Talking About Bipolar Disorder Isn’t “Playing the Victim”

April 18, 2011 Natasha Tracy

I take a lot of flak for what I have to say about mental illness. My positions are often blunt and sometimes unpopular. This is fine with me. I’m an opinionated girl. Not everyone enjoys that particular charm.

But one thing that gets said every once in a while is I’m, “playing the victim.” And not only that, but I’m encouraging others to be victims. Contagious victim-ness I suppose.

This, of course, is just a slur designed to make me and others feel bad about what we have to say. Well, I say this:

Admitting to having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re “playing the victim.” Talking about mental illness isn’t “playing the victim” either.

What is a Victim?

1. a person or thing that suffers harm, death, etc, from another or from some adverse act, circumstance, etc: victims of tyranny

Now, in point of fact, I am a victim. Just like someone is a victim of cancer, I am a victim of bipolar disorder. I have “suffered harm from an adverse circumstance.” That’s just the English language for you. Run from it if you want, but admitting to an accurate statement doesn’t say anything about you other than the fact you understand the English language.

What Do They Mean When They Say "Victim?"

Naturally, when someone uses “victim” as a slur, they don’t mean it in an English-language-definition type way. They mean it as an insult. It’s more like this:

Victim playing (also known as playing the victim or self-victimization) is the fabrication of victim-hood for a variety of reasons such to justify abuse of others, to manipulate others, a coping strategy or attention seeking.

Playing the Victim

The first part of that definition is the fabrication of victimhood when in fact, we’ve already established, it’s not fabricated. Mental illness exists.

As far as manipulation goes, my writing is about honesty and empowerment. If you feel manipulated, you might want to look at why. Attention-seeking? I’m a writer. I write. Feel free to ignore me if you like.

What do People Really Object to?

So it’s clear these people aren’t using their words correctly and are really trying to say something else. I think what they’re saying is:

If you don’t talk about the problem it won’t exist.

As if I, my words, have the great power to will mental illness into existing. Or disappearing. Um, I have an ego but I don’t have a god-complex.

I’m Not a Victim

While yes, I am a victim in the dictionary sense, and no, I don’t play the victim as defined above, what’s more relevant is that I take full responsibility and control over my life. Oh, I run around in circles trying to deal with bipolar disorder, bipolar disorder causes many problems, and sometimes it feels like managing bipolar disorder is the only thing I do from the time I wake to the time I sleep – but that doesn’t negate the fact that I take responsibility.

Bipolar is a really, really, really bad hand in a card game.


There’s a difference between recognizing something harmful has happened to you and its effects, and saying it is the reason for everything in your life and you have no control.

People truly “playing the victim” will say nothing is their fault, no matter what they do, bad things happen to them, and they have no control over their life. And sometimes they will take this out in nasty ways on the people around them.

This is distinctly different than how I see it. Bipolar disorder happens. It sucks. Bipolar disorder affects massive chunks of my life. It sucks. Bipolar manifests in ways I can’t control. It sucks.

Absolutely anyone with any disease can say exactly the same thing. Cancer happens. Cancer affects massive chunks of life. Cancer manifests in ways you can’t control. There’s nothing wrong with saying any of that.

But there are still about a million choices a day that are mine. And while I might be mad at bipolar, I’m not mad at others.

In the end, no matter how bad a hand you’re dealt, you always get to pick the next card to play.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, April 18). Talking About Bipolar Disorder Isn’t “Playing the Victim”, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 18 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

May, 7 2012 at 7:36 am

Robert sets off my spidey sense as a narcissist. I'm not going to list off all the clinical red flags because it would be pointless and mean. Anyway, narcissists are maybe just a couple percent of the population--loud about it, but a small percentage.
I kinda figure we bipolars have our work cut out for us relating to the mainstream middle ground of other people out there.

January, 17 2012 at 11:05 pm

Hi Natasha,
Wonderful blog, I have only started reading it so sorry for the late comment. I am a thirty year old Australian woman with a professional degree in speech-language pathology. My career was interrupted five years ago with the onset of bipolar I disorder. I was diagnosed last year. I have a lot of knowledge and experience working with people who have disabilities, and since diagnosis I have learned a lot about mental illness too. Yet I have learned still more from reading this blog. You have put words to concepts I have felt but could not express. I particularly like this blog on victimhood and 'playing the bad hand of cards'.
Last year I married the most wonderful man in the world. He is incredibly supportive and we have a wonderful relationship. Yes it is difficult for him that I have bipolar disorder. But we cope really well, even though he also has a physical health problem. We support each other and the future looks good.
Robert, I am sorry things were so bad with your ex wife. I agree with others in this blog that your ex-wife's illnesses are not to blame for ALL of your misery. I hope you will find peace and move on to be with a wonderful woman for the rest of your life.

