Bipolar and Displays of Emotion

October 21, 2014 Natasha Tracy

People with bipolar display emotion perhaps more than most. For example, there are few places in this small city in which I haven’t cried. And some of those displays of emotion are entirely linked to bipolar disorder. If I wasn’t bipolar, I wouldn’t have had them. However, some displays of emotion are not tied to bipolar at all, and yet, no one seems to understand this.

Bipolar Displays of Emotion

I’m the first one to admit that I display emotion more than most. It’s usually tears (every emotion seems to pop out my eyeballs) but sometimes it’s anxiety (where I get short, snappy and controlling). I admit it. My bipolar makes me outwardly emotional.

Non-Bipolar Displays of Emotion

That being said, there are displays of emotion that are just plain normal. Displays of emotion that your average person would exhibit happen too.

The problem is, people attribute even these displays of emotion to bipolar disorder.

“Go Take Your Meds”

It’s incredibly dismissive when a person attributes your genuine, real emotions to an illness. When someone writes off what you’re saying and just responds with, “Go take your meds,” it’s incredibly hurtful and minimizing. We have feelings too! And those feelings should be allowed expression, just like with everyone else.

Why I Can Never Get Mad

Watch this video to see why people with bipolar disorder and displays of anger.

Understanding Bipolar Displays of Emotion

Because here’s the thing, I know when my display of emotion is directly triggered by bipolar disorder 99% of the time. I know when my sobbing makes no sense. I know when my anxiety is out of control. I know when things are caused by an illness in my brain. And I usually know when my emotions are realistic. I usually know when my emotions are just me being me. And I need that to be acknowledged and respected.

People with bipolar display emotion more than most, but can people with bipolar disorder ever have normal displays of realistic emotion?Now I do understand, that from the outside, it might be tough to tell the difference. Sometimes it’s compassion that makes someone else attribute our actions to bipolar. I get that. But really, if in doubt, the most reasonable thing to do is ask me.

“Natasha, can you tell me why you’re feeling that way right now?”

Because then I can tell you, “I’m feeling out of control because of the bipolar. I’m sorry.”

And keep in mind, I really do try to keep my displays of bipolar emotion out of other peoples’ ways. I have no desire to have my bipolar spit up all over you. I try to make it so that my displays of emotion are reasonable – to the best of my ability.

Long story short, we just want to be treated like everyone else. Yes, I admit, sometimes we’re not like everyone else, but then, sometimes we are, and we deserve to have our realistic feelings heard and dealt with just like you would with anyone else.

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

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2014, October 21). Bipolar and Displays of Emotion, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

August, 21 2017 at 6:10 pm

I am a bit late in on this conversation, but I could not agree more. When I received my diagnosis and the people close to me knew---it felt like everything I did, thought or felt would be viewed through that lens. "Oh, Jen is just depressed. Jen needs more meds." People with mental health conditions have at least the same spectrum of human emotions as all people do. When our thoughts, actions, and/or emotions are shuffled off to our condition it devalues us, and (as dramatic as it sounds) takes away our "right" to feel and have that feeling be called valid.

February, 18 2016 at 5:45 am

This message is for Sherry. When you threw the wine at your mom on Christmas, how old were you are the time? Maybe I should re-phrase that. If you were drinking wine and not really drunk and your mom or anyone for that matter said something to you that insulted you, then yes you had the right to do that. Obviously you were old enough to drink, but having even your own parent insult you was totally not appropriate even you being their daughter and regardless of your age. Putting it another way: I can do that to my child regardless of their age simply because the child is mine; I DON'T THINK SO! Correcting a child is one thing, but outright sarcastic comments are totally another thing.

November, 26 2014 at 6:40 pm

I mostly agree with your video about people assuming that anger is a symptom of bipolar rather than an authentic response to crap.
BUT... I think these days people seem to act as if NO feelings is the norm and that anyone with feelings is abnormal. I am tired of people telling me that compassion is a sign of emotional weakness, seems that ANY emotion is a sign of being out of control. People with no connection to emotions are called sociopaths/psychopaths. THAT is far more scary to me than someone expressing FEELINGS.

