Coping with Bipolar Emotions Using Logic

I’m a very logical person. I’m an intellectual. I was raised that way and I remain that way to this day. Likely, because of that, it’s more obvious to me than many that logic can be used to deal with bipolar emotions. I can separate my logical self from my emotional self. It seems to me that the general person does not do this. However, I consider applying logic to emotion a critical skill in coping with bipolar disorder.

The Emotional Self

We all have an emotional self. It’s the part of us that flashes into emotion (usually) because of an external stimuli. So, for example, someone says something hurtful to us and we experience emotional pain and likely want to reach out and hurt that person back. This is a pretty normal emotional chain.

Of course, in bipolar disorder, this emotion may be a great overreaction to the situation. Or, perhaps even worse, our bipolar emotions are not in response to any external stimuli but simply exist because of the disease.

The Logical or Intellectual Self

On the other hand, there is the logical self. This is the self that moderates our emotional self. Our logical self is able to deal with situations in an intellectual and empirically reasonable way. For example, when someone says something hurtful, we still experience emotional pain, but the logical self may stop us from reaching out and retaliating against the other person.

In bipolar disorder, our logical self can be damaged or overwhelmed by our bipolar disorder. I think this is normal. I think that sometimes our logical self just doesn’t function well (or even at all) because of how strong the disease is. However, many times the logical self is still there if we look hard enough to find it.

Coping with Bipolar Emotions Using the Logical Self

So the coping skill that I use, and that I advocate others use, (with or without bipolar, quite frankly) is to use logic to cope with bipolar emotions. This isn’t necessarily easy, but it is doable and can really help moderate the effects that bipolar emotions can have on your life.

Bipolar Coping Skill: Logical Self-Talk

Self-Talk

Self-talk is the prime example of logic or intellect trying to defeat bipolar emotions. Self-talk comes in a variety of forms. Traditionally, self-talk runs along the lines of, “I’m good enough and people like me.” In other words, self-talk is designed to defeat negative thoughts. That’s fine, but that’s not really what I’m talking about.

Logical Coping with Bipolar Emotions

I’m talking about something more along these lines. For example, someone hurts my feelings by saying something nasty. I feel emotional pain over it. As is typical with bipolar disorder, I overreact to this nasty comment and start to internalize it. I start to think that the person is right. I am bad. I am unlovable. I will die alone.

My logical self, though, is able to look at that situation and see the logical flaw in my thinking. So no matter how far along the emotional chain my emotional self has gone, I’m still able to stand back and say,

I am overreacting to this situation. What I am feeling is not reasonable. These are bipolar emotions. This person said something nasty and that’s not about me, it’s about them. One nasty comment is no reflection on me, my worth or my lovability, but rather, it reflects on the person who said it.

And this works in pretty much every situation. When you’re feeling depressed, your logical self is able to say, “I know I feel depressed right now. This depression will not last forever. I know this is a symptom of bipolar disorder and not really me.”

I think what’s critical is:

  1. Acknowledging the very real, and often very painful, bipolar emotion.
  2. Pointing out that it is a bipolar emotion and likely an overreaction to the situation.
  3. Reminding yourself that this bipolar emotion is not reasonable and we need to talk ourselves down from the overreaction.
  4. Reminding yourself that we don’t have to act emotionally even if we’re feeling very emotional. We can choose to act from logic and be reasonable.

Acting from the Logical Self

I’m not saying this is easy, and I’m not saying you will be able to do it 100% of the time. But one of the things that gets bipolar people in trouble so often in their lives is an (upper-case) EMOTIONAL reaction to a situation that deserves an (lower-case) emotional reaction. And I don’t believe we have to blow up that way. I believe we can use our logical selves to deal with even the strongest of bipolar emotions.

And, of course, the more you practice this skill, the easier it will get. I promise it works. I do it every day and it’s one of the reasons I manage to do so many of the things I do. You can do it too.

