Bipolar Reactions and the Emotional Chain
And when we look at these reactions, the emotions, thoughts and actions involved form a chain. I call this the emotional chain. And this chain drives bipolar reactions both mentally and physically. But what is an emotional chain and how can be break it when need be?
The Emotional Chain and Bipolar Reactions
Everyone experiences emotional chains. Emotions do not exist in a vacuum. You do not have an experience and then a single emotion and that’s it. No, your experience drives emotions, which drives thoughts and other emotions, and eventually actions. This is totally normal. And, admittedly, most people don’t pay all that much attention because their emotional chains are what we call “normal,” (or something like it). They have an average emotional and active response to external stimuli.
(This is not to suggest that many people would not benefit from paying attention – many people would. But I’m not talking to them at the moment.)
So a typical, daily, emotional chain might be as simple as something like this:
- You go to Starbucks.
- The barista ignores you and helps other people.
- You feel hurt and anxious.
- This hurt makes you feel bad about yourself and more anxious.
- Your anxiety and feelings of low self-worth disallow you to correct the barista.
- You leave Starbucks without coffee.
- You beat yourself up about letting your anxiety win.
- You start to feel like you’re lesser than other people who you just know would have done better.
- You spiral downward and start to feel unlovable.
- Depression starts.
Obviously this chain isn’t logical and isn’t reasonable. There’s no reason why one person’s, likely honest, mistake should cause you to act and feel in such a way. But it happens. That’s just the way chains work. And the sicker we are the more illogical our chains tend to be.
(Of course, your reaction to being ignored by a barista might be to scream and rip a strip off of her, but that’s another chain altogether.)
The important thing to realize is that chains can start from major or minor life events. It usually easier to see it when it happens due to a major event, such as, say, a death, but emotional chains happen all day long and sometimes chains can be started by an errant thought and not even an event.
You Can (and Need to) Break Even Overwhelming Emotional Chains
Each step in the emotional chain amplifies what happened in the previous step. So, it’s easier to break the emotional chain early than it is to break it later. It’s much easier to say, “Oh, I’m feeling anxious because of being ignored. That’s okay but I don’t have to act on it,” than it is to talk yourself out of a whole depression or feelings of worthlessness. Don’t get me wrong, you can break the chain at any point, but earlier is better.
As I said last week, you can use your logical self to beat back these types of irrational chains. It’s how I do it and it’s a lifesaving coping skill. Why is it lifesaving? Because it can prevent the moods that lead to self-harm and suicide, that’s why.
Breaking the Emotional Chain and Changing Bipolar Reactions
As I said, it’s easier to break an emotional change at the beginning. So, exactly when you start to feel something, ask yourself why? What are the implications? What is your brain doing right at that minute?
In the above example, that would be step three. You start to feel hurt and anxious. Consider, why are you feeling that way? Is that a reasonable way to feel? Are you overreacting? Is your bipolar in play? What do those feelings make you want to do? Is that reasonable?
Because it’s perfectly okay to feel those feelings, it’s just not the greatest thing to allow them to control you. It’s best if you break that chain and say to yourself, “I know I feel hurt and anxious right now. That’s okay. I know that it’s not personal. I know that it’s my disease. I can still be assertive enough to deal with this situation.“
But it’s Impossible to Break my Bipolar Emotional Chains!
After my last post about dealing with overwhelming bipolar emotions with logic, some people complained that it was too hard to do. And breaking emotional chains is no walk in the part either.
But neither are impossible.
As I said last time. I do these things. And if I can do them, surely you can too. Surely I’m not so special that I can perform miracles. Surely these are just skills. And anyone can learn a skill.
I never said it was easy. But I did say it was possible.
I Failed – I Can’t Break my Bipolar Emotional Chains
That’s okay. I never said it would go perfectly on your first time (or second time, or third time…) out. It’s a skill. Skills take practice. You shouldn’t beat yourself up just because you’re not a natural. Remember, I’ve had years and years of practice at this stuff. Nobody picks it up overnight.
And besides, I would suggest by practicing it at all – you have won because you’ve started watching and thinking about your own emotion and thought processes. You’ve started to notice your chains. And that’s the first step in learning to break them.
And in saying all of that, sometimes no coping skill, this one included, works. Sometimes the bipolar gets us no matter how good we are with chain-breaking and logic-using. It’s the disease. Sometimes it’s stronger than us. Sometimes it overwhelms us. That’s okay. That’s part of battling with a very strong foe. Sometime the foe gains the upper hand.
So try the skill out, use it when you can, and congratulate yourself no matter how far you get. You’re working at it. And that’s perfect.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.