Emotional intelligence & bipolar disorder

A lot is written about emotional intelligence,  I got totally lost in it.  However,  I decided not to bore you with the history of it nor the different opinions about the validity to call it intelligence or how it can (not) be measured scientifically.

What you and I are really interested in,  after all,  is how it applies to bipolar disorder.  Right?
Photo credit:  Child Therapy Toys

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI)
In short,  emotional intelligence is the emotional strength we have,  especially in the face of adversity.  In other words,  it tells us something about how good we are in overcoming the difficulties we face in life.  Thus,  we can also speak of emotional competencies,  which might be more accurate than to rate it as a form of intelligence.

We,  as bipolars (as well as others with a chronic illness),  have the advantage to train ourselves in emotional intelligence as we face more difficulties in life than the average “normal” (or healthy) person.  Aren’t you glad?  Yeah,  me neither.

Daniel Goleman, Ph. D.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman’s model identifies 4 competencies or skills:

    1. Self-awareness
      *the ability to read one’s emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
    2. Self-management
      *involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
    3. Social awareness
      *the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social networks.
    4. Relationship management
      *the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.

#1 Self-awareness
The ability to read one’s emotions ~ truth be told,  I have often a difficult time to figure out what exactly I am feeling.  Counseling is helping us with learning to recognize our emotions for what they are.  Also,  not in the least important for bipolars,  it helps us to know what caused that particular emotion. Without that knowledge it is hard to respond in an upbuilding manner towards myself and others.

#2 Self-management
As is well-known,  adapting to change is more difficult for bipolars.  Some of us even suffer from the seemingly necessary evil of Daylight Savings Time (can someone shoot the person who invented this? Oh,  wait,  he is probably already dead).
Even though we have often learned to squash our emotions and impulses as it can bring us a lot of grief,  again through therapy we learn to control and use our emotions to better ourselves and possibly others.

#3 Social awareness
Ha!  To comprehend and sense other people’s emotions is like a second nature,  at least for me.  At last something we are good at :)!  Our reactions,  however,  leave something to be desired at times…  That is exactly why many of us enter counseling,  to learn to deal with the emotional influence of others and ourselves.

#4 Relationship management
I think that by our bipolar nature and the need to overcome many obstacles,  many of us inspire and influence others unknowingly.  Managing conflict?  That seems to me a hard one to acquire,  for anyone.  But again,  in therapy  (and if you are not – I highly recommend it,  unless you already acquired all those skills of course) we learn to work that one out as well.

Why is EI important?
The level of EI distinguishes the star performer from the  average performer.  The fact that we have to work so much harder on acquiring those emotional skills fortunately doesn’t mean we can’t achieve them.  And become very capable in the process! Especially since we are so much more aware of the need to obtain those skills in order to be succesful in our daily lives.

Does that mean that we are at an advantage after all?

For further reading:
Daniel Goleman’s website
Wikipedia – Emotional intelligence
About.com – History of emotional intelligence


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28 responses to “Emotional intelligence & bipolar disorder

  1. I am glad I found this blog. My mother suffered all her life from severe bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes (clinical diagnosis). I will create a link on my blog.

    • Hi Frandi,
      So glad you are able to read a bit more on what it was your mother had. It must have been hard for her and her direct family as treatment was so different from today.
      Please feel free to ask any questions, either through the comments or the ‘Contact me’ page on top.
      Thanks for linking up my blog!

  2. Pingback: Bipolar Disorder – Letter To Francine « A Life in Two Halves

  3. #3 is my strongest one, though you are right about my reaction to others being off or not right..

    My biggest weakness is not understanding my emotions enough to label them in a category, which has me feeling frustrated or empty a lot of the time or at least until I’m euphoric enough not to notice..

    Great post!

    • Hi Veronice,
      Thanks for responding ~ interesting that #3 is your strongest as well 🙂

      And I am so with you about labeling emotions & even though I am learning, it certainly doesn’t feel good when I don’t kow what is going on!

      Keep going! I know we’ll get there, right?

  4. Pingback: Managing Conflict: Power through Influence, Interpersonal Skills and Self Development, Leadership Training Dubai | Training Courses Blog

  5. Thanks a lot for this post this was a great read and resume of EI as bipolar. I truly enjoyed reading it!

  6. This is the best, most intelligent and well thought out post I have seen on Monday Madness for a long time, at least we have something to work toward that’s clearly mapped out here. Keep writing because I need you!!

