Bipolar disorder is a challenging condition to live with, requiring various lifestyle adjustments to manage it well. At times, people with bipolar might turn to blaming others for their difficulties to avoid their own bad feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, or shame, particularly if they haven’t yet learned healthier coping skills.
Dealing With the Anger & Pain of Bipolar Disorder
For most people with bipolar disorder, it is a struggle to learn how to manage their symptoms well and have a fulfilling life. When initially diagnosed, they might fear that the meaning of their life has changed or that they will lose important connections. They might also perceive new challenges and obstacles to their previous goals, finding it necessary to adjust their life goals. Facing these changes can trigger feelings of grief over the loss of the life they once had or assumed they would have. Part of the process of grieving is feeling both pain and anger. This pain and anger can turn into lashing out at others as an effort to cope with their intense feelings.
Bipolar disorder is a severe form of depression in which the person experiences cycles of both high and low mood swings. Elevated moods may be either manic or hypomanic and might include symptoms that lead to consequences for health, finances, or relationships. Depressed moods can include periods of low energy, lack of interest in usual activities, despair, and even suicidal thoughts.1 Bipolar disorder symptoms can be managed with therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments.
What is the Link Between Bipolar Disorder & Blaming Others?
While there are several possible motivations for blaming others for their bipolar disorder, the common purpose is to avoid their own bad feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, or shame. People with bipolar might get caught up in blaming others because they have not developed healthy coping skills to deal with their painful feelings. They are fearful of losing what their life used to be, and they may be in a stage of complex or prolonged grief. It can be a form of victim mentality for those who believe that being diagnosed with bipolar is another unfortunate event that happened to them.
Here are six potential reasons why someone with bipolar disorder may blame others:
1. To Shift Accountability
Blaming others can give the person with bipolar a chance to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions and the problems that result. They might be overwhelmed with feelings of shame related to the consequences of their behavior during elevated or depressed moods.
2. To Satisfy Needs for Attention
The person with bipolar might be using emotional manipulation to get attention from those who are close to them. It is not uncommon for a person with bipolar to lash out at the person who provides the most care or practical support.
3. They Feel Angry or Betrayed
The person with bipolar might be feeling angry about having a chronic mental health condition. Maybe they feel cheated out of a “normal life.” They might wrongly believe that their parents caused their condition or think that friends and family should be more supportive. Possibly they are experiencing betrayal trauma.
4. To Relieve Feelings of Guilt
Someone with bipolar may feel guilt about impulsive behavior or the consequences of poor impulse control, particularly during or after a manic episode. Shifting blame for the disorder temporarily relieves the feelings of guilt.
5. To Cope With a Fear of Rejection
The consequences of behavior during bipolar episodes can be significant and include financial problems, physical health problems, and relationship conflicts. The person with bipolar might fear being rejected due to these difficulties, and they might be experiencing abandonment issues. Blaming the other person for the situation can briefly avoid fear of rejection or abandonment.
6. To Avoid Seeking Treatment
Blaming can be a way for someone to avoid accepting that they have a disorder or to avoid getting help for their condition. They might fear therapy, especially if they have not had prior therapy. Other fears that can lead to avoidance of treatment include the fear of change, the fear of the unknown, or fear of failure.
What Causes People With Bipolar Disorder to Blame Others?
In addition to the in-the-moment reasons that someone might blame others for their bipolar disorder, there are often more profound reasons why someone has developed unhealthy coping behaviors. These longer-term reasons include past trauma, having certain personality traits, and being in a type of relationship which is unhealthy in general.
Possible causes of blaming behavior in those with bipolar disorder include:
Although it is not a direct cause, childhood trauma can be a catalytic factor in the development of bipolar. It might trigger symptoms in someone with a biological predisposition to develop the disorder. As an adult, the person may then experience the symptoms of both unhealed trauma and bipolar. Unexpected feelings of anger are not uncommon for the adult who experienced trauma earlier in life.
In vulnerable individuals, trauma can also lead to symptoms of PTSD or chronic feelings of insecurity. A person with bipolar who also suffers from PTSD would likely experience frequent anxiety and frustration. They might be trying to cope with this anxiety by using more primitive defense mechanisms, such as projection (of irrational feelings of guilt) or acting out.
The person with bipolar might have developed a codependent relationship with a partner, close friend, or family member.2 In this type of relationship, the person who takes the role of the caretaker usually gets into the habit of rescuing the person with the identified problem and often ends up excusing the problems caused by that person.
When this pattern continues month after month, the person being taken care of might learn to rely too much on the caretaker and not take responsibility for their own actions. Blaming others can become an unhealthy coping strategy for that person, and the caretaker in the relationship becomes the target of anger and blaming.
In addition to having bipolar disorder, the person who is often blaming others might have narcissistic personality traits. They do not necessarily have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but they may have some of the traits seen in NPD.1
One of the narcissistic traits is the tendency to project anger and blame onto others. Another trait is the sense of entitlement and the anger that follows when they do not receive special treatment. Difficulty taking responsibility for their own feelings and actions is a third narcissistic trait that may be the root cause of the borderline person’s tendency to blame others.
What Are the Consequences of Blaming Others?
Blaming others impacts one’s ability to manage bipolar disorder symptoms. They are not learning to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions by passing the blame. They are delaying a more honest self-evaluation in which they might realize how their actions worsen their problems. Over time, the bipolar person might perceive themself as a victim of the disorder and fall into a victim mentality.
