Many people write to me about a number of different things. I find myself pointing out that a number of these people are relating red flags of an abusive relationship. I’m not talking about the general difficulty that can come from mental illness or an unwell cycle. Sometimes, we Bipolar people can do awful things during an unwell cycle that are entirely out of character for who we actually are.
I’m talking about consistent, long-term abuse or severe red flag behavior.
There is a camp of people where those terrible things are a general part of their personality and character. They have toxic qualities about their personality that goes past what Bipolar Disorder is actually responsible for. A well-adjusted person who is open, loving, and accepting makes for an ideal target for a predator. That well-adjusted person can easily fall into the cycle of excusing awful behavior because of their loved one’s problems.
I’ve read a crapload of literature on “identifying abusive relationships.” This literature typically focuses on identifying the negative markers, but does not provide a lot of context. In answering these messages, I will typically point out the red flags and then provide links to good resources that point these same things out.
A majority of the time, I get one of the following responses:
– “But they are such a great person because XYZ reason!”
– “But we really synced on a deep level! Things were great until they got unwell.”
– “But they have all of these really great qualities!”
– “But I’ve never met anyone so intense, passionate, and wonderful!”
Here’s the thing I find myself repeating on a very regular basis that isn’t often covered in resources.
Abusive people are rarely completely awful people. Most of them have positive qualities about them. Media likes to depict bad people as damaged to the core, which is the only reason I can think of for this perception. Real life is rarely that black and white.
It really doesn’t matter if he’s amazing with puppies and children if his insecurities make him so jealous that he undermines his partner’s self-confidence, edits her friends and family, and forces his partner to sacrifice key components of herself to be “loved.”
It really doesn’t matter if she’s a vibrant, well-liked person by everyone she meets if she is unhinged and violent when angry.
If abusive people were 100% awful then no one would ever end up in abusive relationships. You’d just go, “Oh, that person is an asshole. I better avoid them,” and that would be the end of it. But that’s not how it works. Instead, the abusive person wears whatever mask is socially acceptable. As their partner gets more emotionally invested and the relationship continues, that mask starts coming off more and more.
I should also note that this isn’t always a willful act of manipulation either. Yes, there are people who are master manipulators, will get in your head, and use whatever your weakness is as leverage to tear you apart. Other people grow up in terrible situations where abuse and shittiness is the normal that they know. Sometimes it can take years for that person to realize that isn’t how they should conduct themselves. Others never realize it.
But no matter the case, that person is not going to change unless they want to change themselves. I’ve heard so many rationalizations to the contrary.
– “But if I just love them better they’ll be inspired to change.” No. No, they won’t.
– “But if I just do what they ask, then things will work out.” No. It really won’t. They just keep taking more.
– “But what if I can’t ever do any better?” That’s a matter you should discuss with a therapist.
Simply put, you’re better off not being in a relationship at all rather than staying in an abusive one. An abusive relationship takes a very drastic toll on the abused in the long-term. That kind of relationship destroys a person’s self-esteem and confidence. It can completely destroy one’s ability to trust and the damage carries over into future relationships; assuming the abused doesn’t decide to stop having relationships altogether.
Let’s specifically talk about new relationships and Bipolar Disorder.
The most frequent inquiry I get goes something like this.
“I met this wonderful person about six months to a year ago. They were so smart, charming, intense, vibrant, and passionate. I’ve never experienced anything that wonderful. Now, they are a completely different person.” Sometimes they are just different, sometimes they are acting in awful ways.
That is a very intoxicating experience for the second party. I’ve talked to several people who fall into the trap of thinking that they can get the person they originally met back if they just tough their way through whatever the Bipolar person is putting them through. The truth is that the vibrant, passionate experience was likely an unhealthy anomaly.
“But how can anything that felt so pure and right be bad? It’s love!”
Anytime I hear the words “intense and vibrant” in conjunction with Bipolar Disorder, my first question is, “Was the person manic?” When a Bipolar person is manic, their mental illness is creating a lot of false emotions and impressions. That includes feelings of love and attraction. No one can simply trust a Bipolar person’s feelings that are founded in mania because they likely do not represent that person’s actual feelings.
I catch a lot of shit from Bipolar people for that sentiment. “You don’t know me. You can’t tell me how I feel!” Correct. I do not know how everyone else feels. I do, however, know how an unwell cycle of Bipolar Disorder can cause delusional thoughts and feelings. And if you are Bipolar and thinking that, I would challenge you to look back at your previous manic cycles and compare feelings you had during those cycles to feelings you had before they started, after they ended, and see how consistent they are.
Putting up with abusive behavior to get that “intense and vibrant” person back is not a solution. I would conclude that the “intense and vibrant” Bipolar person was manic until proven otherwise; because people aren’t usually intense and vibrant without some reason. In Bipolar people, mania is a pretty common reason.
I know it probably felt amazing; but I’m told heroin does, too. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to indulge in it. Feeling good does not necessarily mean it is good.
As I’ve stated many times, my rule of thumb is simple. Is the person trying to help themselves? And I don’t mean just talking about it. It’s easy for a manipulator to lie and say, “Oh, I’ll go to the doctor and do what needs to be done.” Managing mental illness is hard, tedious, frustrating, and fucking annoying at times. A person that is not actively working to be well and following through on all of that tedious crapwork is not going to stay well.
No amount of love and compassion is going to inspire that person to want to be well or not be shitty. For every one person that claims that to be the case, there’s a thousand who wind up an abused, damaged husk of who they used to be.
Every situation is different. If you feel you are in such a situation, I would highly recommend that you speak to a counselor about your situation or reach out to a local organization that deals with abusive relationships. They will be able to provide better insight on your specific situation and may be able to provide resources to separate yourself from that relationship.
Compassion for the mentally ill and people that struggle is wonderful; but there must be limits. If you hold on too tight, you’ll just sink to the bottom and drown with that person.
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