  7. Elizabeth! Thank you so much for your encouragement! I need that as sometimes I am not sure if people are really served by what I write. So it means a lto to me, thanks 🙂

  8. You really never let us down Fenny. I’ve studied this in brief while doing my counselling training years ago now. I’m good at knowing and recognising my moods now- and I know the stimuli which will ALWAYS trigger a bad reaction (I simply cannot handle conflict, and people in general – esp strangers – bring out my mania then my depression due to negative self-regard). Really helpful post/great resource. Reading about this online anywhere can be confusion for those with no knowledge of such things but you explained it brilliantly so that its fully accessible. Many thanks too for linking it up for the mental health community at Monday Madness. Shah. X

    • Thanks for your encouragement, Shah, what would we do without it, eh? I agree that it is so important to know our triggers. Awareness is the first step to the process of mastering our reactions to it. But it often is a looooong way to get there… but: the journey is just as important as the destingation. As long as we move, we grow!
      Take care of yourself 🙂 and thanks for having your Monday Madness linky!!

  9. Hi Fenny,

    I just discovered your blog today while looking for blogs by other bipolar folks. I’m glad I found yours, and will be back.

    Re: “We, as bipolars…have the advantage to train ourselves in emotional intelligence as we face more difficulties in life than the average “normal” (or healthy) person….

    Actually, I feel very encouraged by this perspective! I’m having springtime difficulties right now and am going through medication changes (again!). It gives great meaning to my challenges to look at how much I gain from dealing with this illness.

    Great post!

    • Hi Mindfful Feast, welcome to my blog, up side of you finding me? That I found you! 🙂
      Glad you came away encouraged and with a new perspective – that’s why I blog, so this pleases me to no end!
      I like your pro-active approach – I think we could be friends, don’t you?

  10. I actually have his book but have never read it. I usually read the books on Bipolar Disorder!! Actually I read for pleasure these days more than anything.

    Isn’t it funny that we are so in tune to other peoples’ emotions but can’t identify our own. Maybe because we are too drugged up to feel? I recently lowered two meds and can finally feel again. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But I do believe if anyone needs emotional intelligence it’s us, but I think a lot of us, at least those of us that are diagnosed are halfway there.

    Thank you for such a wonderful post. I’ll be back.


    • He fellow book lover!!! I read for pleasure about 8 books in three weeks from the library :0) Love your blog!

      I think that the reason why we generally can sense other people’s emotions so well lies in the ability of sensing emotions in itself. However, our radar, if you like, is a little out of whack, cuz that’s the way we protect ourself from our own senses and emotions. So it is turned more to others than to ourselves. It will help us enormously when we learn to slowly turn this gift towards ourselves as well, with the aid of a therapist or counselor, as we can benefit enormously from it! And become experts on emotional strenght and inteligence in the process, yes!

      Even though we can feel ‘drugged up’ and as a matter of fact can take a too high dose (which differs per person) causing us to not feel, I don’t think that has anything to do with it.

      Being diagnosed and accepting our diagnosis is very important, but even more so the way we look at ourselves. I have adopted the view that I can succeed at anything, even if I have to take detours to get there.
      However, the general medical approach is: “we need to medicate your symptoms away so you can manage your life, and heaven forbid the next episode will come to upset the tender balance of recovery we have created based on the meds.”

      Ok, it’s getting a post in itself.

      Thought provoking comment you made, Heather. I like that!

      Will be pleased to see you back.

  11. Hi Heather, my mother had severe BD and although I don’t have it I do have manic tendencies and heightened emotions. I have learned to cope with anxiety without recourse to medication but sometimes I do feel overwhelmed. At least now I know what situations to avoid! Even as a child I was tuned in to everyone else’s emotions but not my own. Part of the healing process has been to allow myself to be comforted too.

    • Hi Frandi, nice to see you again!

      It is not surprising that with your mother having BD, you have learned to take care of her, hence learned to be tuned in to other people’s emotions, but at the expence of your own. That in itself is enought to produce a massive amount of anxiety, because who is going to take care of you?
      I relate to your story. It is so hard to later learn how to take proper emotional care of yourself. I deal(t) with an enormous amount of guilt, which creates anxiety as well.
      I am glad you have learned to allow yourself to be comforted. Way to go Frandi!

  12. Hi Fenny, we havn’t connected for a while, so I wished to send a quick note. Hope you are keeping well. I tend to do better in the Summer. Are people in Holland with bipolar disorder known as ‘bipolars’ or is that your own term?! I have a new feature at my blog on Mondays known as Manic Mondays. I’ve love for you to visit! Best wishes Fenny and take care, Elizabeth.

