Confusion and stigma still surround bipolar disorder. This includes believing that the use of manipulation tactics is a formal symptom.
Living with bipolar disorder can present specific challenges. Mood episodes can shape the way you think about yourself and how you interact with others.
But, does it involve using manipulation tactics?
Distinguishing myth from truth can empower those who live with bipolar disorder and help loved ones offer the support they may need.
The use of manipulation tactics isn’t one of the formal symptoms of bipolar disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
To date, there’s also no research to suggest that interpersonal manipulation is consistently linked to bipolar disorder.
“While I don’t believe nor support manipulation being linked to bipolar disorder, I can understand why one may think so,” says Lena Suarez-Angelino, a licensed clinical social worker in Woodbridge, New Jersey.
During an episode of mania or depression in bipolar disorder, Suarez-Angelino explains, you may act in certain ways that no longer hold true once the mood has passed. This could sometimes be interpreted by others as a manipulation tactic even when the intention wasn’t there.
In other cases, when someone with bipolar disorder relies on manipulation in their relationships, something else may be going on.
Everyone can use manipulation tactics from time to time. It doesn’t mean they live with a mental health condition. It doesn’t mean either that, if they do, manipulation is a symptom of said condition. But there are exceptions.
The use of manipulation tactics in someone with bipolar disorder can be the result of:
- maladaptive coping skills
- signs of a co-occurring mental health condition
“Manipulative behaviors are consistent with co-occurring disorders, such as personality disorders and substance use disorders,” says Rachel Easterly, a licensed social worker in New York City.
Interpersonal manipulation is a formal symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, for example.
It’s possible that if someone with bipolar disorder relies on manipulation tactics, they’re living with a personality disorder.
Bipolar disorder can also be confused with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) because some people experiencing episodes of mania can develop signs of grandiosity.
Grandiosity, or grandiose delusion, is a persistent belief that you’re superior or more special than everyone else. It’s a formal symptom of NPD.
A 2011 literature review indicated that as many as two-thirds of people living with bipolar disorder experience signs of grandiosity. Grandiosity may lead someone to use specific manipulation tactics in some instances.
Trauma could also lead some people to use interpersonal manipulation if they learned that openly asking for their needs to be met wasn’t safe. Research shows that many people with bipolar disorder also report experiencing childhood trauma.
It may help you to think of manipulation as a coping mechanism. While reframing this behavior doesn’t take away from the pain that manipulation may cause, it does help to bring compassion into the conversation. If you feel someone is manipulating you, remember that they’re likely experiencing emotional pain and may need support.
Yes, it could be a sign of mania but not always.
An episode of mania in bipolar disorder looks different for everyone. But, in general, there are a few common signs that a licensed mental health professional will look for in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
Symptoms of mania may include:
- being easily distracted
- challenges with impulse control
- desire to take on more activities
- increased self-confidence
- talking faster than usual
- racing thoughts
- reduced need for sleep
- pressured or rapid speech
Mania has some overlapping signs with personality disorders, like narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder, but manipulation isn’t usually chief among them. At least, not intentional manipulation.
“Manipulative behavior requires self-awareness of a situation, desired outcome, and strategies to achieve the outcome,” explains Easterly. “Mania often feels like it’s out of a person’s control, and people frequently act against their self-interest during episodes of mania.”
|Mania||Personality disorder (or narcissistic traits)|
|intermittent symptoms occurring in cycles||fixed pattern of behavior|
|difficulty with impulse control||difficulty with impulse control|
|grandiosity, as increased self-esteem, euphoric mood, and big ideas or plans that may later be unrealistic||grandiosity, as seeking validation for achievements, entitlement or feeling superior, and a sense of self-importance|
|talking more quickly than usual or dominating conversations because of lack of impulse control||manipulating others on purpose during conversations|
|reduced need for sleep||sleep disturbances or insomnia|
|high-risk behaviors, like lavish spending, hypersexuality, or substance use||high-risk behaviors, like |
|challenges at work, home, school, or in relationships||challenges at work, home, school, or in relationships|
Whether someone receives a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or not, emotional manipulation can sometimes happen in relationships.
“The root cause of manipulative behaviors may be a combination of powerlessness and entitlement,” says Easterly. “A person feels entitled to the outcome they desire, but feel powerless to achieve it through direct means.”
It’s possible someone with bipolar disorder feels and acts this way, but it isn’t because of bipolar disorder.
Emotional manipulation tactics may include:
- comparing you to others
- guilt trips
- love bombing
- minimizing hurtful behavior
- silent treatment
- withholding affection, communication, or gifts
Bipolar disorder can be managed and treated. But, since manipulation isn’t a formal symptom of the condition, the first step may be to explore the root cause of manipulative behaviors.
Only a mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis. If it’s determined that other factors are involved, such as a personality disorder, they can structure a plan that allows for coping and treatment of both conditions.
Treatment for bipolar disorder usually includes a combination of talk therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is common for treating bipolar disorder, however, I also believe dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) would be useful in treating bipolar disorder and patterns of manipulation,” says Suarez-Angelino. “DBT helps to learn how to be in control of your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
Research shows that dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can help improve several symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, including mania and emotional regulation.
DBT and CBT are also commonly used in the treatment of personality disorders.
If your loved one lives with bipolar disorder and you feel they’re manipulating you, it’s important to remember that the two factors aren’t formally related.
Their use of manipulation tactics may be a result of learned behavior or a sign that something else is going on.
“Give support to the person that appears to have bipolar disorder with manipulative tendencies,” says Suarez-Angelino. “It is OK to want to feel guarded or have difficulty trusting, but rather than pushing them away, learn how to work together to be a positive part of their support system.”
You may find it useful to:
- develop healthy boundaries
- disengage or set time limits
- respond confidently and stand in your truth
- seek out individual therapy or find a support group
- take notes to keep track of interactions
If possible, try to encourage your loved one to seek the guidance of a licensed mental health professional if they haven’t already. You could also suggest couple’s therapy or family counseling.
Manipulation isn’t a formal symptom of bipolar disorder, although some people with the condition may exhibit this behavior.
In some cases, manipulative behavior is a result of living with another mental health condition, such as personality disorders, substance use disorders, or trauma.
Finding the root cause of the manipulative behavior can help in addressing it directly or as part of a more comprehensive treatment plan. In all cases, this symptom can be managed and support is available.