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Seven Biggest Myths About Bipolar Disorder

There is a perception that people with bipolar disorder are violent, lying, cheating, manipulative individuals. These myths aren't true and here's why.

Ah myths, we love them, don’t we? Friday the 13th is unlucky, Canadians live in igloos and drinking Coke and eating Pop Rocks will make your stomach explode. (Your stomach might not, but your pancreas is another matter.) People buy into myths all the time. When enough people say them, especially if the people are holding microphones or best-selling books, people assume they must be true.

But as a good friend of mine always says, trust, but verify.

Myths About People with Bipolar Disorder

These myths are brought to you by the commenters, here, at HealthyPlace.

  1. Bipolars are liars
  2. Bipolars cheat on their partners
  3. Bipolars are manipulative
  4. Bipolars are “spoiled teenagers”
  5. Bipolars feel it’s “all about them”
  6. Bipolars are angry and violent
  7. Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are almost the same thing

Well now, that’s quite a list. It’s amazing I’m allowed to live outside with all the “sane” people. For my own part, I am nothing like those seven things. I have never known a bipolar that was those seven things. Nevertheless, let’s soldier on.

Debunking Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolars Lie

Lying is not remotely a symptom of bipolar disorder. It does tend to be found with some personality disorders, however. That being said, I will admit it’s almost impossible to be honest about how I feel with people as they don’t want to know about it. My obfuscation is to prevent the other person from knowing how horrible I feel. If you’d like to know about the blood-dripping suicidal ideation, I’ll tell you, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know.

Bipolars Cheat

Depending on the survey, between 30%-60% of married people cheat. These are just your average run-of-the-mill-survey-answering-folk. Perhaps even more surprisingly, 27% of people who reported being happy in their marriage have had an affair.

Statistically then, at a minimum, 30%-60% of people with bipolar disorder also cheat. As hypersexuality is a symptom of bipolar disorder, it reasonable to think that bipolar disorder would lead to higher numbers, probably both in the person with bipolar disorder and their spouse. (Sorry, I can’t find any specific, reliable data.) But with a number already higher than 50% in some cases, it’s unrealistic to blame cheating on bipolar disorder in general. Most of the time it’s just the people in the relationship.

Bipolars Manipulate

Again, this is not remotely a symptom of bipolar disorder. Manipulation is often associated with personality disorders, but not bipolar disorder.

Bipolars Act Like Spoiled Teenagers

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this one. In fact, I’m not going to bother.

Bipolars Think It’s All About Them

Mania or hypomania does have a symptom of “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity”. Basically thinking that we’re the bee’s knees. This is different from the selfish “it’s all about me” concept, however. Again, that is more typical of a personality disorder. (Not that inflated self-esteem is the best trait either, but most of the time we have pretty low self-esteem, so give us a bit of a break.)

Bipolars are Angry and Violent

There was a specific systematic review on this subject – I’ll shortcut it for you – bipolars are not more likely than the general population to commit violent crime (once alcohol use was taken into account). People with alcohol problems, bipolar or no, are a different matter.

Borderline is the Same as Bipolar

Borderline is a personality disorder, considered part of someone’s “core personality” whereas bipolar is not. Bipolars have a distinct symptom-free baseline when the person is feeling well. A borderline’s symptoms are their baseline. Bipolar disorder is not borderline personality disorder. Period. They’re not even in the same family. Some symptoms do cross-over, but that is common in medical diagnoses. (Please read Borderline Personality and Bipolar Disorder Differences, which does justice to this topic.)

Just Because I Do It Doesn’t Mean it’s a Symptom of Bipolar Disorder

In short, I’m sure there are bipolars who do lie, do cheat, do manipulate, are selfish and are violent. I have no doubt that they exist. But that’s not disorder-specific; that is part of who they are.

Just because a person with bipolar disorder does something, that doesn’t make it a symptom of bipolar disorder.

Personally, it scares me and I jump when someone knocks on my door, I despise opening mail and I loved jumping out of planes. That’s not bipolar disorder. That’s just me.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

48 thoughts on “Seven Biggest Myths About Bipolar Disorder”

  1. I have bpd and come from a family with it that goes back at least 3 generations. I attest to the fact that yes sometimes I lie, but so does everyone I have ever met. It is NOT a symptom of BPD, it is a sign of being human and falling short of the glory of God. I work very hard every day to be a person that others can talk to and trust. I am proud to say that I have friends who trust me to the point of being there when they give birth. NONE of these are symptoms, but they are common behaviors for people with mental illnesses and also with people who suffer from addiction. To lump all people with BPD into one category is absurd. That is like saying every person with a striped shirt is a rapist, completely unfounded and downright wrong.

