Everyone gets angry. It is a normal human emotion, but if you are bipolar the outbursts can be more common, more intense, and harder to control.
However, it is not diagnosed as a symptom of bipolar disorder. Instead, anger can be associated with psychomotor agitation, which is one of the diagnostic criteria.
However, the fact that poor anger control is not specified as a symptom of Bipolar Disorder can leave you feeling lost and alone, especially if you’ve taken your rage out on the people you depend on for support.
Recent studies are helping to change the misconception that bipolar disorder and anger issues are not linked. One published on the PubMed.gov website stated,
“Subjects with bipolar disorder display greater rates of anger and aggressive behaviors, especially during acute and psychotic episodes”.
The study doesn’t specifically state that if you are bipolar anger will be a problem, but it does let you know that you’re not the only one that might be dealing with outbursts of rage.1
What is Bipolar Anger?
It is important not to confuse occasional flashes of temper with bipolar anger.
Like the term implies, temper flashes are short and over in a few minutes. Bipolar anger can simmer for days, eventually leading to outbursts of rage that can have destructive consequences. Relationships can suffer, and if the burst of bipolar rage happens at work it can have a negative impact on your career.
How Bipolar Disorder and Anger are Linked
Bipolar disorder causes dramatic shifts in mood. Sometimes you seem to be happy and have endless energy, and then the next thing you know it’s almost impossible to get out of bed. The depression and despair can be that debilitating.
These mood swings are referred to as manic and depressive episodes, and are the two key signs of bipolar disorder. In many cases, people with Bipolar Disorder will have both manic and depressive episodes; however, some people only have manic episodes. According to the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder, you can experience manic episodes, and no depressive episodes, and still meet criteria for Bipolar I Disorder.
What researchers are finding is that the symptoms associated with mania and depression might be linked to bipolar irritability and rage.
During bipolar mania restlessness (i.e., psychomotor agitation) is a common symptom. This coupled with, decreased need for and lack of sleep can easily lead to irritability and short tempers. If you’re prone to risky behaviors during a manic episode, being told “no” by your support team can be enough to send you into bipolar rage.
Bipolar depression can also leave you feeling irritable, especially when you’ve lost interest in everything. When you are angry and disappointed in yourself, it’s easier to take it out on the people around you.
While this really isn’t any different than how people without a mood disorder often behave, if you’re bipolar the outbursts can be more frequent, intense and harder to control.
Thanks to recent and ongoing studies, mental health professionals are beginning to realize that problems with anger and irritability might be more closely linked to bipolar disorder than previously thought. This will hopefully lead to more comprehensive treatment plans.2
Can Medication Cause Bipolar Anger?
If you’re wondering if medication is causing your bipolar anger issues, you’re not alone. It’s a common question, without an easy “yes” or “no” answer.
Part of a bipolar treatment plan typically includes mood stabilizers that are designed to help with the chemical imbalance that initially led to the onset of the disorder. Lithium is one of the most common bipolar disorder medication prescribed, and it does not list anger or irritability among the possible side effects.
The side effects that are listed include,
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to sleep
Any of these side effects can make you irritable, and this can lead to problems with anger. At least at first, when you start taking the medication.
It will take time for your body to adjust to the medication, and the chemicals it contains. This can include, sudden and dramatic changes in mood. The good news is once you’ve adjusted to the mood stabilizer issues with anger and irritability usually diminishes, though it might not stop completely.
If your outbursts of anger are causing real problems in your life, don’t stop taking your medications. Talk to your physician instead.
Tips on Preventing Bipolar Rage
Even if you follow your treatment plan exactly as prescribed you will still have mood swings, and this can mean feeling irritable and even angry.
You won’t be able to prevent every burst of bipolar anger, but there are ways you can manage and even prevent some of them.
- Know your triggers. Certain people, events and even requests can be stressful enough to trigger a mood swing. This can cause irritability or angry outbursts. Recognizing these triggers can help you avoid placing yourself in that situation, and if that’s not possible you can learn important coping mechanisms. Making a list of these triggers will help you learn what they are.
- Always take medications as prescribed. The best method of controlling mood swings and bipolar outbursts is to take your medications exactly as prescribed. While it probably won’t stop every bipolar episode, it will help you better manage the disorder.
- Therapy will help. If you don’t already have a therapist, ask your primary mental health care provider for recommendations. Participating in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has shown to have a positive effect in helping people manage and cope with the emotions, thoughts and concerns that come with being bipolar. Talking to someone is always beneficial, especially when they are non-judgmental.
- Keep a journal. This is not only a smart way to identify your triggers, it also allows you to write down your feelings without negatively impacting others. Being able to reread your entries when you are calmer can be a helpful tool in preventing the next burst of bipolar anger.
