What To Do When Someone With Bipolar Pushes You Away
In recent years, the stigma behind mental illness has been slowly but steadily ceasing.
More and more people are finding it easier to talk about their experiences of mental health issues.
This is a great thing for those who suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, because they can now seek help without fear of being judged or ridiculed.
According to a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans have experienced some form of mental illness.
The same study found that only half of these individuals received treatment for their condition.
The NAMI report also found that many people who experience mental illness are afraid to tell others about their conditions. They believe that if they admit to having a problem, then they will be perceived as weak or crazy.
If you know someone suffering from bipolar disorder, whether it be a friend or a family member, you will have witnessed firsthand how this illness affects them.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, an individual’s mood swings could last anywhere between several hours to days.
Some go through periods where they feel manic and energetic, while other times they feel depressed and lethargic.
When someone with bipolar suffers from severe episodes, it may even affect their ability to work or function normally. If your loved one is experiencing extreme bouts of mania or depression, he or she may need professional help.
You may find that your loved one tries to push you away during these difficult times. They may get angry at you for not understanding why they are acting so strangely.
Or, if they are experiencing particularly low moods, they may try to completely shut you out while they are feeling down.
This behavior is often referred to as “pushing away”. It is common among those with bipolar disorder, especially when they are going through a depressive episode.
However, it is important to remember that pushing away does not mean that your loved one doesn’t care about you.
In fact, most people with bipolar disorder want to make sure that they are around for you and that you don’t end up alone.
What is the best way to help in these situations? After all, you don’t want your loved one to feel even worse than they already do, and you may feel that you are causing more harm by trying to reach out to them.
However, there are ways to help your loved one understand that you love him or her no matter what.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
To fully understand what your loved one is going through, you will need to know exactly what this disorder is. This way, you can better understand what actions you should take when he or she begins to act differently.
According to the Mayo Clinic, bipolar disorder is a type of brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy levels, activity level, sleep patterns, and thoughts.
These changes usually occur over a period of time. For example, a person might suddenly become very happy, talkative, and energetic, but later become irritable, sad, and withdrawn.
These fluctuations happen over a short period of time, which makes it hard to predict when they will occur.
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed based on a combination of factors, including the presence of at least two of the following four types of symptoms:
- Depressed mood (feeling sad, empty, hopeless)
- Irritability (being easily annoyed, irritated, impatient)
- Psychomotor agitation (acting agitated or restless)
- Decreased interest in activities or pleasure
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, although some research suggests that genetics play a role.
There is also evidence that certain environmental factors such as stress, diet, and lifestyle choices may trigger or worsen the condition.
The good news is that bipolar disorder is treatable. Medications can control the symptoms, and sometimes prevent future episodes.
How Do I Help Someone Cope With Bipolar?
As we said previously, those suffering with bipolar often find themselves in such dark moods that it can be difficult for them to socialize.
Seeing as these drops in mood can seemingly appear out of nowhere, without a trigger or warning, it’s not surprising that this can take a serious tole on a person.
When your loved one is depressed, he or she may be unable to communicate their feelings. If this happens, it is important to let them know how much you care about them.
While there is nothing you can do to change the situation, you can show your support by being available to listen to them. If they don’t want to be around anyone, then you can leave them alone.
This can be frustrating for you, as you may feel too worried to leave them alone, especially if they have a history of self-harm.
The situation differs depending on your relationship with this individual.
If you are dealing with a child who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you’ll probably want to seek professional advice from a mental health specialist.
If you’re dealing with an adult who has been diagnosed with the illness, however, you can still provide support.
Here are some things you can try:
Remain Patient With Your Loved One
It may seem like an impossible task, but try to stay calm and patient. Your loved one needs you right now, even if they aren’t able to express it.
Try not to get angry with him or her. Instead, try to understand why he or she is acting the way he or she is. Try to see it from his or her perspective.