November, 25 2014 at 7:50 am

I love this part "It’s incredibly dismissive when a person attributes your genuine, real emotions to an illness. When someone writes off what you’re saying and just responds with, “Go take your meds,” it’s incredibly hurtful and minimizing. We have feelings too! And those feelings should be allowed expression, just like with everyone else."
I have terrible PMS and have since I was a teen. I get irrationally emotional one(ish) week a month and am constantly dismissed about it. If I'm generally sad or upset about something it doesn't "count" until I'm still sad about it a week later.
There are reasons for feelings, whether reactive or due to something beyond our control, whatever that may be! Dismissing them is like dismissing US as if we are unable to have genuine feelings of "normal" people.
I'm sure whether you have bipolar or premenstrual (or insert your diagnosis here) "feelings" they hurt just as bad and cut just as deep as "normal" feelings~sometimes, for this exact reason, they hurt worse!!

November, 23 2014 at 6:18 am

I get the anger thing. I was so angry and understandably frustrated with a pdoc because he insisted on upping the dose of medication I was on THAT MADE ME FEEL TERRIBLY SICK. The side effects were ten times worse than the symptoms the medication was trying to treat and he wanted to up it??? I was telling him in angry outbursts that I felt like I was talking to a wall because I didn't feel like he was listening to my initial complaints that the medication I was on was making things worse NOT BETTER!!! My anger was VALID yet he took it as a symptom of my bipolar disorder and wanted to give me more. Doctors really need to learn to listen to their patients more if they want them to comply. Thankfully my pdoc was eventually willing to try something new with me that finally worked a lot better

Jill McKenzie
November, 4 2014 at 8:07 am

Thanks Natasha. It helps. I'm almost through another day. One day at a time right?

Jill mcKenzie
November, 4 2014 at 2:58 am

I feel like my heart is breaking. The suicidal thoughts won't stop. I'm dragging my family down with me. I fel hopeless, lost, and alone. I'm tired and I just want to give up. I'm tired of fighting.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
November, 4 2014 at 4:47 am

Hi Jill,
I have felt that way more times than I can count and I have felt suicidal more times than I can count. But I can honestly say, there is something on the other side of that.
I recommend you read something I wrote about being too tired to fight any longer here:
Please note that link goes to my personal site and is no way affiliated with HealthyPlace.
I hope that helps.
- Natasha Tracy

October, 27 2014 at 9:27 am

I am British and very calm and polite. I never cry. But last Xmas my mom insulted me and I just threw the contents of my wineglass at her. I am still living it down. But it was almost enjoyable...
It was a reflex and I was a bit drunk. But I prefer doing that than shouting abuse back. Was it an assault? Or just tit for tat?

October, 26 2014 at 11:08 am

I really struggle with anger and relate to the "I can't get angry because..." idea. If I do get angry, I get this "there, there, don't get upset" kind of respond. Instead of addressing my concern, I'm just not "allowed" to get angry.
My feelings are so strong that they can be scary, especially anger. I have broken things before, starting at the age of 8. When I saw that part of me, it was so scary that I internalized anger for many years. Now I have to get to a quiet place and take time to calm down. In extreme cases, my husband can talk me down. Only after the initial storm can I formulate a clear response to or awareness of what just happened.

Greg Mercer
October, 23 2014 at 6:38 am

You speak to an extremely important issue. Among providers, such confusion is far more common than I'd like. I've seen nurses, physicians, and others assume that anger or distrust are pathological: labels range from irritability, mood lability or reactivity, paranoia, lack of insight,and on and on. Many times it has been clear to me that a treater action was the root cause, so often that I began to call it kicking someone in the shins. If they get made at your kick, whose fault is that? Is it a symptom? I submit that it's a perfectly normal response, and that among even acutely symptomatic people, most reactions, decisions, and feelings involve perfectly normal human functions, even if often influenced by symptomatic, inaccurate information. We need to stop blaming the other so readily, and start owning responsibility for our errors so we can improve our relationships and people skills. People with and without mental illnesses have far more in common than most assume.

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