[Article by Natasha Tracy from Healthy Place.]
I think it’s hard to have healthy self-esteem when you have bipolar. Sure, you can have grandiose self-esteem when you’re manic or hypomanic but that’s not the self-esteem you carry with you into everyday life, nor is it particularly healthy self-esteem. No, I think people with bipolar have low self-esteem because of their illnesses.
What is healthy self-esteem?
I would say that healthy self-esteem is a fair and positive estimation of your self-worth. It’s feeling good about yourself, who you are and what you are. It is about being feeling loveable. It’s about being confident in yourself. I think we all know, thanks to bipolar depression, what it’s like to feel horrible about ourselves and healthy self-esteem is essentially the flip side of that.
Why does bipolar cause low self-esteem?
I’m sure not everyone with bipolar has low self-esteem, but from what I’ve seen, low self-esteem and bipolar is a prevalent problem. I think it’s hard to be a “sick person”, disabled, and still feel really good about yourself and maintain healthy self-esteem. It’s like the bipolar doesn’t just attack your body but it also attacks your very essence (perhaps soul). It is hard to know that something is fundamentally wrong with your brain and still feel like you have the same worth as everyone else. There is also something about taking medication every day just to function that also impacts healthy self-esteem. It’s like you are not a complete person without pills – and just who feels good about that?
And it’s hard to face mental illness stigma every day and not let it infect the view you have of yourself. If your experience is people abandoning you because of bipolar disorder, it’s pretty hard to not internalise at least part of that as your fault. It is hard not to see yourself as fundamentally flawed as and good as anyone else. Bipolar depression certainly impairs healthy self-esteem simply by its very nature.
Why people with bipolar should fight for healthy self-esteem
However, people with bipolar disorder deserve healthy self-esteem just like everyone else. We are worth the same thing as other people. Our brain flaws do not affect our whole being. Just because we have an illness, doesn’t make us worthless. And just because of other people, unfairly, have a problem with us and discriminate against us doesn’t mean that we should not love ourselves. I believe we deserve to feel positive about who we are – just like everyone else.
As with so many parts of bipolar disorder, I think the key to having healthy self-esteem with an illness is about combatting the negative self-talk with more logical, positive self-talk. Here’s what I mean:
- It’s natural to think, “My boyfriend left me because of my bipolar so I must be worthless.” but we can combat that by thinking, “My boyfriend showed prejudice about my illness. That says more about him that it does about me.”
- You might think, “My family has disowned me because of bipolar; I’m unlovable.” But you could combat that by thinking, “My family is ignorant about bipolar disorder and is taking it out on me. That is not about me; it is about them.”
- You might think, “Because I need medication every day, I am not a whole person.” But you could think, “My medication is an important part of keeping me healthy. This is just as true for me as it would be for a person with any other illness. I don’t think less of those people, why would I think less of myself?”
When we catch ourselves falling victim to the low self-esteem-causing thoughts, we can fight those thoughts with rationality and reason. I’m not saying it’s easy but I think it is doable and it is worth doing.
If all else fails, I think it’s worth looking at therapy to regain healthy self-esteem if you have bipolar. Because you are worth the effort.