault. By now they are on auto-pilot. The brain has caught fire and is burning out of control. Only medication or plenty of time will bring the person back to earth. Sometimes they may reach a point of total exhaustion before they collapse, and then the depression hits. It's a double wammy. Now they are depressed, feeling deep shame and worthlessness, and have to deal with whatever chaos they may have created while manic. A living hell for many people.

Once a person develops the full blown symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, the medical profession - the mainstream psychiatric view - is that it is a chronic, life-long illness with no cure - and only medication and a healthy lifestyle can help you to manage the symptoms. Resolving the major underlying issues however (such as childhood abuse traumas), low self-esteem, self-defeating or self-critical thoughts, getting out of abusive relationships, and so on, can go a long way towards alleviating many of the severe mood swings of Bipolar Disorder. Medications, at some level, are usually necessary - but I have seen some people learn to thrive without them. In the midst of a crisis however, medications are often the quickest, safest and most effective way to get things back under control. Whatever approach people choose, it is very important to understand the emotional issues both past and present all play a role in creating emotional instability and mood swings.

Psychotherapy (weekly talk-therapy), bipolar support groups, energy psychology techniques such as EFT, and mind-body practices such as yoga, tai chi and meditation, as well as healhty diet, supportive relationships, adequate sleep, exercise and the right nutritional supplements, can all make an enormous difference for those with Bipolar Disorder.

For more information on alternative and holistic treatment of bipolar disorder, visit my website.

About the Author:

Ben Schwarcz, MA, MFT is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in Bipolar Disorder and Holistic Healing. Ben is also a practitioner of Energy Psychology, and is a meditation teacher in the tradition of Kriya Yoga. He teaches and practices in Santa Rosa California.

For more info visit:

Ben Schwarcz: (707)326-5566

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