Robert in Toronto
July, 3 2011 at 8:13 am

When you start manipulating grammar & semantics to milk sympathy or simply get your own way then yes, you ARE playing the victim. When you talk with psychologists they will try to manipulate perception to set others into a codependent caregiver relationship. It is both wrong (moral) & incorrect (logical).
My ex is ADHD, BP, BPD, ODD. Note that I said IS. She does not have nor did she catch these disorders. They are genetic. At a molecular DNA level, she IS.
Now on victim-hood. For all the blather, she & others will convoluted logic until they can be perceived as not responsible for their actions. Can you smell the BS in that? Some bipolars cycle to a manic state indistinguishable from schizophrenia (the two disorders overlap with 30,000+ allele points on the genes of chromosome 15).
Fine, If you ARE that nutz then have yourself locked up. But get the language right & correct.. BiPolar individuals VICTIMIZE those around them. Their spouses & children are perpetually exposed to out of control behavior. The spouses & children are the victims of your disorder.
If you know that you have this disorder, you are responsible for seeking treatment. Many BPs & BPDs do not take that responsibility & continue to VICTIMIZE those around them. [moderated]
26+ years of the BS from my ex & mother in law has victimized 4 families & more than a dozen people. WE are the victims of these 2 womens insufferable abuse.
So do not try to twist logic or words. "I cannot help it" is not an acceptable excuse because there are effective treatments. You people will get no sympathy from me, two & a half decades of hell has destroyed any compassion I had.
I can just hear the response.. "Try living in our.. It is no picnic.. I am the one suffering". [moderated] If you refuse treatment then you are insufferable.

Natasha Tracy
May, 9 2011 at 7:15 pm

Hi Leanne,
I would suggest that many people are bitter after divorce and sometimes a mental illness is a perfect thing on which to lay the blame.
And of course, you're right, tarring as all the same is ridiculous.
Glad you like the blog.
- Natasha

May, 6 2011 at 9:46 am

Robert is it possible you're just a little bitter due to your experience with your wife & mother-in-law (which obviously affects your opinion on all of us with BP)? I am really happy to hear about your son's achievements against the odds.
I acknowledge everything I have done to hurt my family - but I keep going & definitely don't play the victim card.. if I did, I'd never move forward (unlike some 'normal' people I know).
I have studied & luckily have been blessed with being a good student all through my life.
I have a fairly stressful job as an insurance broker - I have only had 6 months off full time work due to bipolar, forced stays in the nuthouse & being overmedicated. During that time, I worked part-time.
So I do consider myself as a productive (yet whacky) member of society. As always, we can't judge unless we've walked in the other man/woman's shoes.
I don't mean to be offensive to you (if you feel that way) but don't tar us all with the same brush as your wife & mother-in-law - that's your opinion of them & you're entitled to express it ... Just as we are!
Keep on writing Natasha .. loved the blog.

Natasha Tracy
May, 6 2011 at 8:39 am

Hi Alistair,
"The world is not an excuse and I am not a victim. If anything, the process of confronting, managing, and ultimately mastering Manic Depression has given me strength and insights that square shooters simply don’t have"
Nicely said.
- Natasha

Alistair McHarg
May, 6 2011 at 1:46 am

The world is not an excuse and I am not a victim. If anything, the process of confronting, managing, and ultimately mastering Manic Depression has given me strength and insights that square shooters simply don't have.

