Take Personal Responsibility for Your Bipolar

Recently I was talking to a friend (also with bipolar) about personal responsibility. She is a very successful, high-functioning person and one thing we agreed on was the importance of taking personal responsibility for your bipolar disorder.

Personal responsibility means a lot of things to a lot of people but I’m specifically talking about taking responsibility for your actions – even when they are mostly as a result of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder Actions

Bipolar disorder can massively contribute to many negative actions. A person with bipolar might be excessively angry, sexually promiscuous, paranoid, withdrawn, forgetful or a myriad of other things distinctly caused by their bipolar disorder. And any one of these things can become a problem with others or with life in general.

Controlling Bipolar Actions

I’m a big proponent of using tools to control bipolar-related actions. For example, seeing a therapist, or learning mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy skills, or seeing a doctor when things get out of control. In the vast majority of cases, there is no reason why people can’t mostly moderate their own behavior.

In saying that though, there are times when bipolar behavior can’t be easily controlled. For example, if you’re psychotic you may not be capable of applying skills to moderate your own behavior.

Bipolar Actions and Personal ResponsbilitiesTaking Responsibility for Bipolar Behaviors

But the truth is, whether your actions were bipolar motivated or not, it’s important that you take responsibility for them and not just say, “Oh, it’s not my fault. I have bipolar.”

For example, if I’m feeling hypomanic and severely irritated and I allow that irritation to seep out such that I spew anger at others, it’s important that I later take responsibility for that act, apologize and act to make it right. Because it’s not the other person’s fault and you should feel sorry for hurting him or her, even if you weren’t in total control at the time.

Now I know some people reject this notion and use their bipolar disorder as an excuse – but honestly, by doing that you’re only hurting yourself. By using bipolar disorder as an excuse for your actions you will push people away and make recovery harder. You allow the bipolar to take more control than it deserves. You relinquish your own personal power and become weaker. Using bipolar as an excuse is the easy way out but not one that will benefit you or anyone else.

And if you think beating yourself up about it is the answer, you’re wrong. Making amends to someone means interacting with that person and not sitting in a room self-flagellating.

So deal with your mistakes head-on. Don’t deny that you were acting bitchy. Don’t deny that you keep forgetting your spouse’s birthday and he is hurt by it. Don’t deny that spending $10,000 on a handbag isn’t a reasonable thing. Step up. Apologize. And take back control over your own life. It’s only then that you and others can heal and begin to move forward.


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.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

  1. Take responsibility for my actions when people like me can cycle or have mood swings daily? Pray tell, how does one do that. I take full responsibility and have so much guilt as to what I have done, what I am putting my family through and scared beyond words as to what it will look like for us in the years to come. Typically ther are co-morbidities also. It isnt so cut and dry as you make it. I would like to know your definition of high functioning. . I have supported my family for so many years without being able to keep a HIGH FUNCTIONING position and it took its toll. What about the extremes in anxiety and depression. I would like to see you talk like this with a 40 hour plus job in the corporate word where people now do the work of three and the hours arent typically 40 anymore. I also feel like I am being scolded and talked down to by your post.. Would you say that to someone who had traumatic brain injury or has cancer. This is a disease and diseases take on different forms.

  2. I’m going to largely disagree with you on this one too, NatashaT. My Borderline Personality Disorder (now healed by God) was a searingly emotionally-painful condition and I would often do almost anything to maintain some sort of ‘significant other’ as a ‘crutch’ (be it my mother, or a partner or friend), until I decided I would rather die than keep living in a state almost-constantly desperate for any sort of supportive emotional connection and tried to commit suicide (twice). My bipolar – well, as i keep telling people – odd behaviour is NOT necessarily bad behaviour. I did a lot of odd things when i was manic but none of them were bad things. And when i was depressed I was merely gloomy or ‘lounge-bound’. yes, anger is usually a feature of these illnesses, but as the illnesses tend to be called by ‘family dysfunction’ (abuse) is seems fairly reasonable to assume that sufferers harbour quite a bit of anger buried in them somewhere towards their families, and this seems to surface, for some reason, in the beginnings of a manic phase (for bipolar sufferers). Stigma, discrimination and violent and abusive mental health systems are going to cause any sufferer to get angry and act out at some point – and that covers this topic from my experience, reading and perspective. There seems to be an assumption that mental illnesses are associated with bad behaviour and in my experience, this is only true for the above-listed very ‘good’ reasons, and, variations on those reasons for other sufferers of different disorders. It doesn’t help our cause that we are lumped in with psychopaths by the psychiatric profession (and those psychopaths seem to frequently try to pass themselves off as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia in court cases). Thus, the topic is ‘unnecessarily complex’.

