The friends of loved ones of those with Bipolar Disorder and Depression are often faced with the daunting task of trying to get through to them. Unwell thought processes of these mood disorders twist and warp reality to such a point that it is impossible for the unwell person to know what reality actually is. You, the well-minded supporter, have the benefit of knowing what the facts and reality actually are in most cases. How do you use that to your benefit? We meet hardness with softness.
What the hell does that mean? The martial art Tai Chi uses Hard and Soft forms. The idea is that countering force with force is only going to result in both parties being injured. Instead, you counter force with a soft approach. Instead of directly attacking back, you use the opponent’s energy and motion to your benefit. In this way, the practitioner can exhaust their opponent, conserve energy, and mount an effective offense when the time is right.
Arguing with an unwell person rarely ever works. It usually requires an excessive amount of energy or the supporter winds up emotionally hurt in the process. Think back to previous arguments you had with an unwell loved one- have they helped at all? Probably not.
How do we employ this principle in our dealings with the unwell?
*Facts Are Your Friend- Use Them
The unwell person is going to wind up with borderline delusional thinking on a regular basis. You can use facts to derail these delusional thoughts by forcing the person to actually think about what they are claiming and are convinced of. The more detail they have to dredge up, the more they think. The more they think, the more opportunities they have to realize that something isn’t quite right about their thoughts. It won’t always work but it is a better strategy than trying to hammer through their unwell thoughts with force.
Pay attention to the person you’re talking with. You’re gaining ground once they are embroiled in thought, trying to figure out your words and the discrepancies they are faced with.
Bipolar: “I’m leaving because I just don’t love you anymore and you make me feel like shit.”
Supporter: “Hm. That’s unfortunate. How long have you been feeling this way?” (Soft)
Bipolar: “About a month or so.”
Supporter: “Oh? How were things before that?” (Soft)
Bipolar: “Tough but I didn’t feel like I do now.”
Supporter: “And you’re certain it’s not a Bipolar swing? You know your emotions will warp when you get unwell.” (Soft)
Bipolar: “No, I don’t think so.”
Supporter: “Well, what if it is? How about you sit on those emotions for another few months or so? You know the Disorder can screw with your emotions pretty hard so just wait and see if any stronger symptoms develop. If you truly don’t love me anymore, then that won’t change. But if it’s a Bipolar swing then these feelings of disconnection may only be temporary. You know?” (Hard)
In this example, we use fact and reasoning to get our point across. Why do I beat the drum so loudly about “fact” and “reality”? Because facts don’t care how you feel about them. They simply are. Bipolar Disorder (and other mental illnesses) typically distort our interpretation of the facts by tainting them with beliefs and emotion. But, in the example, we are dealing with an emotional subject while not dealing with intangible emotions. Fact- the person is Bipolar. Fact- Bipolar Disorder screws with a person’s emotions. Fact- the person’s change of heart is relatively recent. Such a major change of heart that quickly could indicate an unwell period. A person’s emotions don’t typically 180 on a dime. It usually takes time and many shitty circumstances to shift emotions that drastically. Not so for an unwell Bipolar that can go from “I love you” to “Fuck you” over night.
*Strive To Make It The Bipolar Person’s Choice
It is very easy for a Bipolar (or Depressed) person to decide on any crappy course of action because they are incapable of giving it the appropriate consideration. That may range from an affair, to cutting, to just throwing away jobs. Additionally, their thoughts can take off and run away with them if they aren’t anchored to reality and repercussions in some way.
So what does this crap I’m alluding to mean exactly? Shit gets accomplished much more efficiently when compromise is on the table. Standing at either extreme and shouting at each other is essentially pointless busy work (take note Congress). However, you can make greater gains by stepping towards the middle and extending a hand out. You don’t have to necessarily agree with the other person’s opinion. It’s all about picking your battles, what you are capable of sacrificing, and what you refuse to budge on. I’m not suggesting that you roll over and be a doormat.
Why is this a good idea? It gives you a point to fall back to. No matter where the person’s mind goes or how much they want to argue- you offered to compromise and you can always fall back to that. If they refuse to follow through with the proposal or make a counter-offer; now you have “I offered to meet you half way but you refuse to meet me half way.”
Bipolar: “It’s always about blaming me and my mental illness! It’s never about you and what responsibility you share in it!”
Supporter: “Fair enough. What do you think I need to work on for our relationship?” (Soft)
Bipolar: “You’re always up my ass about everything. I can’t stand feeling so smothered.”
Supporter: “Alright. Well, I’ll work on giving you more space if you’ll talk to your doctor about the meds you decided to quit cold turkey.” (Hard)
In this example, it would be easy for the Supporter to fall into an argument with the Bipolar. Instead we employ a Soft counter that acknowledges the Bipolar’s feelings (even if they are skewed they are real to the Bipolar) that also gives us ammunition to work with. The exchange is wrapped up with a compromise that should suit whatever goal you are aiming for. The Hard reply sets out the conditions and puts the ball into the Bipolar’s court. Now, it becomes their choice and it provides the Supporter some leverage. Now the Supporter has “Don’t get mad at me, I agreed to do what you wanted if you would do the small thing I asked. That’s your choice.” to show the Bipolar that it is their choice- not yours.
*The Effects Of A “Soft” Approach
Both examples given above are partial conversations I’ve had and heard many times with people. Trying to hammer against a mentally ill person’s thought processes will only cause them to put up their walls and get angry (in most cases). At that point you aren’t going to get shit accomplished because now their mind is taking off and spinning the situation out.
Consider what would have happened if either introductory statement in the examples were greeted with anger. It probably would have devolved into a massive argument, fueled the unwell person’s mental illness, and introduced more chaos and instability. Take the time to measure your words before you respond. You can’t control what the other person thinks or feels; but you can control how you choose to respond to it.
Counter a Hard attack with a Soft redirection. Use your loved one’s energy to undermine their unwellness and help bring them back to a grounded state. This tactic also works pretty well with normal people. It not only opens the door for compromise but takes the need for you to be the sole person who sacrifices out of the equation.
These are but a couple of examples. If you need help figuring out a way to employ this methodology to a situation you’re in; drop me a comment or email with as much information about the situation as you can and we’ll see if we can get something figured out.
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