Mental Health Blogs

The Relationship Between Bipolar and Anger / Aggression

I am not an angry or an aggressive person. This is not to suggest I don’t have my moments, as we all do, but overall, I have far fewer issues with anger than most people I know. There are lots of reasons for this, I’m sure many have to do with my psychology the way I view anger (I view it as pointless and particularly undesirable).

Nevertheless, it seems that people with bipolar disorder do, on the whole, have anger issues. I’m a bit surprised to hear this as anger is not a diagnostic feature of bipolar disorder, but people write in again and again and talk about either having bipolar and being very angry or being with someone who has bipolar and this partner being very angry.

But are these just anecdotal accounts or do people with bipolar disorder have aggressive and angry tendencies?

Diagnosing Bipolar

When diagnosing bipolar disorder anger and aggression are actually not listed as symptoms. The closest symptom listed is irritation and that is present in manic, hypomanic and mixed moods. Irritability is known to manifest as aggressiveness and impatience with, or intolerance of, others.

But as stated, this is a mood-dependant characteristic. I, certainly, have felt this mood state. It’s very easy to be irritated with the world when you’re moving faster than everyone else, are more “brilliant” than everyone else and are simply “better” than everyone else. “Genius” gets irritated by the “little people” around it.

Aggression and Anger in Bipolar Disorder

But according to this new study,

Subjects with BP [bipolar disorder] display greater rates of anger and aggressive behaviors, especially during acute and psychotic episodes.

This study found that people with bipolar are aggressive when compared to people with other disorders and when compared to healthy controls and this relationship existed even when the person with bipolar disorder wasn’t in a mood episode (although those in a mood episode showed higher levels).

So apparently my feelings of less anger than the average person are the anecdote and those with bipolar experiencing greater anger and aggression are the average.

Dealing with Anger and Aggression in Bipolar Disorder

As the study states, people in acute mood episodes do show greater anger and aggression so, obviously, the first step is to get the bipolar disorder under control. Certainly when you’re feeling well, you have less to be angry about.

But if anger is still a problem with you, I highly recommend you talk openly about it and get some therapy, individual and couples therapy, where appropriate. This is because anger is a highly toxic emotion that can destroy the relationships in your life and diminish any interaction you may have with another person. Anger scares people and traumatizes them and in the end, most people, quite rightly, will not stand for unreasonable amounts of it.

The good news is that therapists have many techniques for dealing with anger and you just need to find the ones that work for you. Not only can therapists teach you these techniques, but they can also help you get in touch with things that may be driving your anger outside of the bipolar disorder. We all, after all, have our issues.

Regardless though, it’s important to remember that having bipolar doesn’t give you an excuse to take your anger out on those around you. Having bipolar gives you the responsibility of finding a way of dealing with the symptom, should it arise.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

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21 Responses to The Relationship Between Bipolar and Anger / Aggression

  1. Sam Barnett-Cormack says:

    I remember the one time I was in psychiatric hospital (I was 16, and diagnosed with depression – that diagnosis wasn’t revised to BP2 for 13 years), I had anger management sessions. They didn’t seem very relevant to me – I don’t get anger, except these weird paroxysms of rage (in which I can get violent) that I’m not sure correlate with any of my mood episodes (of course, that’s all hindsight, which is a bit flawed with moods – I didn’t know I had bipolar, after all).

    The anger management sessions I had didn’t seem to address me at all. They were great relaxation exercises, but my principle nurse told me they were concerned that I didn’t get angry enough – and this was maybe why it came out in violent paroxysms. Thing is, nothing in the sessions addressed the avoidance of repression of anger.

    I haven’t had enough experience with the new self-knowledge of bipolar to really be sure how it affects my anger. I experience frustration when hypomanic quite often, certainly, though not so much with people. At least, not with the person I have most contact with – and I have a fair amount of frustration at other people being slower than me, mentally, when I’m not hypomanic, but again, not with the person I have most contact with.

  2. Ernie Richards says:

    I suffer from Bipolar I and have major anger/aggressiveness issues. I have taken an anger management course which was good but no too helpful for me. It focused on techniques to step back when becoming angry. However I go from no anger to full anger in an instant and then do not realize what I am doing until later. Recently my anger got me into big trouble and now I have to find some more therapy for this or I may be looking at prison time.

  3. catsrgreat says:

    I wonder if bipolar itself is the main cause of these emotional outbursts. Most people with bipolar have had some serious challenges in life, more than their share. Folks like to call those challenges the stressors that brought out the genetic risk of bipolar. I dunno about that, and not going to get into a discussion of heritability. Given the severe stressors that many folks with bipolar have had, I question if it was really possible for the study to control for comorbid conditions, given that the “healthy controls” probably couldn’t be psychologically healthy if they went thru the hell that many people with bipolar have. Perhaps these bipolar patients weren’t as bad off for trauma history, since they weren’t recruited inpatient. And the “healthy controls” had more history of trauma than the average person. Looks like only the abstract is available.