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  1. trouble is two things happen, either you cannot see the logic as that is the nature of the beast , or you’re so busy trying to modulate your emotions that you go into slow motion and everyone thinks you’re dumb or switched off. I’ve found that using logic is definitely they way to go but its a great deal of pressure added to an already confused state. meds help me now but i’m just saying , logic doesn’t pertain to an illogical mind in the moment.

  2. I too have seen the clarity of logic. That cold sharp steel of emotionless clarity. For me it cuts the endless train of thought. Those thoughts that drive me emotionally into the abyss. It seems to me that logic is the polar opposite of our emotions. Logic is the mechanics of the mind emotion is the soul.

  3. Hi,

    In my damaged brain’s broken dictionary, intellectuality can not be separated from emotions. imho, we sense the universe both with emotions and scientific knowledge. Thus, the two style feed each other to end of the life time on earth

  4. I was recently diagnosed having a bipolar disorder… and i have survived 32 years without being really diagnosed. My ups and downs were manageable….but then when i went into arguments, people always perceive me as being a type of person who doesnt have feelings. ..until to the pont i was bombarded with too much arguments and misunderstandings while i was in a whirlwind of other emotional situations at hand, adding the fatigue- I lost it to my emotions- I, in fact, have and displayed A LOT OF ANGER, AND MORE FRUSTRATIONS compared to others. …which led me to being finally diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder.
    The point is- how i could get away 32 years of a lifetime without being diagnosed and barely noticed? I DID SEPARATE MY FEELINGS AND MY THOUGHTS.

  5. I think that in general these are good advice but I also believe that the logical and the emotional self are sometimes nearly impossible to separate – mood disorders would not be mood disorders if they did not affect logic. I do not however think this means that the bipolar moods are all emotion and no logic, I think they can sometimes (not always) be perfectly rational in a context of the experiences and frustrations many bipolar people have experienced in their lives which may or may not have been a part of ones life for a long time, for many a long time before they even got the diagnosis. Also strong emotions tend to be self-validating and this is pretty natural. We might get mad because someone and that person maybe then says “Stop being angry, it is stupid and you have no reason to” – then we will most probably get even more angry because we feel our emotions are ignored and we feel like we have to really show how mad we are. It may be an overreaction but it certainly is not without logic or irrational, at least not if you are bipolar. Also when we are overwhelmed with depressed or manic moods our minds start to filter our thoughts according to the mood – if we are depressed or anxious we will see all the reasons in the world why the mood might be “the truth”, we might feel like a bad person and soon we will have a long list of “proof” to why this would be true and it will go on repeat, while thoughts and facts that might prove the opposite will either be repressed or suddenly seem irrelevant. No matter how logical or rational thoughts may be they always come with an emotional “value” that makes us more or less prone to believe them and these values will both be manifest expressions of our personality and self image, and if we are bipolar we will do this even more intensely. Self-talk helps sometimes but when the logical self is devalued and the emotional self self-validates we are likely to trust the emotional reasoning over more neutral logic we have a problem. In some cases I think self-talk can turn into obsessive-compulsive thinking and rumination that make us obsessed with finding a “true” answer where there sometimes is none. In such cases I think distracting oneself with a silly movie or doing some yoga or mindfulness – whatever breaks the circle of rumination – helps more than employing logic.

  6. Omg I have been doing this technique for a couple of years now and to be honest, I thought I was super smart for doing it lol. I’ve never heard or read of anyone else doing it. It does take lots of practice and it has allowed me to have a good job and go “undetected”. The weird thing to me is every thing I read of yours is as if you’ve written straight from my brain. Thank you for making me feel “normal”.

  7. Mostly awesome article!

    You are not using the terms logical and emotional properly- at least not “logical”. Logical means “able to put facts together to reach a truthful conclusion”. Emotions do not have anything to do with that, nor are they the opposite of logic.

    A person could be extremely emotoinal (happy, laughing, sad, angry, nervous, grieving, etc) and still be able to look at facts and come to a truthful or accurate conclusion by putting them together. I could be screaming at the top of my lungs and still see one plus one is two.