  2. I think the biggest issue with the above comments is the difference between self diagnosed or misdiagnosed and clinically diagnosed bipolar. None of the above myths are diagnostic criteria for bipolar, and that indicates to me, and most of the medical profession, that they will not be present in all people who have bipolar. So the arguement that “I have met lots of people with bipolar and they all did these things” is invalid. Unless you have met every person clinically diagnosed with bipolar (and that is highly unlikely) and have observed them constantly (pretty much impossible) you cannot make such assumptions and have anyone with common sense believe you. And such an arguement means you are disregarding any other diagnosis that a person might have. Many mental illnesses do not occur in isolation.

    I have bipolar. and the myth that bothers me the most is the violence one. I had a teacher during my Assistant in nursing training who spouted that myth as fact. There were two of us in the class who were clinically diagnosed with bipolar. Please note that to get a traineeship in aged care you have to pass a police check and have no recorded violent incidents. We both verbally objected based on personal experience. Neither of us had ever be violent to another person. Any violence had always been directed towards ourselves.

    The lying thing, well I’ll admit to lying about my illness. Its hard not to lie when you are paranoid.

    Cheating? Never have. I dont display the heightened sex drive that is one of the diagnostic criteria for mania.

    Manipulative? Maybe a bit. I just want peopleto like me, and avoid conflict. But so does mostof the “normal” population.

    “Spoiled teenager” – not even sure whats meant by this myth, so can’t really formulate a reply.

    “All about me”? I have been an assistant in nursing in aged care for seven years, not a job that pays well enough to do for the sake of money. I enjoy helping people. I have just qualified to be a registered nurse. One of my down swing triggers is upset friends who I can’t help. I have accrued 224hrs of sick leave, meaning I have been rarely sick, let alone taken “mental health days”. I feel horrible when I do call in sick, because I know my co-workers may have to work short staffed. I recently have had major events in my life that have made my mental health worse and had to take time, because I know I am unable to provide the care that my patients deserve.

    “borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder are almost the same thing” – well yes they share some diagnostic criteria, most mental illnesses do – BUT – bipolar tends to be cyclical, and there are periods where NO symptoms are present. Borderline is a personality disorder – meaning there are personality traits that make everyday living hard for the person, meaning the disordered behaviours/thinking is present all the time unless a person gets therapy to address the traits or develops their own methods to allow them to live without it affecting ay to day living. The differences between BPD and Bipolar are set out in the DSM-V which PSYCHIATRISTS use to diagnose the disorders.

    Its pretty hard to start looking into mental health disorders without thinking “OMG, thats so me” because most people have traits that are used as diagnosic criteria. These traits are only an issue if it effects everyday living. So a lot of people who have looked in to it and self-diagnosed themselves so they have an excuse to be less than stellar examples of the human race, they actually wouldnt be clinically diagnosed with anything.Treatment is also quite different between BPD and Bipolar. All of that being said, there is nothingto say that both cannot exist within the same person, they are not exclusive diagnoses.

    By the way, I hate having to admit that my head is the reason I can’t do something, I hate using my illness as an explanation for my behaviour, and I never use it as an excuse (for me at least, there are miles of difference between explanation and excuse, an excuse means its not my fault because I had no control over something, and explanation explains why I acted a certain way)

    So really, “All bipolars do these things” is a really stupid assumption. To receive a diagnosis of Bipolar, you only have to meet a majority of criteria for depression and mania/hypomania., not all criteria. Any diagnosis from anyone but a clinical psychiatrist is not a formal diagnosis, and in my experience, most psychiatrists are reluctant to give a firm diagnosis on a person unless there is irrefutable evidence, even though they may treat as though the diagnosis is definite.

  3. I have schizoaffective disorder along with bipolar, which means that for most of my life I have had thoughts that were just not real. I felt rejected by my family, because what I was believing did not make sense.
    My husband helps me sort things out and helps me when stress gets to be too much to remain stable. When I get either manic or depressed (especially depressed ) I just cannot think well at all. I find out when I am well that my thoughts were wrong and try to repair the damage, but my family has been hurt for too long for them to be willing to deal with me, to challenge poor thinking. I get tired and suicidal when I compare myself to their achievements.
    My husband understands. He is a safe person which helps me not get too unreal.

  4. Myths? Yea ok. Every bi polar person I’ve met had every single symptom in your so called MYTH LIST. Seriously. That’s exactly who they are 100% give or take a number. Your weird and obviously lying because your all this or never new anyone with it.

  5. 1, 3, and 6 are NOT myths. Of course bipolars are going to say they are myths, however with my experience with living with bipolars, yes more than one, and with associating with other bipolars that 1, 3, and 6 is definetly not a myth!!!

