Coping with Bipolar Rage or Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Joel Eisenberg

For those who bear the brunt, help is available for you as well.

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Author’s Note

This article is free of bias, and though I myself am a former mental health professional with training in Psychology, I am not a doctor and I offer no medical advice or diagnosis herein. Please contact a currently practicing medical or mental health professional for any potential issue related to this article that requires attention.

Sources for this article include: Psycom.net, DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition), PsychDB.com, Aryeh Goldberg M.D., and The Mayo Clinic.

Introduction

Several months ago NewsBreak published two articles of mine related to this topic. “When a Sufferer of Bipolar Depression Lashes Out at You in Anger: Personalizing Intermittent Explosive Disorder” and “Bipolar Rage: Revisiting Intermittent Explosive Disorder” were two pieces inspired by personal and professional experience.

I have elected to revisit the matter to share additional information.

In the event of the former experience, I was involved in a relationship with a woman who was abused by her parents and in adulthood was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. She granted me permission to share her story. In the latter event, aside from academic studies in Psychology I was a special education teacher for ten years and briefly a counselor. My students ranged from substance abusers, gang members, and those labeled as “severely emotionally disturbed,” or “SED” at the time.

The majority of my students suffered from PTSD or depression-related issues, most commonly Bipolar disorder.

As a review, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines Bipolar disorder, per Psycom.net: Bipolar disorders are described by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuation in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function.

There are three levels of Bipolar disorder according to the DSM-5: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder.

  • Bipolar I disorder is a manic-depressive disorder that can exist both with and without psychotic episodes.
  • Bipolar II disorder consists of depressive and manic episodes which alternate and are typically less severe and do not inhibit function.
  • Cyclothymic disorder is a cyclic disorder that causes brief episodes of hypomania and depression.

Related to each (though not endemic to each) is a tendency towards Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), which is recognized by the DSM-5 and paraphrased by Dr. Aryeh Goldberg of PsychDB.com as: an impulse control disorder characterized by aggressive outbursts that has a rapid onset and, typically, with little to no warning. Outbursts typically last for less than 30 minutes, and usually occur in response to a minor provocation (usually by a friend or family member).

For the purpose of this article, the issue becomes one of how to cope if you are a target of Bipolar-related IED, which can seem to begin without any apparent trigger.

Let us review further.

Coping With Bipolar-Driven IED

For additional perspective, according to the Mayo Clinic, IED can involve the following: Repeated, sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior or angry verbal outbursts in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation. Road rage, domestic abuse, throwing or breaking objects, or other temper tantrums may be signs. See here for article from MayoClinic.org.

If your are the target of such behaviors, which are typically unexpected and of which specific triggers are often difficult to notice, the following coping mechanisms have proven effective (though none take the place of professional help on your side if you believe you need it):

  • Do not take the outbursts personally. This is, admittedly, immensely difficult. Most frequently, if you are the target of the rage, the other party will soon “come around.” Tearful apologies are common; however, the hurt you may experience should not be discounted, especially as such outbursts can be personal in nature and aimed at your vulnerabilities. Though the other party may be out of control, invective may well be shared that is personal in nature. You are best advised to try to understand what is happening, and remaining calm. Leave the situation, as opposed to attempting to de-escalate it. Revisit only when the other party has regained control, and move on.
  • Similarly, try to remember in the moment such IED-related outbursts are not the fault of the sufferer. If said suffer has been diagnosed with a related disorder, the underlying reasons tend to be chemical in nature and cannot be controlled without proper medication and therapy.
  • Hold your own temper. If no physical attacks appear imminent, accept the moment as a target, listen to what the other party has to say, and then leave the scene. Do not retaliate in any way if you do not approve of what you hear or see, as incidents of IED tend to feed on the anger of others.
  • If you suspect the person unfairly targeting you does suffer from a medical disorder of the nature of bipolar disorder with an IED component, without ever having been diagnosed, contact a medical professional as to most effectively find help for the sufferer based on their personal situation.

Regarding the last bullet point, above, in the event of an interpersonal relationship of any type — friendly or romantic, as examples — if the party who suffers from IED refuses to get help, it is not your job to be a savior.

You will likely be hurting too in this process, and your pain also matters. If the other party refuses to acknowledge a problem or help themselves, most mental health professionals dealing with this dynamic will advise the target to walk away.

Conclusion

Mental illness is neither a game-stopper for a productive life, nor a stigma, and many who suffer from Bipolar-related IED are able to maintain healthy outlooks and relationships by doing what it takes, based on a doctor’s advice and treatment, to manage their symptoms.

For those of you who do not suffer and are instead the target of rage outbursts, the issue becomes how much you choose to bear. To those in this category, I strongly recommend therapy if the issue is out of control and you plan on remaining in communication with the IED-afflicted individual. Help is available to you too, similar to organizations and support groups that specialize in working with friends and family of substance abusers.

There is no cure for either Bipolar Disorder or IED, for now, but medical and/or psychological support for both sides are easy to find. Visit online, if you are not presently working with a professional, for help in your area.

I hope this article has been of benefit. Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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