Positive emotions like joy and compassion are good for your mental and physical health, and help foster creativity and friendship. But people with bipolar disorder seem to have too much of a good thing. In a new article to be published in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychologist June Gruber of Yale University considers how positive emotion may become negative in bipolar disorder.
One of the characteristics of bipolar disorder is the extreme periods of positive mood, or mania. People in the grip of mania also have increased energy, sleep less, and experience extreme self-confidence. At first glance, this may sound good and even desirable. However, during these times of mania, people with bipolar disorder often take dangerous risks, run up their credit card debt, and wreak havoc in marriages. “The fact that positive emotion has gone awry is something unique about bipolar disorder, as almost all other emotional disorders are characterized by difficulties in negative emotions” Gruber says.
Gruber points out that positive emotions are problematic for people with bipolar disorder even when they’re not experiencing mania. Gruber has studied people whose bipolar disorder is in remission and found that they still experience more positive emotions than people who have never had bipolar disorder. More positive emotions may not sound like a bad thing, but there are times when these positive emotions aren’t appropriate. “In our work, those with bipolar disorder continue to report greater positive emotions whether it’s a positive film, very sad film clip of a child crying over his father’s death, and even disgusting films involving someone digging through feces” she says. In more recent work Gruber and her colleagues have found they still feel good even if a close romantic partner tells them something sad face to face, they still feel good. “It’s rose-colored glasses gone too far.”