  3. I’ve just had a cyber-argument with my niece, who is as stubborn as I am but was honestly not as knowledgable about the subject. I ended up unfriending her and even threatening to remove her from my will. I worked myself up into a manic mood and was determined to show her my superior knowledge. I narrowly avoided calling her ignorant and stupid and I bitterly resented her not bowing to my experience. I think BP was largely to blame but must also take responsibility for my own arrogance. But delusions of grandeur are also symptoms of hypomania. Can lack of humility be a way of hiding from one’s weaknesses? Is it a defence? Thanks, Natasha, for your wisdom as always.

  4. Amen, Natasha! I love it! It is so hard to apologize when I know that my actions are a symptom of bipolar, but I do anyways. In the end, owning my poor behavior has made me work that much harder to avoid doing the same thing again. I think it’s helped me get better. Thank you for this!

  5. Love this article. We really do have to take control of our actions, or apologize afterward. I see some with bipolar use it as an excuse and their lives suffer. I already deal with enough when I do control many of my impulses. I apologize to family a lot :).

  6. I was diagnosed late as bipolar II (I was 35), but if I had to guess I’ve probably been bipolar since high school.

    That said, I have days when I hate being bipolar. I hate my medications, I hate my brain, I hate taking NAC, being gluten-free, and generally anything/everything associated with being bipolar.

    I get angry. I cry. But I’ve never attributed my actions to being bipolar. I accept responsibility for my anger and I apologize as quickly as possible. And believe me, I’ve done some horrible things I am not proud of but I’m responsible for my behavior, period. It’s how I was raised and I’m not going to change because I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness.

    • On the whole, an apology is certainly the order of the day, though most people should realize that it takes time for one to get their bearings back in order to do so. I would like to add that people’s reaction depends on the overall situation. Let’s say the other party acted with extreme force and negativity (and this actually happened to someone I know), then I’m not sure what an apology will do, and quite frankly, seems moot. The worst case senario is the other party will use it against you as one of the commenters mentioned, or will treat you like a criminal, as per another commenter. So the takeaway from this would be you did what you were taught was the right thing to do, and the other party is deemed sane, but is a complete asshole. I get the gist of the article, but nothing is ever cut and dry. Some people are hurt by the individual with bipolar, and sometimes it is the person with bipolar who is hurt.

  7. I am recently diagnosed. I am just as bewildered as those around me by what transpired during a nasty mixed episode. For years, I was told I suffer from unipolar depression, which is believable because I am depressed most of the time. Years down the road and the shit really hit the fan. In short, it was apparent that it wasn’t unipolar depression. Now, I have apologized, but when I try to explain the situation – partly because things were confusing and partly because I really want the other party to understand that my behavior was truly not intentional – I get accused of making excuses. I suppose I should just suck it up and accept being treated like some sort of criminal, and I could completely understand this if I had known about my condition for some time and did nothing to proactively deal with it, but SERIOUSLY, I did not know. Now I do and I am doing what I can to deal with this. It is rather awkward making amends while recovering. And I do take offense when my character is being attacked in the process. I am willing to make things right, but not under these conditions. I see no point. It seems the other party simply wants to exploit the guilt that arises when one learns of such a condition. That is just wrong.

