Could you meet someone who is bipolar

When nothing works anymore ...

When nothing works anymore - separation? Or also: help through failure to help

Can I break up (not only as a partner, but also as a family member!) If it doesn't work at all, or do I have to feel guilty?

Yes they may! It is of course very difficult to leave someone who is mentally ill and has become dearly loved. But if you no longer see any other possibility for yourself (and possibly existing children) to live together, you should also draw the consequences.

This is often the case if the person concerned has not shown insight into the disease for a long time, does not want to be treated and as a result there is no prospect of an improvement in the situation. There is then no point in sacrificing yourself and putting your own health at risk.

Don't let others convince you that you will stay have to. It is and will be your decision, which you can make without feeling guilty. And maybe a (spatial) separation or a (temporary) break in contact also offers completely new possibilities: Sometimes you first have to take a step away from each other in order to be able to take two steps towards each other again.

Please also read the following important text on "Help through non-help" or on the phenomenon of "co-dependency":

Helping, comforting, encouraging, and supporting another person is difficult. It requires - besides knowledge, good will and energy - above all an understanding of the other person's situation. Especially if the person you want to help suffers from a mental illness. Certain aspects of bipolar disorder can (apparently) become indispensable for the patient, such as the energy and the feeling of happiness that often accompanies a (hypo) manic episode, which is why it is sometimes not easy for him to recognize the disease value of such a phase.

Those who set themselves the goal of actively bringing another person to understand the disease will inevitably be experienced as an opponent. He wants to deprive the other of what they think they need above all else for life. So wanting to help becomes a constant struggle. Requests, appeals and threats are followed by offenses, promises and disappointments.

On the other hand, relatives often do their utmost to hide the disease from the outside world. You excuse the sick to the employer, friends and relatives or pay off debts caused by the illness. Help becomes a fig leaf. What is done with the best of intentions is the opposite: it helps the person affected to live out the disease, but not to come to an understanding of the disease, let alone to take countermeasures.

Failing help and the struggle for insight are - almost always - characteristic of the relationship between those affected and the people who want to help them. Often the result is helplessness on both sides. The sick see themselves powerless at the mercy of their illness. They have become unable to actively shape their lives. The relatives are at the end of their strength and lose all hope.

It doesn't have to go that far. Although the relatives cannot directly influence the behavior of a sick person, they can contribute to the fact that he accepts help and finds a way to deal with the illness in such a way that a life worth living for him and his environment becomes possible.

People with bipolar disorder often hide their condition from themselves and others. On the one hand out of fear of consequences, on the other hand in order to maintain a little (self) respect. Every attempt to force an affected person to understand and to prove his illness to him, e.g. by precisely listing the manifestations of a manic episode, he experiences as an attack against his person, against which he has to defend himself with all his might.

If you look at these connections, you can be more composed with your loved one who is sick. You are less bothered by hurts and disappointments. You can then rather accept that you (have to) repeatedly succumb in the fight against the disease.

The typically occurring arguments are not only useless. They also harm you and the person you want to help:

  • The constant quarrels further destroy the basis of trust in the relationship.
  • They offer the sick person the opportunity to look for justifications for their own behavior in the mistakes of others and to suppress their own massive feelings of guilt and shame. "Attack is the best defense!"
  • Since your thoughts constantly revolve around the behavior of your loved one, his / her ups and downs also determine how you feel. You massively restrict your own life and become (partly) dependent on the illness of your loved one.

People with bipolar disorder need to find out about their situation on their own. In order to deal with the disease correctly, they need the support of specialists. All attempts to directly influence their behavior will be fruitless and repeatedly give rise to arguments.

However, you can try to create the conditions for your loved one to accept help. To do this, you have to find the will and the courage to give up the fight against the disease and take a completely different path. You have to overcome the multiple fears that hold you trapped in your role and break free from the mutual accusations and debates. This also means that you no longer take on the tasks and responsibilities of the sick person and let him or her feel the demands of daily life again.