    I guess I’m just fed up with garbage medical studies. Who knows what’s going on? Researchers see what they want to see. My training was in the physical sciences, and these kinds of studies would be laughed out of existence.

    I did not have anger problems until I got onto psychiatric medications when I was about 30. As I mentioned in a couple earlier posts, I got off medications about 3 years ago, after many years of fruitless treatment that only made me worse, and the anger outbursts are gone. I did have to re-learn how to keep my temper under control, but without the akathisia (or whatever it was) grinding away at me, it became POSSIBLE to keep my temper under control.

    Something that did keep it down is that I feel it’s not ok to have emotional diarrhea all over other people. By thinking of it that way, I did minimize it in spite of the akathisia. But I kicked a lot of holes in the walls, broke doors, broke computers. It was horrible.

  4. Pennie says:

    I was diagnosed with Bipolar II. I don’t experience anger or agression towards others, but towards myself. I’ve always said I beat myself up more than anyone else ever could.
    As far as outward anger…nope…not me.

  5. Jennifer Boehme says:

    I’m bipolar, and I think we ALL should have to take a Dialectal Behavior Therapy course. The DBT course helps with coping skills, year class, and helps so much. Buy the book on Amazon if you can’t get in a class, these skills work if you want them too.

  6. Sarah says:

    Hi catsrgreat,
    I’ve also doubted the heritability of my bipolar disorder, given that none of my ancestors had any kind of mental illness. And was it caused by an inherent sensitivity to stress? Or was the apparent sensitivity part of the bipolar, which was then responsible for more stress?

    I’m also with you on the pyschological studies. Most of them, even studies that are considered landmark and important, still leave a lot to be desired. How can anybody truly objectively observe human behaviour? Even if you could isolate someone in a vaccuum, it wouldn’t be the kind of behaviour that we need to know about. However science can still have an important role to play. Knowledge is essential if we are to improve our lot in regards to mental illness. But I guess compassion has just as important a role to play.

  7. gavin says:

    Hi
    i also have bipolar1.i have a very hard time controlling my anger towards thoughtless people

  8. Perry says:

    Hi, I’ve been diagnosed as having Bipolar I. I remember being so angry that I would exhibit outbursts of foul language or obscenities directed at random people on the street and those I know. This resulted in me being attacked by these random people and nearly disintegrated the relationship between my parents and I.

    I’ve always considered enhanced irritability to be another way of thinking about anger even though I don’t recall a doctor ever directly indicating that my anger specifically was a symptom of Bipolar I.

    Although I appreciated studies conducted by mental health researchers and ideas presented about Bipolar Disorder by mental health professionals, I do get the sense that there is much more that needs to be understood.

  9. Edward says:

    I am living with BP2, and have experienced surges of unexplained rage. For me, these episodes would start out as feelings of restlessness and a desire to run away into the great unknown…of course, the realization that “No, you can’t do that you have dinner to make” would really wind me up.

    I’m not certain that it’s a bi-polar characteristic per se, but it seems to be with me….

    -Edward

  10. Lee Beavers says:

    For me I sense waves of anger just prior to having a bull blown manic episode. It doesn’t always happen that way, but mostly it does.

  11. Anna says:

    I have bipolar.
    I am generally a very calm and patient person. Recently though I have sabotaged a relationship due to my rash anger. I am not saying it was unprovoked or violent, it was thoughtless though and very regrettable. The thing is in the moment it was completely rationalize and at this moment still is. I find myself at many times outside my own body and mind when I am having “episodes”. It is almost like an adrenaline rush. It is unlike my core personality, yet it comes from me..it is hard and has in this case destroyed a friendship.

  12. kheloud says:

    would like more newsletters about bipolar illness.

  13. Nanette says:

    My spouse is bipolar. I get so sick of all the support being for the patient. My spouse and I went to marriage counseling and although the counselor knew my spouse is bipolar, he treated us as though we were the same. Bipolar disorder and how it destroys relationships never came up. My spouse was not held accountable for his disorder.

  14. Maddy says:

    I have bipolar disorder and most of the time I’m angry. My doctor says that it’s part of a bipolar cycle. Even though I’m taking a mood stabilizer this feeling stays with me all the time. It’s beginning to scare me because I don’t know that I’m having an aggressive episode, were I’m screaming or being obnoxious, until after it happens. And once I’m in that mood it’s very hard to calm down. Sometimes if I keep going off on someone (doesn’t matter who it is, family or stranger) I realize what’s happening in my mind but I can’t control it. I totally identify myself with Anna because it’s though it’s an out of body experience. I’ve had anger management therapy but it hasn’t helped me at all. So I would definitely add anger and aggression to the list of symptoms of BD.

