I know that anger is a huge problem for people dealing with bipolar disorder. How do I know? Not just because I’m a supporter myself or because my mom has it, but because I get TONS of emails on just this subject. You wouldn’t believe how many people are dealing with anger these days – Whether they have bipolar disorder or not. (Well, yes you would, because you’re probably one of them.)
Well, Robert Allan PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, wrote a whole book on anger, called “Getting Control of Your Anger.”
In Dr. Allan’s book, he talks about a 3-step process for taming rage:
1. Identify the hook (trigger) that feeds your anger.
In other words, he says that just by knowing that there is a trigger that sets your anger off can be liberating in itself. It’s the first step toward changing your reaction to your anger and not allowing yourself to directly express that anger by yelling or getting physical.
2. Step back or remove yourself from the situation causing your anger.
By doing this, you can figure out WHY you need the anger. Then you can try some relaxation
or deep-breathing exercises to try to get back some of your self-control.
He also suggests developing an OBSERVING self, a mini-version of yourself who you visualize sitting on your shoulder viewing the big picture and warning you not to take the anger bait (hook or trigger).
Kind of reminds me of the old cartoon picture of the “mini-you” angel on one shoulder and the “mini-you” devil on the other shoulder, both trying to tell you what to do.
Dr. Allan says that when we get angry, the feeling is usually fueled by the need for respect or the need not to have our territory breached, or both.
3. Fill the need without expressing anger directly. Instead, ASK for what you need.
Many people feel a need, but instead of talking about it, go straight to the feeling behind the need, which many times is anger. That anger can quickly turn to rage, and they can easily turn that rage onto the other person. Then, instead of talking about their need, they start a fight with the other person. Now they’re somewhere they never intended to go in the first place. What they should have done is ask for what they needed instead. If they would have done that, their need would have been met, and they would not have ended up in a fight.
Let’s continue to discuss the issue of anger as it relates to bipolar disorder.
Many times it is the supporter who is angry at their loved one. They don’t mean to be. They certainly don’t want to be. It just somehow happened as a result of what they’re having to deal with. Or something that their loved one has specifically done.
Here’s a good example:
Mary’s husband Jack has bipolar disorder. Whenever Jack goes into a manic episode, he lies to Mary. When Mary confronts Jack about it, he denies it. Maybe Mary would be able to take it if she could understand why he lies, but when he denies it, it really makes her mad; actually, it makes her even madder because this she really doesn’t understand.
It makes her so mad because she thinks Jack is lying on purpose just to get to her. She doesn’t believe him when he says it’s just part of his bipolar disorder. This has led to real problems in their marriage.
Jack tries to defend himself, but by now Mary is so angry, there isn’t even any talking about it – she just won’t listen to him.
I wish I could say that this is the exception rather than the rule but, unfortunately, it isn’t.
I know too many angry supporters.
The answer is for them to talk to their loved one and tell them how they’re feeling, rather than to hold that anger in or let it come out in a fight.