    • I agree with you on this and had a recent incident this past June. Had a huge manic episode at 40 and did somethings that I apologized for, but I had also explained that this was not my normal behavior as well.

  8. Ok so first thing first I have really bad grammer and spelling. Iam a bit of a countryboy an I tend to type the way I talk. So I totally agree about taking responsibility, I am a rcbp1 so who knows whats coming. Usually I am able to control things but threre are those times when I just have no idea what is going on. When that happens I usually go back to each person I come in contact with and just ask them to forgive me. I thank them for bein a part of my life. And I let them know I cant promise it wont happen again. I have lost several friends destroyed a great relationship…..but I do not blame it on bp. I refuse too let my issues define me. But what riles me up is when my admission is thrown back at me or used against me in any way. I just want to say thank you for this forum. Your writing is concise and accurate.

  9. So much bipolar activity isn’t recognized as being related to a mental health issue. Bipolars may be 50years old or beyond before someone points out to them that they suffer from a mental disorder.

    I’ve done unusual things for most of my life oblivious to being bipolar. Psychologists appear unable to diagnose it where psychiatrists know it almost instantly. I did not have the benefit of diagnosis or treatment until age 54. And that is a lot of years to make sense of and take responsibility for.

    I’ve focused more on the making sense of it yet so much seems like it could not have happened the way I know it to be.

    • Excellent points Tom. I was diagnosed at age 49. People who love me and are my support are generally good, but they cannot understand why I am having trouble changing my behaviours.

      As you say almost 50 years of building thought and behaviour patterns for that length of time and then having to accept and working on changing them will not happen overnight. It is hard enough just to make sense of the past 49 years.

      • I too was diagnosed late at 48. You really get to know who your true friends are. Not many people could remember me pre bipolar in my mid 20’s. The meds and therapy and the hard work I have done is helping. I am sad it took so long to find out what was wrong with me. Lots of heartache could of been avoided. My family said “it was just the bipolar talking, now we understand, it explains a lot ” I cannot play victim to this disorder, I have apologized to everyone, more than once. I take full responsibility for my actions.

  10. I agree very much with taking responsibility for our actions. Even if we battle with the highs and lows of any medical condition, we do not have the right to treat others horribly or increasing insult to injury and that is what Bipolar can do if we act irrationally, impulsively and do not become aware of our emotions and how we deal with them. It took me a very long time to acknowledge that sometimes my thought processings tho – not always wrong – were irrational for the situation at hand. It does not mean that we can’t be creative and impulsive for the right reasons, it just means limiting ourself from our thoughts and becoming very pro-active in our own emotional awareness, emotional response and controlling our good and bad of emotions and reactions. It is hard to do. There are many who have no clue about Bipolar. When getting diagnosed with Bipolar, it is hard. But the more we learn, the more we become the faces of Bipolar that will help break the stereotypes of Bipolar that media outlets use and criminals use as a defense. Bipolar does not mean we are not without accountability and responsibility, it just means that we have a greater responsibility in learning what Bipolar does to our brains, minds, thoughts, and body and the imbalance of chemical releases that our brain and body does to us. It is not easy but closing ourself off from the world is not the answer either. So be careful and seek help and get educated about any medical condition you have especially Bipolar. No one choose to have Bipolar but we must be accepting when diagnosed and seek helpful, resourceful and constructive or positive outlets to heal and deal from it. If not, Bipolar can become the evil of us that not only hurts us even more but others around us too.

  11. Hi Natasha,

    I’ve been dealing with bipolar for a long time and have always tried not to say “It’s not my fault, it’s just the bipolar.” You, however, put the idea of taking responsibility for your bipolar actions very clearly and thoughtfully–obviously you have spent some time thinking about this. I especially like the idea about making amends to people you have hurt through your actions. I’d love to hear more about this.


