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How much is support & how much is enabling?


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Hi, I'm new to this online community and am trying to learn as much as possible about bipolar disorder. My sister who is diagnosed with it has been challenging to deal with. She's up, she's down. She's going to therapy and on meds. I'm hoping she'll join a support group because that tends to help share w/alike people.

HERE'S MY QUESTION: How do I offer support w/out being a doormat? I feel like I don't want to enable bad behavior but if I don't then I'm too blame for her spiral, in which she tells me so. I feel like every time I say "no" to her for even the smallest thing or don't comply to her wishes, then she starts in on one of her episodes and doesn't feel better until I say "yes"...She says "tough love" will only drive her to suicide. How do I deal w/this correctly?

Edited by mialin
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  • 4 weeks later...

Some parents often say that in order to instill values in their children, they must explain why their position on a particular matter is reasonable, insist that the child adopt a similar position, and make clear that they will not accept “no” for an answer. However, from personal experience, not accepting no for an answer leads to a great deal of drama. The countless times I disagreed and argued with my parents makes it difficult to recall many details, but the words everyone used were cruel and unreasonable. Yet, regardless of whether this strategy of raising children is right or wrong, I am impressed by the intensity of my parents' passion, and their commitment to values. If I had half of that passion I bet I could start flying like Superman.

During some of the drama, some boundaries were crossed. Family members utterred hurtful words that were never acted upon, and grudges were unreasonably kept for as long as possible. But, it is in that very mess where each member of the family learns to compromise with each other and themselves.

So, I suppose this is the long way of suggesting that if you wish to offer support without feeling like a doormat, don't be a doormat. I understand that this places you in a very difficult position, but not being a doormat does not necessarily mean being confrontational. How about encouraging your sister to join a support group? Do some research, make some phone calls, see which groups would be appropriate for your sister, start suggesting she join one, and continue to give her reminders to join a group until she does. This sort of micromanagement is by no means a solution, but it can aid your sister to get on task. Further, is she seeing a doctor for her disorder? Maybe you can contact her doctor, share your circumstances, and ask for advice to help your sister.

Also, as you mentioned above, not all of your efforts will be welcome. Your sister's warning that tough love will drive her to suicide may be alarming, but it is clear that doing nothing to address the situation is not acceptable either. Thus, one choice – probably the only choice - is to continue trying, and to keep an open mind by reading, networking, and sharing your thoughts and concerns with communities like this one. Just as brooks says, take it one day at a time.

Welcome to the community.

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I too suffer from Bi Polar Disorder and am very familiar with what you are saying, as no doubts, a lot of people on this site would let you know if you ask them about my up's and down's!

HERE'S MY QUESTION: How do I offer support w/out being a doormat? I feel like I don't want to enable bad behavior but if I don't then I'm too blame for her spiral, in which she tells me so. I feel like every time I say "no" to her for even the smallest thing or don't comply to her wishes, then she starts in on one of her episodes and doesn't feel better until I say "yes"...She says "tough love" will only drive her to suicide. How do I deal w/this correctly?

Just because we suffer from Bi-Polar Disorder doesn't mean were any different. What I mean is, fair enough, we might have a Mental Disorder (chemical imbalance) but were still all with it? Well sometimes? What I'm trying to say is yes we get our up's & down's (highs & lows) but that doesn't mean that we should be treated any differently? (I can see me eating my own words if I'm not careful?)

I think the bigest thing is to make her feel wanted! Explain that she can't spit her dummy out every time she can't have her own way? she can control it you know, it may take time to simmer but she will at some stage!

You've got to be cruel to be kind!

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  • 2 years later...

Thank you so much for speaking out to the "not polars" to give us some insight. I have 27 year old daughter who I enabled all her life by not allowing her to take responsibility and have normal consequences and healthy boundaries...I always padded reality for her, and I feel responsible for the way her bipolar developed, as I do think that there is some genetic factor and also some experiential/conditioning factor from your upbringing.

It sure did not help her.

She has moved home after a couple of years of some not very healthy living abusing RX meds and alcohol, needed to go to hospital for a few days, and came to live with me after agreeing to my rules for now...that she be home every night by 8 and no visitor. I did that to set some boundaries for my own health and it was so hard for me to do given how enabling I am and how afraid I have been of confrontation with her.

To my surprise, she responded well to those conditions and is following the rules, but now I want more!! She is refusing to get treatment, working full time which is great, I'm proud of her, but without treatment I am afraid she will move out soon as she has enough money saved and go back with the friends she drank and abused with....

I cannot control her, I dont' want to, but I love her. I am afraid she will kill herself one way or another if she does not get treatment. Her therapist will not see her anymore unless she is in a treatment program..the crisis she came to was too serious and the therapist decided to set limits, I guess, but my daughter is not heeding that advice.

Living together is very stressful!!! Any attempt to talk about issues/boundaries results in a terrible rageful or very hurt/suicidal reaction.

What can I do? Should I insist on treatment as a condition for continuing to live with me? I want her to experience support groups which she has never done, I think it would be great for her. I have been stressed nonstop by her moving back in -- there are many stressors for us both..but I am glad she is alive and not drinking.

Thanks to everyone for any support and feedback you might offer.

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I don't think ultimatums are good for bipolars. We are impulsive and not that fond of living anyway. Might just send her over the edge. I'd say baby steps would be good. Discussing a plan of action with her, getting her to come up with some of the ideas, setting some timelines, finding a motivating factor for her (maybe positive rewards for achieving milestones instead of punishments?). Anybody who is suicidal doesn't feel particularly loved so I wouldn't do anything that reinforces that feeling in her. Love, acceptance, patience, caring, interest, positive attention - I think those things would do wonders for her. You can let her know how her actions hurt you. Let her know what your boundaries are, but don't yell it at her. Don't say it in anger. Just have a calm, intelligent discussion.

Anyway, that's just my opinion for what it's worth.

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Well for me it's like tell me not to do it that will make me say watch & I'll do it. You can't give her to many boundaries she will eventually break them. Why won't she go to therapy now? This might sound stupid to you but, basically to Bipolars is she right now holding her own? If she is it also depends on how long that something will keep her stable. When she was on meds did she have alot or any adverse reactions that could now be the reason so for right now she is kink of stable. And please don't dare her to do anything that you don't positively want her to do. We like Athena said we could take life or leave it we are just not fond of it.

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