Sara Anderson
April, 28 2011 at 2:28 am

Your post here really struck a nerve with me and I'm sure with many who struggle with this illness on a daily basis (and those who are close to them). Mental Illness is such a unique illness that it is hard for the "mentally healthy" population hard to understand.
They don't always understand that the mood swings that result in saying things that they don't mean to those that they love or the fact that you were fine just a few hours (mania) and now you don't want to get out of bed (depression).
You are spot on when you mentioned that bipolar affects a huge chunk of your life. My husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety with agoraphobia, and schizo affective disorder in February 2010. This has affected every aspect of his life: his ability to work, his relationships with family, our marriage, etc.
Thank you for sharing!
Sara Anderson

April, 27 2011 at 6:46 pm

Nice article Natasha. In life, there will always be those who consider their cards and make the best of them, those who will feel cheated by their cards and those convinced that everyone gets better cards than they do regardless of whether that is the case or not. I would hazard a guess that Robert's wife may fall into the latter category but she isn't here to speak for herself. I do object to the assertion that, as someone with bipolar, I and others like me are parasites that should be avoided at all costs (visions of modern day leper colonies spring to mind). Medicated, I am a well balanced, high achiever who contributes financially to society. Unmedicated, I struggle to be so. Fortunately, I have worked hard to ensure I am able to tell the difference. I am pleased that through 'normalisation', Robert's son has achieved what he has. I hope that the negative description of his mother and grandmother do not have wider ramifications in any of the relationships.

April, 22 2011 at 1:35 pm

Robert, you should re-read some of your posts. Suggesting someone is "delusional" on a blog dedicated to mental health shows a complete and utter lack of sensitivity on your part. I find you to be an offensive pseudo intellectual troll who could probably find better ways to get off. I really cannot stand bullies and that is what you sound like.
The paradigm shift that has to occur is among people like you, the truly entitled who believe that because life has worked out for them those that don't succeed are lazy, malingering or "playing the victim".
Maybe all I need is a swift kick in the ass, then when I am cured I will go after the drug addicts and schizophrenics with my jackboots.
Thank you Robert, you have figured it out.

Natasha Tracy
April, 22 2011 at 9:24 am

Hello Robert,
You are technically correct, bipolar is a disorder, but then, so is diabetes and epilepsy if you would prefer that association.
Your characterization that those with bipolar were "historically institutionalized" because they "have a huge negative effect on everyone around them" like flesh-eating disorder, apparently, is ridiculous. People with bipolar disorder are all different, much like everyone else is different. I could generalize about you as a divorced male, but that would be wrong, as you are an individual. People are defined by their actions (such as your diatribe here) and not their label.
You are correct, no one "owes" anyone "acceptance, understanding, respect." That is called prejudice, stigma and hate and you may exercise those as a person with free will. Those aren't the kind of things I like to exercise.
I never said I was "shunned, downtrodden, no body likes you." I never intimated such things. As I mentioned above, I don't consider myself a victim. I consider myself to be an empowered individual with a bad hand of cards. As I mentioned above.
It's great that your son has succeeded with his challenges and it's interesting for you to assume that I haven't. To the best of my knowledge, you know nothing about me. Here's a bit:
- I have a bachelor's of computer science
- I have worked for several software companies including one of the most prestigious in the world
- I have written thousands of pages on topics like mental illness
- I am currently agent-shopping a book
- I have completed 150 skydives and obtained a coach license
- I have a SCUBA diving license
- I have paraglided over Venezuela
And so on, and so forth.
What I don't have is hate. What I don't have is time for hate. What I don't have is acceptance of stigma.
Between the two of us, I suspect I know who hurts the people around them.
- Natasha

April, 22 2011 at 6:51 am

A well written piece which stinks of "victimhood", all the telltale literary tricks.
You mis-used the medical model of BP referring to it as a disease. You even cross-associated it with Cancer to try to bully a sympathetic reaction from your readers (seeking victimhood by association).
The better disease to use in such a comparison would be Ebola. No one wants to contract Ebola. Once someone does, it would be insane of others not to use extreme caution when dealing with the affected individual. Human nature creates the situation were such toxic individuals are either shunned or medically treated in isolation using hazmat suits.
BP is not a disease, it is a disorder. It is a judgement of the state of mental health. That judgement of "having it" becomes definitive when detriments occur over multiple domains (home, school, work, & relationships associated there in). That judgement is made by the problematic approach BP people near consistently use in their interactions.
If you google the plight of the non-BP in relationships with BP you will agree with the Ebola (or even Flesh Eating) disease analogy. BP people can & do often have a huge negative effect on everyone around them. No one is entitled to harm anyone, that is why BPs were historically institutionalized.
The "victimhood" trap here is that you implicitly assume that BP people are entitled to anything (acceptance, understanding, respect). Welcome to planet Earth, that entitlement is a nonsensical intellectual construct which ignores the boundary between your own inner perception & the external objective reality.
We out here, the readers, owe you nothing at all. No one does. If your own cognitive operations do not recognize this then you are delusional. That is why you are being told to "stop playing victim". That reality may be too harsh for you to handle but it is how things work in the universe.
My son has ADHD-PI & I have spoken at length with him on this. You take the "cards you were dealt", you come to an understanding of how to work around any real limitations (with medication & self-knowledge), then you get out there & live. He is now one of less than 5% of the kids who has transitioned from Special Education back into the mainstream. His disorder was in the moderate to severe range. My insisting on his own paradyne shift changed everything.. "victimhood" is not allowed.
The ex-wife is BP. She & the mother-in-law are also BPD. Both will go on & on in their narcissistic pursuit of victim status. Single mother (no, I was a stay-at-home Dad), abused woman (no, She brought false DV charges to halt medical diagnostics with my son, the courts overturned her), economically disadvantaged (no, She is a teacher & makes as much as most 2 income homes).. I could go on & on but as I have said: The universe owes nothing to no one.
If you are shunned, downtrodden, no body likes you.. change yourself. "stop playing victim". If you insist that it is not your fault then please lock yourself away because no one else has to put up with you.

