‘Bipolar’ Daughter Abuses All Around Her

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Reader’s Question

The 37-year-old daughter of some friends of mine was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder a year ago. She was given this diagnosis following an episode of prolonged, severely abusive behavior toward her parents and some physical destruction of their home. The episode was set off by a recent breakup with a boyfriend, and most of the vitriolic screaming fits were directed at her sister’s husband (they live in the same building).

This woman refuses all medication and therapy. Instead, she “self-medicates” with marijuana, to which she is addicted. She has always lived at home, has had a number of jobs which she invariably loses due to conflicts caused by her personality (she always thinks she knows best), has not held a steady job in about 5 years, and is now extremely disrespectful of her parents, who feel powerless to effect any change. She denies any responsibility for either her job failures, her relationship problems, or her current behaviour, blaming others instead.

She has never expressed any regret or remorse for her tirade a year ago. Instead, she has actually boasted about what she “achieved” as a result (the hated brother-in-law is out of her life, as he no longer visits her parents’ apartment, and she has got the family to convert the family living room into better quarters for her). Mathematically gifted, she refused to go to university and instead spent over a decade financially supported by parents and dabbling in a series of artistic endeavors, which all fizzled out. Her sense of entitlement is such that she now resents as unfair the parents’ refusal to fund her yearly trips abroad. She refuses to move out, although they’ve offered to pay her rent and even support her — or sell the large apartment and buy a duplex so she could be more independent. (Her attitude is that they should move if they don’t like it.) She retaliates against anyone who resists her demands, and she is good at manipulating some of her friends and the law officers who’ve had to be called in several times. While capable of charm and somewhat charismatic, she’s also always been markedly haughty and arrogant. Subtly or overtly, she frequently belittles those whose achievements and successes she cannot match and envies. She demeans not just her family but also friends and even strangers with an identifiable weakness. (Three years ago I saw her viciously mocking a shop attendant with a stutter.) Most recently, she’s trying to wreck the reputation of a social worker who’s refused to deal with her since last February and is trying to depict her parents as senile and on anti-psychotics, etc. (She’s either deliberately lying or delusional, one of the two.) Her parents’ over-tolerance seems to be contributing to the present situation.

Psychologist’s Reply

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Whether or not there is a genuine brain chemical imbalance causing or substantially contributing to this woman’s irrational and out of control behavior, and whether there is any validity to the notion that she is “self-medicating” a true mental disease, she is certainly being “enabled” by many around her, and she shows some definite signs that a significant personality and/or character disturbance is the underlying or at least co-occurring reason for her conduct. Problems of this type are increasingly common, and I have not only written about them in my first book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] but also explore such problems in greater depth in my upcoming book, tentatively titled Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] (in press). Several article series on this site also include much relevant information:

Bottom line: Her behavior is not likely to change as long is she is so heavily reinforced for it. She’ll also likely “up the ante” if those enabling her withdraw their support. At this point, it would take a lot of courage, stamina, and conviction to put contingencies in place that might prompt her to consider changing course.

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