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'Bipolar' vs. 'Not Mr. Right'

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Can we just stop throwing around emotional diagnoses of people?

Homeschool Mom: Now even my teenager has uttered the dreaded, "So-and-so's ex is bipolar."

man and woman arguing

Just because you can't get along with someone (or have had a poor outcome with them), you don't suddenly have a psychology degree that allows you to pronounce his or her diagnosis.

I understand where the feelings come from. When my husband and I were in a definite pit of arguing and frustration and decided to seek counseling, I was sure that the counselor would confirm my analysis of the situation. (That being: My husband was crackers, and there was a padded cell waiting for him.) 

Curiously enough, my husband had a similar intuitive scene playing out in his own counseling fantasies: They would cart me away while the counselor patted him on the back consolingly and said, "I'm surprised you lasted as long as you did, buddy." Fortunately, however, the counselor was a fair and unbiased man who pointed out each of our failings (and charged us lots of money).

The point is this: It's easy to look at someone you're in direct opposition to and pronounce him or her crazy. But is it true? I remember a good friend whose ex-husband accused her of having "borderline personality disorder" -- which seems to be one step away from "sociopathic maniac." (This from a man who, in years prior, had used nothing but loving and glowing terms to describe this woman and her amazing capabilities as a partner and mother.) Anyway, he was trying to get sole custody of the children and relegate her to supervised visitation. Thankfully, social workers and psychologists stepped in and gave her custody and him visitation on weekends. He is now cordial and even friendly. So: Was she magically cured of her psychosis ... or did he just get over his intense anger?

My own father and mother, while in the throes of anger and divorce, acted like two people who had emotional problems and possibly mental-health issues. My father said later, "Some people bring out the best in us and some bring out the worst. Your mother brought out my worst." Funny as that is, I respect my father for making a statement like that. I try to instill the same perspective into my own son.

People behave poorly when they are hurt and sad. That is just a fact. So I encourage all of us to refrain from armchair psychology while in the midst of relationship difficulties. "Bipolar" shouldn't be an epitaph; it should be a diagnosis from a licensed professional. I intend to teach my son that a girl who isn't right for him isn't a b***h, or bipolar -- or anything other than just a girl HE doesn't bring out the best in.


next: Single Mom Going For the Gold
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
SuperJenn March 5, 2010, 9:06 AM

Well written! Not only is it wrong to attach a psychiatric diagnosis to someone when you are not a professional… it is hurtful and wrong to use the implication of a psychiatric diagnosis as an insult.

I like the thought “Just someone HE doesn’t bring out the best in”.. very nice!

That being said… I AM bipolar… an oh…my poor husband! LOL

Miss Grace March 5, 2010, 9:11 AM

Couldn’t agree more. Although I fervently believe that my ex suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve read over my DSM-IV MANY TIMES. So when I say it, I mean the actual medical diagnosis.

Anonymous March 5, 2010, 2:01 PM

I agree. Its wrong to label people bipolar simply because you can’t get along and then to use it as an insult. But in my experience I have a number of bipolar friends and sometimes I just have the ability to pinpoint someone who is bipolar. Like my newest friend. I spent some time with her and realized that something was up with her. My first thought was that she was bipolar and then it was confirmed when she mentioned that she was bipolar. I’m not a medical professional but being that I have dealt with friends who have the disorder I see the signs. I’ve worked with three and been friends with five. So sometimes I just know.

nmc March 12, 2010, 6:49 AM

so true and well written. my husband was diagnosed 20 years ago, and even though he has bipolar mood disorder it is no-ones right to imply that any of his actions or reactions are due to his disorder. And it is certainly no-ones right to diagnose someone unless they are trained, and even then unless they are are being paid to diagnose them! One can assume, if one has knowledge about the disorder, but that is as far as it should go. Thank you for a well written article and for teaching your teenagers about this disoder.

Diane Jones March 20, 2010, 3:21 PM

what do you do when your spouse self-diagnosis themselves as Bi-Polar?

Julie March 21, 2010, 6:46 PM

Another thing that’s the opposite of this is when people try to use the “bipolar card” to absolve themselves of responsibility for their actions. I cringe whenever I see in the news that someone commits a crime and suddenly they are bipolar, because it gives us all such a negative image. Everyone then assumes that if we’re bipolar we must be dangerous, or seriously flawed at worst, or at best, that bipolar is a fake and used as an excuse. It’s hard enough to be bipolar without all this going on, both ways.


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