  6. Wow! Hey guys,
    I am feeling supported and judged all at the same time reading these comment so I thought I’d add another perspective. I have bpd,adhd and bipolar 2. Bit of a complicated mix but I noticed a lot of support for mentally ill people in general, so that’s good….mostly…but….a few people have made it seem to be fact that lying and manipulation are symptoms of bpd which is not true. It has been noted as a symptom of antisocial personality disorder though. But then I don’t think there is a single person with or without mental malady who has never lied or manipulated…if we’re generalising. I don’t know how usual it is but I personally thrive off the truth when I’m hypo to extremes sometimes. I am generally severely cheerful and positive mostly. My self esteem is lifted by the realisation that I can positively affect anyone around me. I normally feel allot more alive and in touch with everyone’s emotions and enjoy trying to make them happier. When I depressed its the complete opposite I guess I am pathetic with barely anysocial ability at all, everything seems like hard work and I barely leave the house. I have currently not seen family or friends for 6 weeks and am almost certain they hate me. This is not a sob story as despite the rep of borderline personality disorder I understand sympathy is useless to me, I do not want to negatively affect the people I love so much with my misery as I have in the past. It is hard for all of us with the brain that seems to want you dead sometimes, probably just as hard even worse some times for the people who support us at our worst.

    Do the abbreviations bpd, bp2, add really mean you can define that I will lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and neglect ur feelings?

    If so I must be evil having three abbreviations as apposed to one?

    Should I die?

  7. Coming from someone that does not struggle with mental health issues and has the awful pleasure of dealing with unmediated individuals and medicated …..all those points are spot on. Some more intense than others but yes this is majority of the BP’s I have ran into/know. the individuals I know professionally I don’t trust at all, most of my colleagues feel the same – all over the place and unreliable. It is VERY difficult dealing with someone professionally and personally who is suffering with this. I am very grateful that I am not afflicted by this disease. Good Luck!

  8. I am NOT BP, but have several sweet friends who suffer from the disorder, and several not so very sweet friends whose behavior makes me wonder if they are just mean, CHOOSING to behave in a manner that fulfills Bible prophecy of people’s heart conditions in the “last days” 2 Tim 3:1-5 After observing them, listening to them, seeing their reactions & treatment of others, I came to this conclusion: BP & the 7 myths Natasha listed are 2 SEPARATE issues. Before any of you down trodden caregivers of those who continually display ALL the symptoms on the list, fire off a rebuttal let me explain. I have seen all the bad behavior that seems on the SURFACE a characteristic of most BP. I have been a victim of hateful , vicious, abusive speech. The tone of the BP person so evil sounding that most people could NEVER, ever, try as they might, imitate it. I’very been told “oh, they are sick, they can’take help themselves, you must over look it”. This was said AFTER the supposed bp person called me over to their car, said their angry tirade, then floored the gas pedal. Had I not jumped back 2 feet, I would have been hit. So us it truly BP, BP with personality disorder, just personality disorder or plain selfish meaness. Let’s reason on the matter. ALL of us non-BP humans, who have various chronic and/or serious health issues, especially when extreme pain is involved, can when confronted with additional overwhelming problems such as finances, family issues and the like, react like a wounded animal. We can strike out at those we love the most. Just look a the Bible account of Job. He withstood the loss of his beloved children, wealth, etc, and yet never said a negative comment about God. But as soon as Satan was allowed to cause such tremendous physical pain, this righteous man began to say such things as: God didn’t care if he remained faithful or not, God destroys the innocent with the wicked alike. (Job 9:22) Be patient non religious people, because the abused caregivers will soon see the point they were making & Natasha’s. Job 6:1-3,7:11,16 says Job was in so much anguish his “words have been wild talk”. Was there a reason for his wild talk? Absolutely. Was it an excuse? NO.Job chap 32-41 shows how GOD corrects Job’s thinking. And he humbly accepts the counsel & repents. HE DOES NOT USE THE FACT HE WAS IN HORRIBLE PAIN, HAD BEEN EMOTIONALLY TRAUMATIZED by the LOSS of his CHILDREN, went from rags to riches, & was FALSELY ACCUSED of wrong doing, nor did he have any human to comfort him. There in lies the difference between the BP person who as Tiffany stated is “self-aware’ and those Natasha & Ladyrider68, Feb 2, 2015 described as “bad seeds” who use their illness as an excuse for poor behavior”. I feel it is A GRAVE INJUSTICE to TRULY BP SUFFERERS, to be labeled by the 7 myths mentioned in Natasha’s list. The one’s who choose to act badly. Who refuse to acknowledge, apologize, or accept kind correction. Those who use their BP (if they truly are ) as sn excuse for bad behavior, are truly hurting innocent people, including not only the true BP sufferers, but the loving, caring people who have to endure such abuse. Just look at what such behavior has resulted in. Caregivers have been so traumatized, that they totally misinterpreted NATASHA’S blog. She plainly said “I’m sure there sre bipolar’s who have displayed these 7 traits, but it is NOT a symptom of bipolar.” THEY are either borderline personality disorder which means as the person grew up they developed this behavior because of environment or in my unexpert opinion, were NEVER taught self-control. Whether this was because of lack of parental guidance, or other environmental factors. This is who the person is on the inside, their core personality. Look @ the link Natasha gave. Excellent! These are the symptoms so many of you described. This is what I have seen in the “not do sweet friend”. This is what is so sad, if it is personality disorder or a combination of the two, and it has been misdiagnosed, then our loved ones WILL NOT get better. The link showed the different treatments for
    BP which is a chemical imbalance of the brain, & thus carefully monitored medication can help the BP sufferer live a fulfilled life w/family & friends. The personality disorder individual needs therapy. They NEED 2 b re-trained on how 2 behave or they will lose those who love them the most. To just say “oh well, they can’t help it”. Will cause the person to get worse, they will become more uncontrollable, and more alienated from the world around them. Of course, like Job, they MUST accept the help in order to correct their thinking. I originally Googled this: how do you know the difference between a person who is bp or just mean and selfish? Of all the sites that popped up, Natasha’s quote was the one that made me think “jackpot” finally someone who recognizes the difference between BP & someone choosing to act in a bad way, whether they know it or not. So, thank you Natasha & those who realized what she was saying. I hope that all those who have been traumatized & abused by those they love will look at the personality disorder link, and see you were right to find this behavior unacceptable. Yes, at times BP sufferers can behave like the list, as all humans can, when undergoing overwhelming stress. But, continual abusive behavior is NOT a symptom of bp. I hope all of you caregivers can heal & find true happiness, love, and peace. To those who may be suffering from borderline personality disorder, and truly didn’t realize it, go to the link and get help.?