    On the other hand, I could be very stoic and calm and yet illogical, and think one plus one is three.

    The word you want is REASONABLE, not LOGICAL.

    Without realizing it you are furthering the myth that a person who is expereincing emotions cannot be logical (truthful, factually oriented, mathematical, etc). It is a false theory that bullies wield against their victims (especially, I would think, bipolar ones): You’re experiencing strong emotions so what you are saying is factually incorrect.

    Also, your idea about overreactions is a bit misguided. There is really no such thing as genuinely over or underreacting, since everyone’s experience is differnt and different people are harmed more or less than others, by the same thing. Saying “this is overreacting” is like saying “60 degrees is cold”- it’s a opinion and nothing more.

    Other than that, I loved the article.

    Yes, people can let their feelings get in the way of their perceptions of the facts, or at least let them skew them (“I feel angry at Bob, therefore Bob is the one who stole my lunch”, etc), but be careful not to paint emotions as the opposite of logic or use the word “logical” to mean “reasonable.”

  8. Hello everyone, sorry to bother, I´m from Argentina, and came across this blog by chance. I apologize in advance if something does not make any sense, because my english may be rusty.
    Actually, I don´t suffer from bipolar disorder, my younger brother does. And I´m on the quest to find ways to help him in any way I can, so this blog is very helpful for me to merely understand how he may/must feel with his problem. Hewas diagnosed over a year ago, and I understand, that altough he may have been bipolar since birth (I don´t know) it triggered after my dad died from cancer (brain cancer, very difficult time) and everything went downhill from there, he was very attached to my dad.
    Before my questions, I need to explain that in my family, feelings o sharing whit each other isn´t very common, I define my family as supporting whit facts, examples and aid, but we never talk to each other about deep things.
    Questions:
    1) How can I approach to him, in order to let him know that I´m here for him, and I would do anything I can to help in coping whit this? I find it very hard to talk, but reading some posts here, I realize that sometimes words can be very helpful.
    2) I often wonder if his friends are aware of his bipolar disorder, I don´t think he told them. It´s correct for me to tell his friends about it? Or is something I must not do? I think that maybe, if his closer friends are aware of this, they may be more comprehensive about it.

    Now a question about me, I don´t have BP, but i do suffer from anxiety and had some panic attacks in the past, I live a very estressfull life because of that, and I read somewhere, I don´t remember where, that a good thing to do, when living with a person who suffers, its to first try get well yourself, so you can help better. How can I do this?

    I konw this question may be not as deep as I thougt when i typed them, but are honest and straightforward.
    Thanks in advance, and I have to say that this blog is very helpful, I will try to translate some posts, to email them to my brohter (I does not read english very well).

    Best regards,

    • Ivan,
      These are just my thoughts about your questions… As long as my family/friends approach me with love & a willingness to understand living life being bipolar, that’s a great start.
      I cringed a little when you asked if you should tell his friends, sorry. I have very strong thoughts about that-at one point my husband wanted to take it upon himself to tell certain family members. This is my deep, complicated, euphoric, sad beautiful life, and unless I can feel safe exposing myself then they do not need to know. You should most definitely get yourself well, then not only will you feel good, and your better able to help your brother. You can find all kinds of help/resources by looking up information on the internet. Take care!

  9. I just have a few small questions. I have a friend of mine an ex actually that I love dearly but I never knew it was like this for him he’s young and bipolar. I’m not bipolar but I do stay on my thoughts and I am told often too much thinking leads to bad thoughts and ive been there plenty. So would you be able to answer a few small questions.. please

  10. I realize I am behind in my comment as it is August now, but everything I just read Natasha just happened today. its like I was meant to come across ur site to help me. I thank u so much

  11. Pingback: Coping with Bipolar: Sometimes Thinking Is the Hardest Work of All - black dog pie: a magazine on depression and bipolar

  12. I have used these techniques for years with much success.Unfortunately A couple of years ago ,after being in remission I guess my cycling came back with a vengeance.Black depression cycling with horrid mixed states.I know I need to do these things but I just can not.What I am trying to do right now is to acknowledge what is happening and not hate myself for it.As far as stopping the craziness of the mixed states…I am powerless and white knuckling it.Not too logical.

