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Sarcastic And Wanting To Change

Question:

I’m 45 and have bipolar disorder. I have had a rough time developing relationships that last. I am currently living with a man who is my age. I told him I was bipolar after dating a few times. I also told him that I am a hard person to live with. Even though I’m on Lithium, I still have mild mood swings. I can be very sarcastic at times and take things too personal at times too. I love this person very much, and he loves me, but we fight a lot, and usually I’m the instigator. I do realize this and try to catch myself, but more often than not, I don’t. I know that if something doesn’t change with me, I’m going to lose this guy. In the past I’ve gone to counseling to try and learn to ‘deal with myself’. Sometimes I truly wonder if I will be better off alone, and yet, that isn’t the way to live life either, at least not for me. I am so frustrated with myself, and don’t know what to do… can you give me some good advice?

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Answer:

I can empathize with your difficulty. When we’re talking about a long standing personality style (being sarcastic and abrasive) in the context of a mild bipolar disorder, its hard to know what is possible for you to change and what isn’t. It’s easy to say something like “well it’s part of your biology to be this way so you’re never going to change it”, but that would be a cop-out I think. We have degrees of freedom in life – we have the ability most of the time to decide how we are going to react towards others. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t strong currents inside of us that will push us towards acting one way or another. This also doesn’t mean that it is easy to change, even when it makes sense to change and change is possible. As adults (even as children) we get quite set into our ways. The world makes sense based on how we have lived in it – what we have experienced. There is sometimes a part of us that is secretly wanting to be crabby towards someone even as another part of us might recognize the ultimate self-destructiveness of that impulse. I have three suggestions. The first is that you stay on your medicines and keep up with your medical condition. You need to be as stable as you can be medically, if you want to have a good shot at addressing this other interactive stuff. The second is that you pursue psychotherapy some more. Specifically, couples therapy with an emphasis on your tendency to be sarcastic and aggressive. Look for ways you might be ambivalent about being ‘nice’. Look to your past to see if you had sarcastic role models, or if that behavior worked somehow in your family even as it doesn’t work for you now. The idea to consider is that you may have learned to be sarcastic and to take the offensive as a way of coping with attacks from your early family; you may be bringing that mode of coping and attitudes that support that style of being (“People with thin skins are Wussies; I’m not a Wus”) into your present relationship. The third idea is to learn to witness yourself from a detached standpoint by practicing formal meditation on a regular and frequent basis (take a class). Meditating skill may help you become less embedded in your older ideas about who you are, and may free you up to become more spontaneous and loving. It may also help you to learn to recognize when you are not caring how you come across (as is the case when you are sarcastic towards a man you love). Good luck.

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