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Nice to see you back! Glad you seem to be able to enjoy Summer.
      For me, at least this Summer has not been bad, I am actually doing pretty good right now, yea!
      No, people in Holland are not known as bipolars, it’s just my term. (the shorter the better.) Here BD is more generally known as manic-depression, I regularly have to say (if it comes up) ‘you know, the ‘old’ m-d’. And explain there are lots of variations etc.
      I’ll have a look at Manic Mondays – I am also linked with Shah.
      Have a great Summer!

  13. KC

    Glad you wrote an article linking EI and Bi-Polar. I studied EI, prior to being diagnosed with Bi-Polar. I Don’t understand it, but I sense the link.

    • Fenny

      You are welcome, KC! And I am glad you feel the connection too. Intuition is a good thing – even if we don’t understand how something works YET – the understanding will come as we seek it, I believe.

  14. Rosemary

    Hi everyone having a very bad day, I’ve never been to this blog before. I got here trying to find help on the internet. I’m bi polar and having a bad time with family. They are not good for me I know but can’t separate myself from them. They don’t understand me and don’t really want to, and its tearing my heart apart. The hurt turns to anger and I get loud because they aren’t listening. The harder I try to explain myself or point out what they are doing that hurts me the worse things get but I can’t stop.

    I just needed to tell someone that, not that anyone can help me. I feel alone and feel like a failuire. I can’t stop crying and life is getting overwhelming cause I can’t get anything done that needs to be done, cause I’m sitting here crying and feeling helpless

    • Hi Rosemary, I can truly understand the heartache you feel when family don’t understand or care about the pain you are going through. It took me many years to completely break away from my family, and to heal myself. I don’t know if that’s the solution for you, but although it took some time to adjust, I know I’ve had a much more fulfilling life since I turned my back on my extended family. And the Catholic Church, it goes without saying! Oh, I still get over anxious about things but I can manage that now. I wrote a book about my experiences and once that was written most of the nightmares ceased. My mother had bipolar disorder and she suffered terribly at the hands of my father’s family; her own family wasn’t much better. Nobody ever understood her either. If you have someone who can offer you support, then perhaps even try a short period completely away from family, trying out new experiences. I think what the separation gave me was the time to be me, to take up painting, writing, poetry; talents I never knew I had because the ‘real me’ had never been able to surface. I was lost for awhile, but I eventually stopped trying to be someone they wanted me to be and which I never could be. Could you possibly write some of the things down that trouble you most? Short stories or vignettes? This helped me cleanse thought processes spinning around in my head and to get them into some kind of order. Anyway, take care and do what I do: ‘feel the fear and do it anyway, to hell with what The Family think, this is MY life!’ Anne.

      • Fenny

        Hi Rosemary! I left a comment yesterday that apparently didn’t post 😦
        I am glad that Anne shared her experience. In actual fact, I had to divorce myself from my family as an act of survival. But there were more issues than the mental disorder – in fact, at that time I didn’t even know I had a mental disorder!
        Through counseling I came to understand so much more of who I really am, and what the influence of my family had made me to be. It is paramount for you to weigh your options concerning your family. Is the gain worth the pain? And if not, which boundaries can you apply to make it worthwhile? And if not, does it make sense to continue being in relationship with them?
        Feel free to email me at thecrazyrambler @ gmail.com if you wnat to share and ‘talk’ more private!
        To me it has been such a rewarding journey to (re)discover who I am, what my dreams are, what I am passionate about. It took me a few years and blogging about it to work my way through my diagnosis. But with hard work, life can become interesting and fulfilling! Don’t give up!

  15. zakhra

    oh my god i understood that i have bipolar disorder 3 years ago and this “black dog” made me make wrong decision about my field of study 😥 i am unhappy and just don’t know what to do

    • Fenny

      sorry for a late reply, my internet was down. I am sorry Zakhra, life is sometimes so hard. Can you get the help of a good therapist? That’s been life saving for me. If you want to share/’talk’ more, please send an email via the ‘contact me’ or thecrazyrambler@gmail.com – there are ways to come unstuck! Hang in there!!!!!

  16. John Andersen

    I do not believe many bipolar people, as myself, have any emotional intelligence advantage. Maybe with reading others when we are stable. A lot of work, like you say in this good article. I think most bipolar people are neglected in the USA. Has any bipolar person reading get talk therapy that helps with anything. My therapists over 25 years now have been worthless? Any good books out there? Self therapy? Anyone interested in coauthors type of project where we discuss our deficits and strengths…overall?

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