  12. The thing I’ve always hated about losing control of my temper is that the issue of my behaviour suddenly eclipses the issue that helped to get me so upset; as a result, I must abandon my point of view in favour of dealing with all the apologies to the people I’ve hurt. I don’t even get to explain my side of how it all happened (no matter how unfair to me,) because I’m too busy putting out the fires that I myself set. Despite my bipolar, I’ve always had rigid standards of accountability and responsibility, which must take precedence. The good thing is, people respect me more, and I get to keep relationships that many bipolars lose.

    • Maybe you are blessed to be one of those people that gets on with ‘everyone’ (or close enough)? Or you just have more open-minded friends than I have had? I made an effort to reach out and to explain I was going through a period of re-acclimatisation with stronger meds — didn’t get any sort of response back. Just a wall of silence

      Maybe you aren’t the same kind of bipolar as me and some others… diagnosis and the use of umbrella labels means that people are on many different levels of the spectrum. Maybe your misdemeanour did not involve trying to involve the law out of sheer paranoia?

      I am glad you fare better than me, but not quite sure what you are trying to say about what ‘other’ sufferers do that is wrong in comparison.

  13. I have my disorders under control, in fact based on the confirmation by my psychiatrist, my bipolar manic disorder is in remission and I did this without the help of any doctors, or any medications. I learned that the artificial additives in all the foods and other products cause swelling of the brain stem and that is what caused me to have my behavioral disorders and it is only because I adopted an organic and natural diet and lifestyle that my disorders are essentially gone.

    I had a massive allergic reaction to petroleum based coal tar food dyes, essentially the same coal tar that is used to pave the roads across America.

    I can’t take any medications because those dyes are used in absolutely every pharmaceutical out there.

    I said diet and lifestyle because I had to change everything, after I got a migraine headache while taking a shower I realized that my soap and shampoo used the same color that is in Mountain Dew and that it is absorbed through my skin causing the same reaction as if I ate it.

    Now when I get a migraine headache I take dye free Benadryl gel caps and it works within about 30 minutes. I figured out that it’s all about my allergy to the man made chemical based colors, flavors and preservatives.

    • Now that you have rid yourself of poisons and toxins, do you think that you will never get another manic or depressive episode?

  14. Friday, I had a full explosion upon another, where I work. She is a member of the boss’s “inner circle”, is a Director (whereas I’m a specialist), and well… it wasn’t the wisest thing for me to do. Still, with Bipolar… not everything done is the wisest at any given moment.

    My employers and co-workers do NOT know of the Bipolar. I’ve not disclosed because I do not want to be judged and “looked at” through that colored and clouded lens.

    While this woman (I too, am a woman) was being obstinate with something I was trying to convey… which was triggering a very volatile mood within me… and while I tried desperately to control my rising volatility (even shaking physically)… I ended up exploding in a cursing derogatory manner… and she? She stepped back with a horrified look on her face.

    When it was over… I sat and breathed heavily at my desk while deafening silence descended around me. I then got up, went outside and sat on the cement steps in the sunshine for a few moments… cried a bit.

    I came back in… took a deep breath.. went in her office and I apologized. It wasn’t HER necessarily.. it was the situation and it was me and my reaction to the situation that had been building. I recognized it and apologized.

    It isn’t necessarily for them as it is moreso for yourself, IMO.

    If one ALWAYS uses Bipolar as the excuse around folks who you live or work with… eventually, they ALL judge you and treat you as mentally ill. It’s not a pleasant thing to have every word and feeling and emotion judged “as the illness” by someone else.. it invalidates and minimizes what is potentially very real and serious.

    In addition; you find yourself more and more isolated and alone.

  15. Welllllll… Yes and No. I don’t feel personally responsible that friends ditched me because they didn’t want to try and understand that I was sectioned and given different, stronger medication which eventually helped me once the right combination was found. I don’t feel personally responsible that I went from best man shortlist candidate to not even getting a back row seat on the wedding. (Mind you the bride was a real soul-less cow, and quick to hate someone rather than just try their best to be civil).
    I don’t feel responsible for being psychotic that I almost crashed into a fence in a state of hyper-anxiety and lack of sleep.
    I do feel bad that I perved on women left right and centre but that was one of the symptoms (hyper-sexuality) of a very bad episode when I had been off my meds – involuntarily if I had been anywhere near control – and was more a danger to myself than others.
    I do feel bad I posted alarming stuff on a friend’s facebook and sent a horrible message to his dear brother who he loves with all his heart. But I was at the same time totally paranoid and took the comment that ‘a friend was murdered – (nervous laughter)’ to mean that he was a real danger when in fact he was scared just as much for a different reason, which in turn made me scared.