April, 21 2011 at 4:39 pm

Excellent article, as someone with Major Depression Disorder/PTSD and Generalised Anxiety, who is also lucky enough that meds are virtually ineffective (10 different Anti Depressants) for 12years now. I get the "stop being a victim" line quiet often, or the you just have to "think positive" one. Some people think that if we don't talk about our illness or just change how we think (Not entirely untrue but not the way they mean) or just don't think about it. Then we will be better some how.
Sometimes it can be difficult for others to understand the hardships that mental illness can bring, over 12 years I have lost my career in IT, become bankrupt, was homeless for a while. While I am now starting anew, I have just started studying again, hope to get a new degree at Uni over the next 4-5years. I have to be aware of my illness, so I can use the coping strategies, it has been those times when I have tried to ignore it, pretend that all is good, when Life falls apart.
I think that because people cant see anything physical, and the it is "just in your mind" that by talking about it, we some how make it worse. My problem is that not talking about it is what get me in trouble, I often need to talk about how I am feeling, as when I verbalise my thoughts I can see those that are not exactly "rational", but sound rational when they spin around in my head. For me it has become important to have people I can talk about my illness with, but the problem is finding those people. I think we scare people, and that has a lot to do with the hurtful statements, they are afraid to believe that it is possible for the mind to betray, that thoughts cant always be controlled, it is easier for them to believe that we are weak, or seeking attention. I also believe that some times they are afraid of what they see in us, they sometimes see in themselves, and it scare them that oneday their minds might betray them.
Thank you for you articles, they are inspiring and good reminder we are not alone, even when my thoughts tell me different.

Natasha Tracy
April, 21 2011 at 4:09 pm

Wow. That's a big compliment. Thanks.
- Natasha

April, 21 2011 at 3:44 pm

Thanks lovely for such a wonderful article. Have I mentioned today that you are wonderful!

Natasha Tracy
April, 21 2011 at 2:45 pm

Hi Paul,
I'm glad your diagnosis has brought you some relief.
It can take time to find the right medication for you, but work with your doctor and be completely honest about how you are doing, how you think the drugs are doing and any side effects. Because they know you individually they are the only ones in a position to make medication recommendations.
Thanks for your comment.
- Natasha

paul - England
April, 21 2011 at 2:04 pm

Good to read your article. I have had a completely opposite response since having my issues diagnosed. Prior to diagnosis people used to think of me as a perfectionist, "moody" individual and a wallflower or reclusive. I have recently spent 8 weeks in a psychiatric institution and have been diagnosed as having OCD, Bipolar and General Anxiety disorder. All three effecting me to varying degrees Bipolar as and when episodes occur OCD/GAD virtually constant. Citalopram 80mg/day was prescribed and has had moderate effect. I am now about to start with a Lithium/Citalopram mix, anyone ever experienced this? My experience since diagnosis has been one of acceptance and relief, from being frequently ignored or passed over/tolerated. Hope the new mix has a more positive effect

Natasha Tracy
April, 21 2011 at 4:59 am

Hi Carla,
I can definitely say that phrase does tend to be "thrown" at people but I'm not sure if attention-stealing is the motivation.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
April, 21 2011 at 4:58 am