  9. Bipolar disorder is a spectrum disorder with generally 4 levels. The 4th level is at a psychotic level. Clearly, Miss Natasha, you are on the lower spectrum and admit you’ve never known someone that has all 7 “myths”. I can confirm that these “myths” are indeed FACT. I met and married someone in the manic “happy” phase of his high level bipolar disorder. What happened next was pure HELL. I didn’t understand what it REALLY is and can be. I have since educated many people including coworkers so they can better understand. It has not been easy as it is talking about a very personal thing, but I feel that people need to know more and know the truth.

    If you research into it enough, you will find out how spouses suffer having to deal with it. At the high end, almost all of the marriages fail. Even after the divorce, I did my best to get him psychiatric help and on medication so that he could function somewhat normally at work. See more below…

    It is TRUE that:

    Are liars (and VERY good at it. You have to be really sharp to understand this.)
    Cheat on their partners (in ways you don’t want to know).
    Manipulative (Masters Degree in this one.)
    Bipolars are “spoiled teenagers” (not necessarily true, but maybe this is the final step to being totally psychotic.)
    Feel it’s “all about them” (And don’t you forget it. A death in your family can be distracted by a small splinter and how they are discomforted. They don’t like to hear about others pain at all.)
    Are angry and violent (Not going to go there. Be prepared)
    Highest Bipolar disorder and personality disorder exist together.

    In addition:
    Substance abusers: alcohol and/or drugs
    Self-grandiose themselves to the point of irrationality
    When in the manic high, they pretend to be the most loving, caring people, but more often than not it’s a hidden agenda to get what they want.
    Quit or get fired from jobs VERY frequently when in the low phase due to anger or substance abuse on the job.
    Are very sneaky.
    Will blame things on you in a heartbeat when they have done something wrong.

    If people can understand this and not deny it, please help them to understand what they have and try to get them help. The ex did read a book I gave him on the spectrum of bipolar disorder, and he was unsettled a bit because for the first time, he said this and I quote, “It was like looking into a mirror.” They need proper psychiatric therapy with someone who KNOWS and is specialized in bipolar disorder. Also, then need to be treated with the proper medication for their needs. And they need to be educated about the disorder to understand what they have. They may not fully realize what they have and need to know that someone can understand and help.

    Relationships don’t work at this level. Learning to control themselves is a lifelong struggle and being involved in it can tear the other person apart. A neighbor ex-cop told me after my divorce, I was “lucky to come out of it with all my fingers and toes.” He’d seen worse.
    I got out early and life for me is now pretty darn good! But I had to educate myself to heal from it and I learned to make decisions by being more aware of things.

    Best wishes!

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