    I just find this site a real curate’s egg. It does do some good in reducing stigma but makes out that when people get ill that for the most part they are to blame and should feel bad. USA’s lack of a sectioning system – as far as I can tell from reading comments hear – is quite shocking, although I am not praising where I live in UK as we have just had two high profile cases about murders done by people released from hospital without any safety net.
    I am a decent honest and sensitive person and have my share of things I must own up to, but being let down by a complacent ‘specialist’ and not being on a strong enough dose until my last hospitalisation is not something I should feel apologetic for.

  16. Very nicely put! I myself see two issues in your essay.

    First, I hear you talking about willingness to be in a healing state with my dis-ease, whatever it may be. What I see in me when I use my bipolar condition as an excuse is a lack of willingness on my part. By stepping up and being accountable for my actions, I become willing to be a better person – to be better integrated with my mileu. And I like that! LOL :-)

    Also, I heard you touch on guilt. Now, there’s a topic! LOL For me, owining my actions and being willing to make amends instead of wallowing in guilt seems to always work best, in the long run.

    Thanx for your post!


  17. This article and all the comments so far are very well said. I appreciate all of them.
    Three years ago I lost my husband, in my 50’s, and was diagnosed with bipolar and a number of other issues when I went in for grief therapy. What a godsend!
    I’ve never had BP as an excuse and I never plan to use it, but it is nice to know now that there are reasons I react the way I have all my life and I now have tools like Ms. Tracy, other people with this disorder, and my therapist to assist me in changing my reactions.
    Friend have come and gone, but now they are staying because I am educated and am learning how to rethink my actions and thoughts.
    I still get angry, but I am finding that everyone does! It is how it is expressed that counts. I am also learning how to recognize and soften my reaction to others who do not respect me. Learning to recognize others lack of boundaries is a big one for me. Often I have blamed myself for many things that happen, I take on all the responsibility of others, but I am now learning to see that it is not always me with the problem; I only have to be responsible for what comes out of my mouth or what I damage.
    Ever since I was diagnosed, I have new friend and some old ones that have reconnected. I never told them I have BP, but I have told them how sorry I was for the way I behaved. Most were happy to let me back into their lives. It is slow, but as I get up in years, what else do I have to do but grow and become a better me.
    Thank you Ms Tracy for having this outlet, it has been so helpful.

  18. I agree completely and try to do this as much as possible. It bugs me though, when the other individual or organisation in the situation doesn’t take responsibility for THEIR side of the situation and thinks that they don’t have to change their attitude, because I have bipolar disorder.

  19. Great article as always Natasha. It is very poignant for for me as I am in the middle of legal problems because of some bad behaviour on my part but cause by my bipolar. I am taking personal responsibility but it will take a while because of the legal situation.

  20. Great post. It makes me think that if I had a spouse that was alcoholic and everyday she would crawl out of bed and say, sorry about the broken promise again. But you know me, I’m an alcoholic.
    I hate to admit using the bipolar excuse before but I learn, eventually. This column helps.

  21. Excellent post and very timely as I am going back to work soon. I have a few things to apologize about…..scary but necessary

  22. It drives me crazy (ha!) when mood disorders are used in the press or as legal defense to justify bad behavior. These people make life harder for those of us who actually take responsibility for ourselves. Yeah, it’s not my fault I’m Bipolar, but I still have to own myself and my actions. If I go off on someone because I’m out of control, I try to leave the diagnosis out of the apology conversation. When I have to apologize, it’s not about =me=, it’s about expressing compassion for the person on the receiving end.