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What To Do When Someone With Bipolar Pushes You Away

Someone With Bipolar Pushes Away

It can feel overwhelming to witness someone you love in pain. It’s harder when they push you away or when you feel like nothing you do is helpful. Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health disorder that causes massive fluctuations in moods. If someone you love has bipolar, they experience overwhelming highs and crushing lows. If they’re pushing you away, chances are, it has nothing to do with you.

At Sun Behavioral Health Houston, we know how important your role is as a friend or a family member of someone with bipolar. Your support and understanding make more of a difference than you think. If you feel defeated because you’re being pushed away, there are some important things we’d like to share with you.

Overview of Bipolar Disorder

People living with bipolar disorder struggle with episodes of depression and mania. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, here’s a quick rundown:

Manic episodes are sudden feelings of happiness, invincibility, or high energy. When someone has a manic episode, they’ll usually speak so fast that people will have trouble understanding them. They might be tempted to create lists of unrealistic goals or grand plans. They may get so caught up in their feelings of joy or enthusiasm that they neglect basic needs like sleep or food. This leads to harmful decision-making like spending large sums of money or taking dangerous risks.

When someone is feeling manic, they’ll often drop everything to focus on what’s inspiring them or what plans they need to make. During a manic episode, people may say or do things that are out of character or alarming. Depending on the type of bipolar disorder, manic episodes can last anywhere from a few days to six months.

A depressive episode is the polar opposite of a manic episode. Instead of feelings of happiness and joy, someone experiencing a depressive episode feels hopeless, defeated, and alone. They’ll feel almost no energy, lose interest in their hobbies and friendships, and struggle with crippling self-doubt. A depressive episode can change someone’s personality – they can go from fun-loving and charismatic to irritable and snappy. Self-loathing becomes a prominent part of their life.

Someone who’s experiencing a depressive episode may find it hard to continue working or spending time with family or friends. This puts them at risk for homelessness, substance misuse, or even suicide. Similar to a manic episode, a depressive episode can last anywhere from a couple of days to six or more months.

There Are Different Categories of Bipolar

There are three (main) types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic. The type of bipolar someone has can determine how frequently they’ll experience episodic highs and lows. Bipolar I is diagnosed when someone has had at least one manic episode in addition to a hypomanic or major depressive episode. Bipolar II is when someone has major depressive episodes but they don’t experience manic episodes. Cyclothymic disorder is diagnosed when someone has had at least a couple of years of periodic hypomania and depression. Each type of bipolar comes with its own challenges.

Why Do People With Bipolar Push Others Away?

There are a number of possible reasons why someone with bipolar would push others away. This tends to happen during depressive episodes, but it can happen when they’re manic or symptom-free, as well. It can be painful when you’re shut out, but it’s not your fault. Here are some reasons why people with bipolar push others away:

  • They don’t want to burden people with their problems. The inside of a bipolar mind can be a dark place sometimes. It’s common for people with bipolar to worry that their problems are going to bring people down. Sometimes confiding in others can bring feelings of shame or guilt.
  • They could be trying to keep you “out of the line of fire.” Episodes of depression and mania can take control away from the person who has bipolar. Lashing out or irritability are common symptoms of mood changes. They might be worried about hurting your feelings.
  • Extreme mood fluctuations could make them feel distrustful of others. It’s hard for people with bipolar to trust that they’re fully supported. They might worry that they’ll confide in you, only for you to respond with judgmental comments or frustration. Even if you don’t have a history of responding in this manner, it can still be a concern for them. They may assume that you’ll lose patience with them.
  • They may be feeling overwhelmed, guarded, or paranoid. These feelings can hit those with bipolar like a ton of bricks. When they’re in the throes of these emotions, they may unintentionally shut others out as they try to navigate what’s happening on their own.
  • They could be hyper-focused on other activities or tasks. Hyper-focusing is a common symptom of bipolar disorder, and it can change the way someone interacts with the world. During episodes of hypomania, it’s common for people to lose themselves in projects or other hobbies/activities. When someone is hyper-focused, they can only focus on the task in front of them. Everything else falls away, including relationships with friends or family.

What to Do When Someone With Bipolar Pushes You Away

Being pushed away from someone you love can feel heartbreaking and frustrating. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help. Here are some of the things you can do or say when someone with bipolar is pushing you away:

  • Remind them that you’re there for support any time they need you. Rather than trying to tell your loved one what to do or pushing them in the direction you’d like, simply remind them that you’re there to talk. You can send them daily texts saying, “just checking in” or “just wondering if you need anything.” This will help them to feel like they haven’t lost you because of their moods. If you live with someone who has bipolar, you can do little things like making them dinner or picking up their favorite snack from the store. They may not appreciate these things during an episode, but they’ll remember your thoughtfulness and support when they feel better.
  • Respect their boundaries. As hard as it can be to keep your distance, that may be exactly what they need. If someone with bipolar disorder sets clear boundaries with you, it probably wasn’t an easy thing for them to do. Boundaries are healthy and when you follow them, you’re showing the person you love that you respect them. This is a form of support that people with bipolar need in order to maintain their relationships.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment or help. Mental health treatment can make a drastic impact on the life of someone with bipolar. You can support treatment by gently reminding them of how helpful it can be. Remember not to push. You can encourage someone without telling them what to do or how to do it. If they’re having a hard time making it to therapy or doctor’s appointments, you can offer to help. You can offer to drive them to their appointments or offer to take care of things that are preventing them from going. If their therapy appointment is at 4 p.m., but they can’t go because they need to pick the kids up from school and make dinner, you can offer to take care of those chores.
  • Practice active listening, and avoid giving too much advice. If you don’t struggle with bipolar, offering advice might frustrate your loved one. When they talk openly with you, they’re not looking for you to “fix” them. Stay calm when they speak, and avoid arguing. Listen to what they’re saying, and remember that you’re both doing the best you can.
  • Practice empathy, but avoid empathy burnout. Empathy burnout is common among loved ones with bipolar disorder. If you try to get “too far inside their head”, or if you find yourself feeling what they’re feeling too often, it might be time for you to take a step back. You can’t help them if you’re also depressed, fatigued, or experiencing similar symptoms.

Help Someone With Anxiety at SUN Houston

At Sun Behavioral Health Houston, our clinicians are experienced in the treatment of bipolar disorder. We’re passionate about helping those with bipolar manage unhealthy emotions, find healthy coping mechanisms, and live happier lives. If someone you love is in need of bipolar treatment, please call us at (713) 796-2273 so we can help!

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FAQs About What To Do When Someone With Bipolar Pushes You Away

What do you do when you’re trying to help someone with bipolar disorder, but they’re pushing you away?

Remind them that you’re there for support when they need you. Try not to take anything personally – people with bipolar push others away for many reasons. Respect their boundaries, support them, and gently encourage them to seek treatment. Practice empathy, but avoid empathy burnout.

How do you help someone cope with bipolar disorder?

Practice active listening and pay attention to their needs. Offer to help, but avoid pushing them or giving unwanted advice.

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