Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How is guilt in bipolar disorder different from normal guilt feelings?
The inner see within and find only bad
Years ago, before the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, terrible guilt repeatedly dominated my thinking.  It crippled me.  There was just no way to understand, no escape.  Wasn't it true that just some days ago I was accomplishing so much?  I had so much vibrancy, so much life.  Suddenly, what happened!  Surely it must be that I wasn't trying hard enough.  And then do you know what happened after trying even harder and failing?  Yes, you are right.  Falling short of perfection, there was even more guilt.  It was later that a diagnosis of ultra rapid cycling, Bipolar type I disorder was given.  It has taken a lot longer to know what that label means, what it means in terms of the effect on a person's feelings.

What is normal guilt?

It is appropriate for a human to feel a measure of guilt for wrongdoing.  This is proof of a functioning conscience.  The person is able to understand and appreciate his accountability for his actions.  The happiness for doing something good and the guilt for doing something wrong are both moral indicators, which are a part of the makeup of humans.  It is a dangerous thing to be unable to feel any remorse or guilt.  The guilt that is in proportion to the wrongfulness of an act is normal.  Bipolar disorder distorts perceptions.  It plays cruelly with the feelings of those ailing from this disease.  It measures out to the sufferer what is unjust.  That is the reason why, it is so common to see inordinate or unwarranted guilt feelings in bipolar disorder.

What is guilt in bipolar disorder?

One big mistake is to confuse guilt feelings in bipolar disorder as the same guilt that comes from the normal moral workings of the conscience.  In an earlier post, Can bipolar disorder change personality?, the observation was made: "When the mind and brain are subjected to such radical changes and experiences, perhaps even when the baby is in the womb, automatically there has to be an effect on the personality."  The brain can't be ill and the mind not be affected.  I believe, people with bipolar disorder grow up seeing the world differently from others.  At least that is my experience.  Has it been yours too?

Here are some ways how, guilt in bipolar disorder is different from normal guilt:
  • It doesn't need a basis in reality.  Once triggered it can continue to gain mass and momentum.
  • Flawed perceptions and faulty neuro-chemistry make it nearly impossible to be objective.
  • Guilt feelings in bipolar disorder are allayed, as the patient starts responding well to medication.  The other part is definitely about cognitive training (learning to correct faulty thinking), and support from caregivers.
Having suffered at the hands of unjustified guilt, but also having been a recipient of love and support from devoted friends and family, I can say that it is worth enduring bipolar disorder.

This post is an elaboration of the previous post, The role of expectations in unjustified guilt feelings.


  1. This is so true...I suffered a recent setback with my BP disorder, and ended up leaving my job. The guilt I have felt over everything is unreal; it just eats away at me constantly...actually, "gnawing" away at me is probably a more accurate description. At any rate, I know my guilt is out of proportion. Luckily today was the first day that I started feeling a little better...probably because I am finally starting to respond to my medication!

  2. I really like the opening paragraph. It really describes what it feels like when you first realize that having Bipolar Disorder is a possibility. It was terrifying to me.
    And good for you! The fact that you are beginning to respond to your medicine is wonderful! I've done some research on it and it tends to be difficult to find the right medicine/doctor who is right for you.


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