- Use your support team. Let your support team know that you are struggling to control your temper. Don’t let your emotions build up for days, this just leads to angry outbursts that you’ll end up regretting. Being held accountable for your actions, can also help you recognize the early warning signs and possibly prevent the next one.
Being Angry is Okay
Anger is an emotion that everyone feels, and it is usually a healthy and normal reaction to a stressful event or situation. Being bipolar doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t feel anger, but you don’t want this emotion to control or ruin your life.
If your friends are avoiding you or loved ones no longer want to engage in intense conversations with you, this can indicate that bipolar disorder anger might be negatively impacting your life. When this occurs, it is time to speak with a mental health professional.
Being bipolar doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t feel emotions that include anger and irritability, only that you might need to work a little harder at controlling your outbursts.
Ugh…Anger & Irritability – my most hated symptoms. Now I am more stable with the assistance of meds I don’t suffer from these issues as frequently & if I am feeling irritable I try to avoid working or people in general.
I find I am prone to being quite compulsive in this mood state, and don’t see anything wrong with my actions until later.
Easily abusive, nasty, explosive & feel oddly justified in behaving that way.
Now when I see some warning signs I try to avoid everyone & keep to myself. My friends & colleagues have pointed out when I am dropping multiple “C” bombs that I am in this state.
I don’t usually use the “C word” as a swear word in my standard vocabulary so its a good warning sign.
What makes me sad though, is my mum said to me more than once “do you know you are scary when you are like that?”
I don’t want to be scary, I am not like that on purpose. I am actually a really nice caring person.
I understand the part about being scary, I hear it too from lived ones. I don’t wait people to be afraid of me when I’m angry. I know I usually display this type of behaviour when I’m frustrated and feel I’m not heard or taken seriously. I also know that screaming very loud is not going to help the situation. I’ve now learnt to discuss my frustrations with those concerned and it helps immensely to know that that people are listening and do care. Let them know how you feel and it won’t lead to bursts of anger that frightens everyone.
I’ve just had an outburst in my college course. Was really disrespectful to my tutor then raged at my best friend. She’s told me she’s done with me. Still raging inside can’t cry because of my lithium. I hate bi polar right now
.im a rapid cycle and it sucks!!
Oh such true words and such a reality that we live with. Pointing out that you start swearing in your speech is so good to hear. It’s a definite indication to me as well that I’m entering a ‘manic’ phase. Also not paying the usual attention to people when they are talking. My mind racing and talking much faster. My daughter also told me that she can see the change in my eyes. ….wonderful to have honest monitors around you as I am also usually a kind, compassionate and caring person.
Yeah I feel ya.
can you cite the actual study you are eluding to to support this? Looking on the website you provided is not coming up with anything that stands out.
I never used to swear, but now out of the blue I have started getting so angry and swearing,(really bad words) and clenching fists, slamming things, etc. I am a Christian and am so so sick of this feeling and feeling I can’t control it
Bipolar 2. Mostly down than up and I hate it. Low point today when I had a bipolar rage at my 10 year old daughter who hadn’t done anything wrong other than the usual child things. Suicide attempt in July then a miscarriage in November numerous rows with family and partner and I unleashed it at the wrong time. I’m an idiot
I lost my daughter on Mother’s Day 2016 and have not gotten help with dealing with my loss. Almost 2 years later I’m now experiencing extreme anger and lash out towards loved ones especially the man I’m engaged to as well as my other 2 children. I hate doing this because although my children know I am bipolar they don’t understand the truth behind bipolar disorder. I fortunately have an amazing fiance who continues to support me.
I hate hurting my loved ones as much as I am. This page has helped me understand more of why I behave the way I do. I’m now looking into getting into a greif support group and on meds to better regulate my symptoms.
i find at age 64 my whole life it comes down to lack of any respect from others ie calling one back not doing what they say helping peope out and not even given a thnk you just total lack of respect in young people poor qaulty products no one seems to respect anyone but i get mad and they just look at me
Anyone out there living with a BP spouse?
My sister’s husband is classic in the symptoms but is in denial, he makes her life hell. I’m worried for her as he twists everything to make it all appear her fault. What can she do?
I’ve been a victim of my bipolar husband’s rage again. He says he’s done with me and our family. Even though I said i was sorry and that I love him, he still spews rage. He’s gone to a trade show for work. I’m concerned that he won’t keep it together. He’s an alcoholic and drinking heavily. I don’t know what to do. These full blown rage sessions are happening more frequently. My mind wants to tell me he will get over it, my heart says that he’s going to stay in this frame of mind permanently. I just wish I didn’t love him.