    (I am a little freaked out to be writing this,I am normally very private)

    • Thank you for sharing this. I am experiencing the same thing right now after years of maintaining a much more even keel. Mixed states are indeed a horrid thing to endure! :( I hope we can find some relief. It is exhausting, not to mention the adverse effect it is having on my relationships and my quality of life…

  13. Excellent post! From my experience I see the “emotional self” as the inner child. The “logical self” is more the ego but if you’re suppressing the emotion you’re really just building a deference mechanism and bottling things up in side. When ever I feel an emotion I don’t like, like anger for example.. I always ask my self WHY is this emotion coming up, instead of trying to logically tell myself why I shouldn’t show the emotion. Asking WHY gets to the route of the problem, once you find what it could be that’s causing the emotional trigger, and you actually face that fear and DEAL with it within yourself, then you will be truly free from it. You shouldn’t just pin it down to “I’m feeling this emotion because I’m bipolar” – that’s just an escape card, or something like “it’s not my fault, I’m just a victim” That is not really going to help you in the long term. What will help you is to LOGICALLY go back into the past memories, and think of every time you felt that same negative emotions, and try connect the dots. Try and figure out WHY you over react to a certain trigger and really look at it carefully, see it for what it is, and try to accept it, and forgive yourself for holding onto it and start to let it go of it. It’s not easy, but what really works well, is to feel that trigger, let the emotion out. You’ve blocked it so long with your logical mind, now it’s time to let it out through your heart. Ever felt better after a good cry, well for strong trigger – this technique really works well. And this is all about feeling it, accepting it and letting it go – make peace with it. It’s about healing the inner child. And I assure you, the next time this emotional trigger comes up, you’ll immediately go back to thinking how you understand the trigger now and have started to accept and let go of it. And the more you do this the easier it becomes to not be affected by the trigger until you are completely free of it.

    I tried a lot of things, and for me, this really helped me overcome huge triggers which were hampering my recovery, so I recommend trying this technique.

  14. I believe if you truly set your mind on something,IT CAN BE DONE.
    As long as your willing to engage in the hard work that accompanies it.
    You will see the rewards…

    Or start from the beginning ,find a role model you can draw strength from.
    Well,Natasha,one of my favourite role models is YOU.

    Ciao,have a rocking day!
    Nice to be middling once more!!!!!!!

    Ps never discount the role of humour in your life!
    I never listen to sappy poor – me love songs…I watch Jimmy Fallon,Chris Rock,various British comedians online
    ( UTUBERS).
    We don’t have to stay up till 12 mid to watch,then.
    You will DEFINITELY feel better after watching…then too laugh or die…online.
    Happy day bipolar friends in cyberspace!!!!
    :-)

  15. This sounds like a very good coping mechanism// living mechanism!
    I’ve been brought up to be logical,but my illness is like a barricade the prevents appropriate reasoning.
    I’m getting better,but your right,it’s not an easy task & it’s something you always have to be aware of..

    The seperation of the emotional//logical self.
    It’s like anything gets easier w practice.
    Anyhow,that’s been my personal experience.
    Everyone’s experience will be different.