Hi Mareeya,
Well, thanks to Holly for the recommendation. Thanks for dropping by.
"Having knowledge gives me some control over my disorder. I’ve read several of your posts, and find them very informative. I think your writing as well as Holly’s writing is a far cry from playing the victim, and it’s absolutely a far cry from encouraging others to play the victim. I certainly don’t feel like a victim when I educate myself about my disorder. It’s sad that some people don’t want to see these articles for the education they provide."
Thank-you. I agree. And I'm glad to hear that learning is empowering you. That certainly is the idea from me and I know from Holly as well. I don't believe people should sit in the corner crying about their illness for the rest of their lives - that would be a victim.
"I’m glad that you are seeing the negativity for what it is."
Oh yes, negativity is often quite obvious. It's easy to be sucked into it, on occasion, but I try not to be overtaken by it.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
April, 21 2011 at 4:50 am

Hi Michael,
I agree, it's not healthy to suppress emotions on any level. Things get considerably more complicated when talking about a mental illness though. Emotions with a mental illness are not necessarily reasonably proportional to a given situation. I think we have to be careful to understand mental illness symptoms vs. our own reasonable emotions.
I always agree with conversation. Thanks for taking part.
- Natasha

April, 19 2011 at 10:07 pm

Any time I've heard that phrase thrown at me it was because, for just one second, one of my symptoms took some attention away from them. Some people just can't stand that. And I can't stand them.

April, 19 2011 at 12:19 pm

Great article Natasha!
Holly Gray from Dissociative Living thought I might be interested in reading this, and she was correct. I really like that you say this:
"As far as manipulation goes, my writing is about honesty and empowerment."
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, and the reason I choose to read educational blogs/posts/articles is to feel empowered by the knowledge I gain. Having that knowledge gives me some control over my disorder. I've read several of your posts, and find them very informative. I think your writing as well as Holly's writing is a far cry from playing the victim, and it's absolutely a far cry from encouraging others to play the victim. I certainly don't feel like a victim when I educate myself about my disorder. It's sad that some people don't want to see these articles for the education they provide.
I'm glad that you are seeing the negativity for what it is.
Take care, and keep on writing!! :)

April, 18 2011 at 2:41 pm

'Mental health issues' are a lot more common than most people believe. Degrees of difference is something I've heard it referred to as. There's nothing wrong with having emotional issues, but it's definitely not healthy to hide them. Many cultures still shun emotionally troubled people and ignore the problem. We need to keep these open discussions going and expressing ourselves honestly in order for society to progress. Thank you for your post Natasha.

Natasha Tracy
April, 18 2011 at 1:30 pm

Hi Amanda,
I honestly don't think there _are_ that many "pretenders," at least not ones you'd take seriously. I think you'd see through most in the blink of an eye. I'd say the "pretender" argument is a straw man - something put up specifically so it can be knocked down.
"Anyone who says you’re playing the victim is an idiot"
I sort of tend to think so, yes. But people do tend to read a whole lot into things and no one can stop that.
"Hardly the words of someone looking for an excuse to not do anything. I love your blog, and thank you for speaking the truth. And so well, at that."
Yes, if you know anything about my life you'd know that I do everything to claim power over it. I'm more "successful" career-wise than most will ever be. I'm an empowerment gal.
And thank-you. You're too kind.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
April, 18 2011 at 1:26 pm

Hi Holly. Glad to help :)
- Natasha

April, 18 2011 at 1:06 pm

I agree with Holly - this post could not have come at a better time for me. It makes you wonder just how 'sane' the majority of people are when they react so violently to people daring to talk about mental illness. All it does is make the pretenders (i.e. people who claim to have mental illness for attention, etc.) claim greater victimisation, and the genuine sufferers feel even more isolated. It's a stupid, vicious circle.
Anyone who says you're playing the victim is an idiot, your blog is all about dealing with the terrible hand we're dealt, and doing what you can to keep playing (to extend the metaphor). Hardly the words of someone looking for an excuse to not do anything. I love your blog, and thank you for speaking the truth. And so well, at that.

Holly Gray
April, 18 2011 at 12:59 pm

Such a timely post for me. Thank you for articulating so well something many mental health bloggers run into on a regular basis.

Peter Zawistowski
April, 18 2011 at 11:38 am

Natasha, great comparison of bipolar disorder and the hand of cards. Sometimes we all find the joker in the deck.
Peter Z

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