Experiences with People with Bipolar — Generalizations

April 30, 2024 Natasha Tracy

Once a person has experience with a person with bipolar disorder, they may assume that they will always have a similar experience with others who have bipolar disorder. In other words, a person may paint everyone with bipolar disorder with the same brush. If the first person with bipolar disorder they have experience with is very intelligent or creative — they may think all people with bipolar are. On the other hand, if their experience with a person with bipolar disorder was very negative, they may assume that all their future experiences will go the same way. Generalizations of any group don't help us, however.

Generalizing Experiences with a Person with Bipolar Disorder Is Normal

Treating every item of the same type in the same way is a shorthand for the brain. If we learn that triangles have three sides and then see a three-sided shape, we call it a triangle and treat it as such. When we're talking about shapes, that works just fine. When we're talking about people, though, it gets more complicated. However, our brains still look to take those same shortcuts. It's how we process the myriad of complex stimuli that surround us every day. So, generalizing experiences with a person with bipolar disorder makes sense in that regard.

Generalizing Experiences with a Person with Bipolar Disorder Is Not Helpful

Unfortunately, generalizing your experiences with a person with bipolar disorder is not helpful, as while we are part of a group, we are also individuals. We may fit the diagnosis of an illness, but there are an infinite number of variables that define a human — not just one. We all have hopes, fears, dreams, likes, and dislikes that make us unique. None of those things are necessarily dictated by the illness. When you generalize one experience with a person with bipolar disorder onto all of us, you do us and you a disservice. By generalizing, you aren't learning about who we are or having a genuine interaction. You are projecting history onto the present.

Unfortunately, this often causes harm. I hear from people all the time who think that people with bipolar disorder are incredibly destructive and toxic because of one experience in their past. This tars and feathers all people with bipolar disorder because of what one person did.

How to Not Generalize Your Experience with a Person with Bipolar Disorder

As I said, people are more complicated than shapes. We know this, but applying this knowledge means overriding our brain's basic desire to generalize and categorize. We have to use wisdom and insight to overcome this simple way of thinking.

Essentially, it comes down to remembering that people are complex individuals. You can place them into illness groups if you like, but you can't judge a person based on that group. For example, not everyone with cancer is the same. Not everyone with diabetes is the same. Not everyone with bipolar disorder is the same, either. Bipolar disorder may influence who a person is, but it doesn't define it. Some of us are incredibly brilliant; some of us aren't. Some of us are artists, while some of us can't draw stick figures. And some of us are awful people, but that doesn't mean we all are.

While I will admit that a particularly great or particularly terrible experience can (rightly) influence your feelings in the future, it's important to recognize our history's influence and not project it onto other people — regardless of the group they may be in.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2024, April 30). Experiences with People with Bipolar — Generalizations, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 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.

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