    My analogy of the moodswing as a wave,somewhat illustrates this point,as well
    You know in one part ( logical) side ok. I’ve had my meds done my coping techniques.
    Now I have to not be afraid,& ride it out…remember there are impulse control buttons out of whack,RESULTING IN
    REPERCUSSIONS FOR my behaviours………….AFTER the storm comes the calm…..
    }Then,it will subside and the calm will come after the storm.
    Things do get BETTER….ITS 100% true for most of us…..
    But,unfortunately it’s a daily process,as w any serious illness.
    This post as usual,came after a horrible period,but,as you read I’m not in hospital or dead….
    So,OBIOUSLY there’s been quite a lot of change and hard work,taking meds,extra sleep,better nutrition.
    More of my own tricks,to stay out of the not so nice hotel w the shitty rules ( no comment) over drugging and crap food!!!
    :-)

  16. True story ! We all know that we have a personal space, and its invasion can cause us to do or react in odd ways depending upon the situation. And yet I used this little circle as a starting point for bettering myself in dealing with my explosive temper and anxiety. A few years ago I worked in a Newspaper’s mailroom, and of course a lot of things were going on; always busy and noisy. Quite often there would be a large crash, a machine going haywire, and of course the clichéd floor supervisor who would appear out of nowhere, swearing and cursing, doing his best to get us to worker harder and faster that was simply inhumanly possible.
    — So beginning with my little personal space, ( circle ) every time something I believed went wrong, and that burning rage would overcome me, I would deliberately ask myself if I could accept the what ever it was into my circle. At first it was just little things that I could sneak in, but being able to do so made it easier to deal with the larger issues until I actually became almost human in most cases. Yes, it took years, and having that emotional side to begin with, I still exploded on occasion, but I kept at it, remembering to ask myself automatically when the painful rage flooded through me if I could add just one more thing into my ever-widening circle. Before I left to return to Michigan, I was one of the best workers they had. I felt it even without the positive comments I received.

    • Robert, i like the concept of having MY circle. My safe place and what can i accept in it. I also think about a saying, it is cliche, but it works for me. “We teach people how we want to be treated”. If I want respect, I have to have it for myself enough to stand up for myself too. Not talking outwardly necessarily, but having that internal conversation. My circle so to speak. Thank you Robert.

      Nothing to do with this, but i am feeling a sprinkle of happy this morning. After waking like i usually do (wanting to be gone) we made a souffle and am now baking brownies while eating the souffle! It is proving to be a sunny day inside and out! Oh please gawd, make this last a few days!

  17. I know one thing. If I didn’t have a strong sense of reason I would have been dead long ago. One thing though I believe emotion IS life. Reason is a tool to get to the good ones I believe, but maybe too much gets you there to begin with in my case or others. Been trying to figure these things out for a while. Read a quote from someone once that sums a thought up like this. Nessesity(sp.) is the mother of invention, if you don’t have the need you don’t invent. As in if not depressed you have no reason to think of emotion so much.

    • yes, i was agreeing with you!!! you are sooo smart! i think you are great and i have a high level of respect for everything you say. i will keep trying for now. thanx!

      ya know, i am in my 50’s. i thought i was supposed to get wiser as i got older! NOT! especially after multiple deaths of loved ones, one was my husband, and two gf’s; one a suicide in my living room. and much of the distress is that my life is nearly over and i still feel bad. often i wonder if i should keep trying, what’s the point. it is so lonely.
      sorry i wake every morning saying, “sh**, i’m still here”~~it’s just not right! life should not be THIS hard!!!

  18. This article is exactly what I need to work on. My irrational emotional responses to situations overrode my logic a few times to many over the jolly Christmas period. Often times if there are too many racing thoughts and emotions it seems too overwhelming to deal with. Now I have no partner and have said things to my Mother that I can never take back. Wish there was a handbook to deal with hyper mania. Let’s hope that this strategy can keep me from losing other important relationships.

  19. Interesting post. Rational self-talk is a technique that I am trying to use more often. I tend to move into cycles where I am agitated, easily irritated and more prone to anger. When someone irritates me I try to say “I know they woke up this morning trying to figure out the best way to jack with me”. The sheer ridiculous of that saying tends to help.

  20. Yeah, putting a Vulcan Nerve Grip on the whole brain thing is what kept me going until I could finally admit oh hey, something’s wrong, let’s beat a diagnosis out of people who want to pretend I’m okay ’cause I can smile (I’ve lost count of how many people assume I’m okay because I do my best to keep myself cheerful). So definitely a great coping tool!