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What is the Connection Between Bipolar and Anger?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Bipolar and anger are inextricably linked and have a very specific relationship to each other. Bipolar disorder is a condition where the brain is unable to regulate mood for long periods of time, and people can swing from mania or hypomania to pronounced depression. Mood swings are essentially the brain’s expression that it lacks the appropriate biochemistry to maintain an even mood, and whether a person is depressed or manic, anger is likely to manifest as a symptom. The brain chemicals that stabilize mood, in part, influence control of anger.

Many people who have bipolar disorder describe angry states as moments of rage that they afterwards knew were overblown and unjustified. It often doesn’t take much to provoke anger in someone experiencing mood swings. The relationship between bipolar and anger that gets easily expressed also explains some of the inherent difficulties of this disorder. People who have uncontrollable anger may have difficulty retaining jobs or functioning well in society. A bipolar mom or dad who can’t resolve this issue could range from frightening to abusing children, and spouses or partners can have trouble dealing with a partner’s lightning shift to a furious mood.

While there is clear association between bipolar and anger from a biochemical perspective, another element comes into play. People who inappropriately express anger show they have little knowledge of how to manage this emotion. Poor anger management skills are actually an encouraging sign in a person with bipolar because this is one area where people can improve. Though it is absolutely important that mood be stabilized with medication, which might reduce anger episodes, that doesn’t always resolve anger issues. Fortunately, therapy can help with anger control.

Many different therapeutic schools address management of bipolar and anger. These range from traditional psychodynamic approaches to third wave behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy. As mood swings gradually respond to chemical control, any of these therapies can be useful in learning how to deal with and safely express emotions of anger. Therapeutic work of this nature, though difficult, is often very satisfying to the bipolar client because many people with this condition feel deeply ashamed when they lose their tempers, and this is an experience they may have had repeatedly.

Another unfortunate consequence of bipolar and anger is the amount of guilt people manifest for behavior that seems to fall outside of their control. Additional guilt fuels self-hatred, greater mood instability, and more anger. As moods stabilize, dealing with these underlying feelings can help people forgive themselves and learn to exert greater control in the future.

Even with medications, most people with bipolar disorder will experience episodes of mood destabilization in the future. Self-awareness through therapy can also help people identify if this occurring. One early symptom of mood destabilization is a sudden return of extreme anger that is difficult to control, despite successful therapy for this issue.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon340070 — On Jun 29, 2013

I really don't think you understand the relationship between bipolar and anger. Medication presently used does not work in my family, who all have some form of mental illness, from bipolar to social anxiety to schizophrenia. These were inherited. These illnesses do not mean we were stupid. They mean probably that something is wrong because of a chemical imbalance, caused by our genetic makeup. Lithium does not work for us. With other medications, the cure is worse than the ailment, and they only bring on other illnesses, like obesity, dullness, etc. Anger is a tool used to stimulate someone to bring them out of a mood of helplessness or dullness.

I think people should learn a great deal more before they begin to teach. Some therapy is not only useless, but it depletes people of what little money they have, and sets them off on the wrong track for a cure.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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