Because the ongoing support in coping with everyday life contributes to the fact that those affected can deny their illness and hide behind the belief that they can still manage in life, so it couldn't be that bad. If their failures become visible and if there is a threat of loss of recognition from their social environment, they suffer greatly. This forces them to perceive their reality and to face the consequences of their illness.

By turning to your own interests (again) and stepping out of the grueling cycle, movement gets into your frozen relationship. The atmosphere in which you live is changing. In the long run it will become noticeable that you are now leading a happier life. This can intensify the longing for change in her or him.

In this context, the term "help through non-help" is often used. But not helping does not mean doing nothing. On the contrary, this new way of helping requires consistency and a lot of strength from you. For you it means a process of change, in the course of which you gain a number of new attitudes and learn new behaviors:

Stop denying

You acknowledge the illness of your loved one for granted and finally part with the hope that all of this is just a nasty ghost that will disappear again.

Recognize the disease value of an acute phase

You accept that your loved one is neither weak-willed, loveless, or even malicious. You no longer react with reproaches to the inevitable and repetitive disappointments and breaches of trust.

Overcome your own fear

You cope with the fears that storm you and make you shy away from the new path of help:
"If I don't help you anymore, I'll be considered heartless and tough!"
"Everything is going to get a lot worse! He's going to slide completely."
"He's going to lose his job."
"Everyone will notice how things are with my wife and talk about us."
And so on!

Stop helping

They no longer care about things that are not their job and no longer try to hide the disease and its consequences. This step in particular is very difficult for many and requires a lot of courage in view of the fear of the reaction of relatives, friends and neighbors.

Overcome feelings of guilt

Relatives of mentally ill people often torment themselves with feelings of guilt and self-reproach. This is especially true for the parents of affected children. Maybe you've made mistakes in the past, maybe you haven't. It is important that you now overcome crippling feelings of guilt and orient your behavior towards a new opportunity for yourself and the person affected.

Take responsibility for your own life

You have concentrated exclusively on your loved one and their affairs - perhaps for years. In doing so, you have neglected the development of your own interests. In trying to help him, you have become helpless yourself. Often you have (quietly) blamed the other person for the joylessness of your life. Now you realize that this attitude is going nowhere. You start to shape your life again to make it more fulfilling.

I am not you, you are not me

By taking responsibility (again) for your own life, you can also give your loved one back responsibility for their own life. You no longer see in him a part of yourself for whose actions you are responsible as for your own.

Remain consistent

You do things that you announce, and you no longer threaten things that you cannot or do not want to do. You make it clear that what you say is to be taken seriously.

All changes in the behavior of their relatives make bipolar sufferers deeply insecure. Very often they will therefore try to force them back into their old behavior by creating particular difficulties and threatening separation or even suicide. It is also possible that they try to get their relatives back into the old role with new promises.

Think about all the difficulties and how many times you have relapsed into your usual behavior contrary to your resolutions. Then you will see how difficult it is: stop helping. But to this day "help through non-help" has often remained the only promising behavioral alternative for relatives of those who do not understand the disease.

However, the hope of quick success will rarely be fulfilled. Nevertheless, you do not need and should not give up hope and consistently continue on the path you have trodden. Above all, psychological changes need time. And finally, this path offers not only an opportunity for the person you would like to help, but also for yourself.

In the course of the process described, you will also get to know yourself better. Do you still have enough strength and love to give your loved one the time they need to find insight into illness? Are you still ready to build a life together again? Or did you just stay with him out of fear of separation or out of a sense of duty? Then by the end of the process you will be able to make the long-intended separation. And in doing so, you may be contributing more to the understanding and treatment of the person concerned than by remaining in a hopeless relationship.

annotation: Some time ago a brochure was published by Federal Center for Health Education, which deals, among other things, with the codependency of relatives of addicts. Much of this also applies to relatives of the mentally ill.

We have received permission from the author of this article, Ms. Petra Mader, to use and rewrite those parts of her text for bipolar disorder that we believe might be useful for the relatives of those with bipolar disorder.

Many thanks to Ms. Mader!