Walking on Eggshells Around A Person With Bipolar Disorder

September 2, 2010 Natasha Tracy

Recently I was contacted by someone (let’s call her Ms. X) who wanted to end a friendship with a bipolar person and asked me how to do it with the least harm possible. I talked with Ms. X and it appears that her bipolar friend had been doing some very hurtful things. I asked Ms. X if she had talked to her friend about these things. Ms. X said that no, she hadn’t.

So why is terminating a friendship preferable to talking about the problem?

Bipolars Behaving Badly

I have bipolar disorder and I know that my mood leaks into everyday life, no matter how much I don’t want it. I’m very conscientious when it comes to keeping my bipolar hidden from others, but let’s face it, sometimes I fail. These failures don’t tend to be very dramatic, but it doesn’t mean that other people never get hurt. And for some bipolars, their mood swings can be very hurtful indeed.

It’s not much fun to be around someone with:

And so on. Each person with bipolar has their own special list as to what bipolar symptoms slip into their lives.

Can’t We Just Talk About This?

It’s true that when a person is in the midst of a depressive or manic episode discussing their behavior may not be all that helpful. It’s difficult for someone in the middle of a brainstorm to pay attention to anything other than the lightening in their head. Nevertheless, at some point, someone needs to say something.

While actions committed in an episode can be more indicative of the disease than of the person, it can still hurt nonetheless.

People though, seem extremely reluctant to just say so. For some reason they don’t want to say they were hurt by the actions of the person with bipolar disorder.

But I’ll Break Them!

That’s not really true. You can’t cause bipolar any more than you can cure it. Now I’m not suggesting that a raging fight with your significant other will have no effect, but I am saying that discussing how you feel, asserting yourself and defining boundaries are reasonable things to do and when done calmly and lovingly, are good for both of you.

Won’t They Just Figure Out Themselves How I Feel?

Now that’s just silly. No one can read your mind. And a bipolar most especially can’t do it when they’re in the grips of their illness. No, you’re going to have to be a big boy or girl and talk to them.

So, How Do I Discuss A Problem With a Person With Bipolar Disorder?

Pretty much like you would discuss it with anyone else you care about, I’d expect. Try to get your thoughts together, and then find a quiet time when you’re both OK to sit down and rationally discuss the problem. A good sentence is:

“I felt hurt when you ____. That was not OK with me.”

You may wish to follow it up with something like:

“I understand that is part of your illness, but I still need to express my feelings around it.”

And then finally,

“How can we can work together to prevent this from happening again?”

That’s how I would deal with anyone. A mental illness doesn’t make the person a block of C-4 explosive.

(This is not to suggest that some people don’t have anger issues and won’t react well to this sort of conversation. If you feel that is the case then I recommend having the conversation in a therapist’s office. Again, that’s not specific to bipolar disorder, that’s just a fact for some people.)

Why Should I Bother?

Well, that’s a question left to the reader, but what I will say is that if you care about this person, then they deserve to know what’s going on. They deserve to know how you feel. They deserve to know what hurt you. They deserve the chance to make it better. They deserve the opportunity to prevent this in the future.

It betters both of you to deal with an issue openly and honestly. You can let go of your hurt and anger, the person with bipolar disorder has the chance to improve themselves, and your relationship becomes stronger. Everybody wins.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, September 2). Walking on Eggshells Around A Person With Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 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.

Natasha Tracy
September, 7 2010 at 5:50 pm

Hi Mark,
No doubt about it, the truth can definitely be a smack in the face.
Congratulations. I give you big kuddos for addressing the issue and being honest, and to your partner for wanting your honesty. You guys are great role models :)
And I do agree, you have to take care of yourself first. We all do.
- Natasha

September, 6 2010 at 11:21 am

thank you so much for this. I've been tip toeing for a couple years and right now, my b/f is coming out of an depressive wave. The sad part is that when he is deep in it, the smallest missteps (or big ones that I make, and, I am certainly not perfect, I have been known to say the wrong thing) will send him deeper and into a place where he starts taking about how we maybe shouldn't be together and how he has never lived up to anyone's needs etc. During light moments, he still has his insecurities but they are certainly not as black or white as they are in the darker times.
I know more lies ahead...good and challenging. It comforts me to remind myself that sometimes what is said in his darkest hours is more his disease than him.

September, 5 2010 at 1:02 pm

Communication is definetly the key and being honest and real. I used to struggle with humoring people when "storytime" began and reality left the building for awhile. Without being argumentative, I never really knew how to tell a loved one "hey you're on a trip to the moon and you got the facts a bit off" without either upsetting them or hurting their feelings. BS sessions I used to have with my buddys used to make the fish we caught 3 times bigger and the girl we went out with Sat night alot prettier so I kinda understand the feeling to bend the truth sometimes to either feel good or feel a little more important then life has you at the moment.
The real change came for me was when I found the courage to ask. I came just so close to walking away. You really do feel like you're hurting someone by presenting the truth to them, especially when the truth is hey friend you're Mentally Ill today and not doing well. So I finally asked. Babe, when you're on your trips off planet earth, what should I do? She said tell me, it's bring me back. She said her mind is like a wild mustand that gets loose sometimes from the barn and doesn't even know its running loose sometimes until someone tells her.
I'm fortunate right now, the ride is calm, but bumps and turns I'm sure will come. Best advice I can give is not to give up, be truthful in handling the illnesses, take care of yourself FIRST and talk your brains out. Hopefully by being open and honest we can get some cures.

Natasha Tracy
September, 3 2010 at 8:01 am

Hi Kate,
That is a good point regarding self-harm although suicidal thoughts are part of the diagnostic criteria for bipolar (from the DSM-IV):
"recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide"
- Natasha

September, 3 2010 at 7:42 am

suicide obsession and self harm aren't usual indicators of bp

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