Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is There a Bipolar Personality?

In yesterday's post, I wrote that during a person's diagnosis for bipolar disorder, I feel he/she should take tests for temperament, and also personality (which I didn't mention). Within psychological circles, there's a lot of discussion about the differences between temperament and personality, which I'll try to explain briefly--just so I can make my point.

The easiest way to explain it is that temperament is a set of traits you're born with. It appears early in childhood, and while it's not measurable, observed over time it suggests a certain pre-disposition toward a "particular configuration of habits." According to Dr. David Keirsey, co-author of Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, there are four temperament types: Guardians, Idealists, Artisans, and Rationals.

Your personality is formed by your temperament and character, which may be influenced by your environment, socialization, education, birth order, siblings, interpersonal pressures etc. The most popular test for this is the Myers Briggs Personality Tests, and they define 16 personality types.

Finally, my point is this: In every book I've read about bipolar mood disorder, psychiatrists talk about the bipolar personality. And in books on depression, they talk about the "depressed" personality. And none of their descriptions have ever resonated with me. Of course, I always feel they're trying to find some way of "blaming" me for my illness.

But, what if they gave bipolar people (BIPs) temperament and personality tests? And what if they found that the majority of BIPs are highly sensitive? Or that according to the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, BIPs tend to be Idealists? Or according to the Myers Briggs Personality Tests, most BIPs tend to be INFPs or ISFPs and "live in an intently personal fashion, they strive to adhere to their own high personal moral standards, and they are deeply empathetic?"

I have no idea whether BIPs have any similar temperament and/or personality traits, but it would be interesting to find out. It would also be important to know how well we deal with stress. Was our adjustment from adolescence to adulthood more difficult than most? There are numerous other questions that would have value.

Why? Because, if we share certain temperament and personality traits, and if we have similar problems dealing with stress, or if we tend to have difficulties dealing with change, then it should be relatively easy to develop a skills-based program to help us, rather than having every single one of us try to seek help on our own.

And rather than "blaming" us for being different, we could be taught certain coping skills, or we could be praised for our sensitivity, or encouraged to pursue occupations that would take advantage of our unique perceptions and sensibilities.

It's just a thought...


Danielle Says Hello said...

It would be necessary for BIPs to take the personality assessments both during a manic phase and a depressive phase over a period of time to determine - however, my ESFJ has remained stable over time. I am a firm believer in the validity and reliability of the Myers Briggs. Would you like to come and teach that part of my psychology class??? You do a great job!!

AMen! to the last paragraph of your post - that is what I encourage throughout my lectures on personality/psychological disorders and therapies no matter if an individual has a DSM diagnosis or not.

Gianna said...

Are you an INFP? I am...

I have extroverted tendencies too---but I guess that's not surprising either!

Pistol Pete said...

Thanks for raising such intriguing questions.

Duane Sherry said...


Agree with you on each of your points here.

Interesting that you closed this piece with a comment about finding occupations that suit our temperament.

Much of my work has been with individuals with disabilities - in the area of vocational/career counseling.

I have always chosen to help people focus on how to take who they are, and find a place that appreciates their basic personality.

I've come to believe that industries, and particularly companies have cultures - and so, I think of searching the right job/company as finding the right culture.

It really comes down to finding a niche for ourselves. Amazing how confidence improves when we find the a niche in life.

Something we enjoy - something we're good at - and of course, something we are appreciated for.

Thank you for this post.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Since you teach psychology, I'll defer to you on this. Actually, I'm wondering whether information on temperament and personality might prevent a reoccurance of depressive episodes.

Again, I'm the exception to the rule since my hypomanias were medication-induced after 25 years of semi-annual six-week depressive episodes.

I'm smiling about teaching Myers Briggs--having no background in this. But I do believe you and I would be very entertaining team-teachers!

Of course, it doesn't surprise me that you would encourage your students to be the best they can be!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I need to retake the test to let you know. I took it years ago, and I just can't seem to find it--although I'll try to check later this afternoon. I, too, have extroverted tendencies--and most people would consider me an extrovert, but perhaps that another topic for discussion.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Pistol Pete,
You're welcome! Glad to hear from you again!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I closed with the comment on work because I changed careers so many times. For a long time I thought my "problems" were due to choosing the wrong careers. I had a series of very appealing careers that appealed to a part of my personality, and were very prestigious, but had nothing to do with my deepest interests and values. But that's another post!

It is interesting that this is what you do for a living. I'm sure you're more skilled at helping people than the people from whom I sought help!


Paula Joy said...

I am not highly sensitive, according to the self quiz, but I am sensitive.

In high school I was an INFP, and now I'm more ENFP. A quote taken from http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~remzi/Personal/enfp.html
says that ENFP's "have what some call a 'silly switch.' They can be intellectual, serious, all business for a while, but whenever they get the chance, they flip that switch and become CAPTAIN WILDCHILD, the scourge of the swimming pool, ticklers par excellence. Sometimes they may even appear intoxicated when the 'switch' is flipped."

That sounds a lot like my rapid cycling bipolar to me! And, that's what I would blame my "mood swings" on - my personality.

Interesting thoughts, Susan!!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula,
It would be interesting to find out whether there are other tests to determine a person's level of sensitivity.

And the information you provided is thought-provoking. It makes me want to read a few books on personality to explore this area further!

I've never heard about the "silly switch," but it gives one pause for thought!


Howard said...

I test (Myers-Briggs) as an INFJ, which is seen in about 0.5% of men and about 1.5% of women (true).

This rarity plays nicely into my manic mode in which I think I am some sort of messiah to the proletariat 99.5% who are E's or P's...



Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

That's very funny! And I do consider you a messiah of sorts although I don't consider myself the proletariat!


annalogies said...

I love where you are going with this and have thought there were/must be connections to personality and maybe even astrological sign? I'm ENFP, Cancer, BIP and proud of it! I also wonder if we could surmise the MBTI of former BIP greats -- Lincoln, Picasso, etc..

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear annalogies,
It would be fun, wouldn't it?


James the Greatest said...

John McMan had his readers take an MBTI test, then he analysed the results. it's really interesting and a quick read.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear James,
I'll mention it tomorrow in my post. Thanks for letting me know. This will be interesting to my readers.