  15. Jessica says:

    I believe my boyfriend may have bipolar because what ever me and are kids do he really gets mad at us with fits of anger fits of yelling fits of cussing and making threats like the kids made a mess in are bedroom and he told me that i better get of my f**king a** and clean the bedroom or else he is going to do something to me and he didn’t care if the cops were called he’s
    Been calling me bad names and talking very bad about me behibehind my bacback too and he’s always in a crabby mood like 24-7

  16. Dianne says:

    Jessica, I speak from experience when I say you need to get yourself and kids away from your boyfriend asap before someone gets hurt. He has verbally threatened you and that is illegal. In my experience, when the police came, he just denied the whole episode and he was more angry that I’d called the police. The very best thing you can do is leave. I know that’s not always easy, but please focus on finding a place to go with your children. My life was destroyed by my husband’s bipolar anger because I didn’t get out soon enough. Good luck to you.

  17. Alicia says:

    I have been diagnosed bipolar II and I have extreme downs that when I’m up and have all these good feelings of accomplishing so many things and when I start slipping down I get angry that none of the things I wanted to do have been accomplished. Then I start complaining and my body hurts so then I get angry and whoever is around will be the target of my anger which of course is the person I love. It’s sad because I’ve ruined many relationships. I guess the best thing is to live alone and work out my problems with a therapist.

  18. Steffy says:

    I am presumed to be a type of bipolar which type the doctors can’t seem to make up their minds. My chief complaint is periods lasting about 2 weeks of indifference, sudden and unexplainable tears and sadness, hopeless, sleeping or wanting to sleep excessively as well as but no at the same time sleeplessness, irritability/anger, aloofness, racing thoughts, easily distracted, elated to I’ve been started on Lithium months back and at the beginning things were good. But slowly but surely some of them came back and the one that scares me the most is my irritability and anger.

    I have episodes in where I just snap or switch like a light blub. It is quick and appears to be random and prior to it I am trying to control myself trying to breathe but then a switch. I morph into someone that just wants to emotionally scar the other person and starts destroying everything around me while waiting for the person in the situation to do something towards me so I can justify physical harm. I know what I am doing I just don’t feel anything. Like judgment went out the window along with compassion. I am me but not me and I feel such a rush and during these episodes I am laughing and mocking the other person. During these episodes I feel like I am on top of the world no one can touch me and if they did I would easily destroy them. These episodes can last hours.

    I have yet to meet a doctor to tell me why this happens. I have been told that bipolar suffers typically have episodes this way. I know this can’t be because I’ve read plenty of story of which something similar like this happens.

  19. kamalena says:

    Hi Steffy,
    It’s exactly the same my partner goes through. He’s been diagnosed with depression (!), but I strongly believe it’s bipolar. I noticed that antidepressants actually make him worse. Every time his doctor increase dose episodes of rage gets worse and happen more often. I stopped asking why it happens. Just looking for some suggestions how to help him. I’m gonna take him to doctors this week and force them to rethink his diagnose. Hope you have someone who supports you. Remember it’s not YOU when rage comes but your ILNESS.
    Stay strong.

  20. Carrie says:

    My brother was diagnosed with bipolar about 10 years ago. He’s been on various treatments but is currently not using any medication. According to him, he’s managing it himself. Only it doesn’t work. He doesn’t use alcohol, sugar or caffeine since he knows it will trigger a moodswing. However, when he gets tired or overworked, it’s almost as if he looks for trouble or gets paranoid and suspects people’s motives in everything they do. Two days ago, he went through another episode where he threw bricks at me because he became totally p..-off about some remark. I cannot take this any more and while I have been there in the past as the shoulder he could cry on (sometimes literally). I need to step back for my own sanity. I’ve blocked him on my cell phone and will not have any contact with him again until he gets help. This is the first time I’ve ever done this and it’s making me extremely sad. He is my brother and I love him, but I cannot do this anymore.

    His actions are sending me into depression and is affecting my relationship with my husband (who is also trying to be cool about this). I need to start taking care of myself now. I cannot be responsible for his actions anymore.

  21. tara says:

    I have had bipolar since 20 years old I have been on meds the whole time I am 50 now and I am becoming aware of how fast my thoughts change,i can’t watch tv I don’t listen to the radio.i look happy in pic’s all guys say I am beautiful not to many girls want to hang around me.i get vey depressed every holiday,i can’t focus when a person speaks to me I look like I listen but my mind always is somewhere else.i was hospitiled for 3 months once,i have been hospitalized 3 times this year,winters I get very cold.i get lonely, I got really depressed once when my boyfriend of a year told me he did not want me anymore he said go on some web sight and find someone,he said he did not want a girlfriend at this time but if he wanted a girlfriend it would be me,i always look forword to his call,and think of him. I try to hide my depression from him, I am kind, I try to help poor people.but inside me something is gone, I never want to go back in a hospital again,i would just want to see my daughter.

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