You may feel the urge to express your frustration at times, but this will not help in the slightest: it only serves to make matters worse.
Stick Around For Support
If your loved one wants to be alone, it can be difficult to know whether he or she really does need space or if he or she just doesn’t want to talk to you.
You may feel torn in these situations, not knowing what to do for the best.
The best thing you can do is to remain positive and supportive.
Be sure to ask questions if he or she seems distant or withdrawn. If they really do need to take some time to be alone, be sure to keep an eye on them so that you can offer any assistance needed.
Stay close by, or encourage their family to stay close if you do not live with them.
Even if they do not want to leave their room, make sure that someone is close by in case they need assistance.
If they have expressed a desire to self harm, or have a history of self harm, ask if they could leave the door open, so you can monitor them.
This is also true if they have expressed suicidal thoughts or intentions. Make sure that you are aware of where they might go, and that you can contact emergency services immediately if necessary.
Do Not Force Your Loved One To Open Up
If your loved ones won’t open up to you, do not force them to. It is perfectly fine to ask them questions, but if they are not interested in talking, it is better to respect their wishes than to push them into opening up.
It may feel frustrating if you ask, “what’s wrong?” only to receive the answer, “I don’t know”.
While this answer may seem strange to you, often times there is no trigger for a bipolar episode, and the individual really doesn’t know what’s ‘wrong’. Remember, this is way more frustrating for them as it is for you.
Your loved one may also feel embarrassed or ashamed to tell you what is going on. If this is the case, try to reassure them that you love them and that you would never judge them for anything.
Try to remember that your loved one is struggling with something very real and very serious, and that they deserve compassion and understanding, even if you don’t fully understand the situation yourself.
Don’t Make Them Feel Guilty
This is a mistake that many people make with their loved ones, even without realizing it.
If a person is deeply depressed, or even suicidal, you may think it will help to remind them of all the good things in their life.
“Think about your children”. “Think about your family”. “You have so much potential”.
“Things could be worse”.
You may think that saying this out loud will make your loved one realize how lucky they are. However, most people who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder already know how lucky they are.
They know that they have a loving family, friends, and opportunities.
However, when they are that deep in a dark depression, they don’t care. All they can think about is how to stop the pain, and reminding them of these things will only serve to add to their misery.
Instead, focus on helping them get through whatever is causing them distress. This includes listening to them, giving them support, and being patient.
Be Prepared To Call 911 If Needed
Calling 911 for a loved one while in a manic or depressive state can be one of the hardest things you can do. You may feel that you are betraying them, especially if they insist that they do not want to go to hospital.
However, if you suspect that they might harm themselves, you should call emergency services immediately.
You may find yourself feeling guilty about calling 911, but remember that you cannot control how others react to your actions.
It is important to act quickly and decisively if your loved one has expressed any desire to hurt himself or herself. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Make sure that you have all of the information available to you before making such a decision. This includes details like their medication schedule, recent medical appointments, and previous suicide attempts.
You may also consider contacting a crisis hotline. These numbers provide 24-hour free phone counselling service. Some of these numbers include:
- 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) – Crisis Hotline
- 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – Depression Helpline
Mental illness can be extremely isolating, for both the person suffering and those around them.
Seeing someone you love suffering is one of the worst things in the world, especially if you are unsure how to help. If they are pushing you away during this time, you may feel completely useless and hopeless.
The best thing you can do is to be patient, understanding, and supportive.
It is also absolutely essential that you take care of yourself during this time, and seek out support if you need it. If you are in a bad place yourself, it will be much harder for you to help your loved one, and the cycle will never end.
You are not alone. There are many people who are willing to lend a helping hand if you let them. The bigger the support system, the better, and hopefully, your loved one will get through this tough period as soon as possible.
Lastly, remember that your loved one needs you now more than ever, even if they say that they don’t. Don’t give up hope just yet.
We wish you and your loved one all the best.
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT (license:115130)
Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.
Last updated: December 1, 2022