Another consequence of chronic blaming is that it impairs the person’s ability to develop a support network. The behavior damages relationships and will likely lead potential friends to avoid this person. The bipolar person might end up cut off from the social support that is so important in managing the disorder.3 By no longer tolerating such harmful behavior, you make it more likely that they will seek treatment.
How to Deal With a Bipolar Person Blaming You
The person who another has repeatedly blamed for situations beyond their control may be understandably frustrated and losing hope that the behavior will change. However, there are ways that they might address the person with bipolar and make the blaming less likely to continue.
Some ways to lessen the frequency of blaming by the person with bipolar symptoms include:
Know When to Say No
Saying no in this circumstance means not accepting the blame that is being directed at you. Any statement that the disorder is your fault or that a consequence of their having it is your fault is wrong and hurtful. No one person or life experience causes bipolar, so it is no one’s fault. You might redirect the accusation by stating that you are not responsible for the problem(s) being talked about and that bipolar is a complex disorder with several causative factors.
If the accusation is about something that has already happened, You can ask the bipolar person: “What could you do differently next time to avoid this problem?” or “What are your choices of ways to address the problem?”
If they assign blame to you and ask you to fix the problem, you might say something like, “This isn’t my problem to fix, although I am willing to provide help once you take action.” Another choice is to take a purely supportive role, stating your belief in their own ability to do what needs to be done to improve the situation.
Learning about the causes of bipolar anger and blaming can help to build empathy for the person and greater awareness of their deeper emotions. When the person with bipolar is a close friend or family member, it might be possible to have a conversation with them about their deeper feelings. You might express your wish to understand them better or your willingness to hear them vent their frustrations, as long as they are not blaming you.
For example, you might say, “It has to be difficult to live with bipolar symptoms and to manage all of the challenges. I’m here to listen if you’d like to talk about it.” If they start to direct the anger at you, you’ll need to remind them of the boundaries. You might say, “I care about you and I don’t see this as anyone’s fault.”
Remain Calm & Provide Space
At times, the person with bipolar might become enraged and out of control with their frustration. It will be important for you to remain calm and not direct anger back at them. You might calmly make an assertive statement, such as, “I can’t accept the blame for this.” Giving them some space and time to regroup and redirect their behavior is often helpful.
Put Your Boundaries in Writing
The best time to have a discussion about boundaries is when both you and the other person are feeling calm and agreeable. Boundaries are the limits of what you will and will not tolerate. Putting your boundaries in writing makes them easier to access and respect when the next blaming incident occurs.
Depending upon your relationship with the person experiencing bipolar symptoms, you may be able to encourage them to seek therapy for help in managing the disorder. Supporting an angry bipolar loved one might mean telling them that there’s help available either online or in-person. You might guide them toward finding a therapist and help them select a therapist who fits their needs.
Another option is to offer to attend family therapy with the loved one who has bipolar. You can explain that the disorder affects everyone in the home and that everyone would benefit from attending a family session. The individual with the bipolar diagnosis would also need to work one-on-one with the therapist.
How to Stop Blaming Others for Your Bipolar Disorder
Maybe you have noticed that you are often blaming other people for your bipolar or for the consequences of having it. Possibly you’ve noticed that you have alienated loved ones or lost friends due to blaming them for problems they did not create. The anger you are directing at others is self-destructive, and blaming others hasn’t made your life any better.
If you have noticed that you have a habit of blaming other people, here are some tips that could help you change that habit:
Accept Your Feelings as Valid
Acknowledge your own feelings of anger or grief, shame or insecurity. Acceptance allows you to actively manage them more constructively, such as using self-compassion or reaching out for help. Accepting your own feelings gradually makes it easier to take responsibility for your actions, including the blaming habit.
Have Compassion for Yourself
Experiencing bipolar disorder is a massive challenge and managing it requires a number of life adjustments. There isn’t anyone to blame, including yourself, because there are several causes of bipolar which work together to result in the experience. You can have more self-compassion by learning to love yourself and overcome your inner critic.
Take Responsibility for Your Actions
Blaming others will only prolong your pain and suffering; it doesn’t change the reality of your situation. With help from psychotherapy, medication, and support from caring individuals, you can learn to manage your mood cycles. You are the only one who can practice your own effective coping skills to reduce symptoms. Even though the disorder isn’t your fault, you’re the only one who can manage it so that your life is more content and fulfilling.
Practice Healthy Daily Routines
Take advantage of all of the benefits of healthful routines, such as getting enough sleep, eating a diet that meets your nutritional needs, and taking breaks from stressful circumstances.4 Consider adding stress management skills you don’t already use to your routine. These might include breathing exercises, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and regular physical exercise. 5,6
Being diagnosed with bipolar is a life-altering experience. Professional help is essential to address the emotional and behavioral challenges which are part of the disorder. Treatment for bipolar disorder might include grief counseling to cope with the perceived loss of what you thought your life would be. Trauma-informed therapy might be needed if you know that the symptoms are complicated by having experienced past trauma. Professional help can be found by using an online therapist directory to find a therapist with experience in treating bipolar.
There are various possible reasons to explain why a person with bipolar might get into the destructive habit of blaming others. Whether you are the person being blamed or the person doing the blaming, it is possible to make some changes and improve the situation. In addition to the self-help tips provided in this article, professional help is available.