Bipolar Disorder Families
by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W.
Families, you may not like this particular article as instead of providing
emotional support, I hope to assist you in looking at some issues that may help
you in your recovery. Sometimes these issues are hard to look at. You must
remember though, that these are my thoughts.
It is a well-known fact that people with the bipolar disorder (BP) can hurt
those they love. Let's not dodge around that. You and I both know that is true.
This is part of the nature of the disorder.
To those of you who are hurting due to loved ones having the BP; we are looking
at the same issue I think but from a different angle.
Families of both hurt. If I stayed full blown manic for very long, I can
honestly say that I would not have a marriage to come home to. In fact, I
probably wouldn't have any objects in my house that wasn't broken. Mania and
depression hurts those that love us.
Are people with BP bad people for that? No, they are medically ill. Are they
responsible for their behavior? Yes.
Here is something I learned while in therapy and it was extremely hard for me to
swallow. I was working full time as a social worker at that time. My problem was
only my horrible, sick boyfriends who were making me crazy. Ok?
How can a well-educated person in the field of mental health be ill? I was on
the "other side of the fence" helping others. The boyfriends however
were bad and of course I was good. I was healthy emotionally and they were not.
At work, I had the social work lingo down. I knew how to talk "mental
health talk." In fact I knew much more about people in a short period of
time just by putting their family history together in my head. I think I
mentioned before that my boyfriends always said I "talked circles around
I was an excellent communicator and an excellent social worker. But I never did
understand why I was attracted to these men who couldn't make a
commitment, who were drug addicted, emotionally abusive, etc.
That was when my counselor told me that the kind of people that I attracted into
my life was a mirror of my own level of mental health. I said "Do you mean
to tell me that I am just as ill as these men are?" "Yep!" he
In the "olden days" we had what was known as the "identified
patient." A mother would come in and tell the counselor "We are fine
as a family. It is just Jr. He is getting bad grades, wetting his bed, screams
at his father, etc." Back then he was the "identified patient"
and only he was seen in therapy.
Today, the whole concept has changed. Now when a mother comes in to say the same
thing about Jr., we say that the whole family is ill, or out of kilter and the
whole family is asked to come in for therapy. Jr. is displaying symptoms of
problems within the family system. The family system needs to be worked on.
Now how would this apply to you, the family member of someone with bipolar
disorder? Well, the mania or rage may not be directly caused by the family
system but due to their medical illness, BUT remember what I said earlier. This
is where you need to ask yourself this question: What is it about me that
attracted me to my mate?
Remember, the people we attract into our lives are at the same
level mental health wise as we are. Tough pill to swallow isn't it? You are not
alone. It was hard for me too.
So, when you discuss your recovery, you need to also focus on yourself, not only
on your mate. You need to discover what it is about you that needs work. In
fact, many of you need to get your mind off of your mate and on to you finally
and work on yourself.
Many times families ask the same question, but in different ways. "How can
I get my partner to get help?" The answer: You can't!
Your partner has to want to get help for themselves. If they do not want help,
there is absolutely nothing you can do except to work on yourself and ask
yourself the question of whether or not you want to continue to live in your
current situation. Case closed.
If you are struggling with codependency, you will have trouble with this. You
may still believe that you can control your partner. Let me ask you this. Have
you ever been able to control your partner in the past? Of course not. Nor will
you ever. You must remember at all times that you are powerless to control
If you are heavily involved with blaming your partner and coloring them black,
this will not assist your own recovery. You cannot help your partner if they do
not want help but you can get help for yourself.
I have received letters from true and devoted codependents who vow to stay with
their partner, though their partner has kicked them out of the house and is now
living with someone else. Their reason? They say their spouse cannot help their
behavior due to their illness and that their spouse needs them.
What is really going on here besides very unhealthy thinking and behavior? Could
be lots of things: relationship addiction, etc.
Just because your partner has an illness and thus acts ill, does not in any way
mean that you should continue to live with rages, mood swings, etc. The BPD and
the BP can be treated if the person wants treatment.
People with bipolar disorder are not powerless over their lives and believe me
when I say, they do not need anyone to come along and "save them."
They (we) are people just like everyone else who make choices and decisions
about their lives. They can live in denial and not get help or they can decide
they want better lives and get some help. However it is important for families
to know that that choice is up to your partner, not you.
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Copyright © Patty Fleener, M.S.W. All