The Downside of Feeling Up for People with Bipolar

Positive emotions can offer great benefits to people and even improve both physical and mental health. But in a recent article, June Gruber of Yale University explains how an extremely positive attitude can be harmful for people with bipolar. Episodes of mania are one of the symptoms of bipolar, and can cause someone to experience highly positive moods, elevated self-confidence and boundless energy. But this type of extreme emotion often goes hand in hand with reckless behavior. Gruber says, “The fact that positive emotion has gone awry is something unique about bipolar disorder, as almost all other emotional disorders are characterized by difficulties in negative emotions.” Gruber also notes that her previous research has found that people who were in remission from their bipolar symptoms still exhibited elevated moods even in the absence of manic episodes.

Gruber believes that the presence of abnormally positive moods may offer an opportunity to determine who is at a higher risk of experiencing a relapse of bipolar symptoms. When she studied a group of college students without bipolar, Gruber found that those with the most positive moods were also the most likely to develop bipolar. People with bipolar also tend to feel more positive about self-focused things rather than social emotions. Gruber says, “This mirrors early clinical observations and more recent scientific work,” that states people with bipolar are more ambitious and set higher goals than people without bipolar. But Gruber warns of the negative impact of the elevated moods. “Although positive emotions are generally good for us, when they take extreme forms or when they’re experienced in the wrong context, the benefits of positive emotion begin to unravel.” She says that even for people who are in remission from the symptoms of bipolar, the goal should be, “experience it in moderation, in the right place and time.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • jamie


    July 25th, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    what can be uplifting to most people seems like a curse to people with bipolar..because their disorder is related to mood and energy even positive outlook is bad for them..that is a very unfortunate thing but also something people around them need to remember..

    also,I can imagine the method to motivate and encourage people with bipolar would also need to be modified accordingly.

  • Amanda


    July 25th, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Oh for the love of Pete! Now you can’t be a happy person without being destined for becoming bipolar? What a crock! Way to turn people into grouches for sure. I do not in any way think that being positive or having a positive outlook on life is indicative of who is going to become bipolar and who is not. To think that and to encourage that way of thinking seems foolish to me. Let people be who they are and what they are without naturally assuming that this is going to lead to something else.

  • Carroll


    July 26th, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    What if they are using these false emotions to mask what is really going on? Then I think that you will definitely see some problems emerging. Anyone can see that. But if this is really just who they are then let it be. This could be their comfort zone and I think we know that most people are unwilling to go outside of that particular box.

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