How Does a Person with Bipolar Disorder Think?

Medically Reviewed By Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

A person with bipolar disorder may think differently from you, especially during a manic or depressive episode. Thought processes vary from person to person. Bipolar disorder and those who have it are often misunderstood. This article will help you better understand bipolar disorder by defining the condition.

It will also discuss thought patterns of those with bipolar disorder, as well as personality traits, treatments, and more.

What is bipolar disorder?

Woman looking off into the distance
Sadie Culberson/Stocksy United

Bipolar disorder is a psychological condition that affects approximately 2.8% of the population Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source in the United States.

It causes extreme shifts in your mood, energy, and ability to think clearly. The main characteristics of bipolar disorder are periods of very high and very low moods, called mania and depression, respectively.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary in type and severity from person to person. Sometimes someone with bipolar disorder can go for long stretches of time without any symptoms at all. However, there are others who can experience symptoms simultaneously or in rapid succession.

There are three main types of bipolar disorder:

  • bipolar I
  • bipolar II
  • cyclothymic disorder

The two main symptoms of bipolar I are:

  • Mania: This is an episode or period of “high” mood. Someone with bipolar disorder may find these periods appealing. However, the high mood level rarely stops at a comfortable level. It is can cause irritability, unpredictable behavior, and impaired judgment. Oftentimes someone in a manic state knows and understands the negative consequences of their actions.
  • Depression: These low mood periods often cause someone with bipolar disorder to have difficulty getting out of bed. Depressive episodes can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Some may find they sleep far more than they usually would. Depressive symptoms can often cause issues with performing daily tasks.

Someone with bipolar II is more likely to experience episodes of hypomania. This is when you experience milder forms of mania that last for a shorter period of time. These episodes never reach the level of full manic episodes.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact your doctor, your mental health professional, or the local emergency services.

What are the common thoughts and thought patterns of someone with bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder affects your moods, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. There are different types of thought patterns that feature in either manic or depressive states.

These include:

  • Racing thoughts: This is when your thoughts race through your head very quickly. They can race so quickly that you feel out of control.
  • Flight of ideas: This is when your thoughts jump from idea to idea very quickly. This often includes making links and seeing meaning in things that those around you do not.
  • Pressure of speech: Also called pressured speech, this occurs when your speech accelerates, sometimes uncontrollably.
  • Poverty of speech: This occurs when your speech becomes very brief and includes little elaboration.
  • Tangentiality: This is a disturbance Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in your thought process that causes you to relate excessive or irrelevant details. Typically these details fail to reach the point of the conversation or to answer a question.
  • Negative or suicidal thoughts: Thoughts of suicide are often present for those with bipolar disorder, including in manic states.
  • Rumination: This is when you spend a lot of time thinking and dwelling on upsetting and difficult things.

Manic episodes

During manic episodes, your moods may feel higher. Mania means feeling high.

When you are in a manic episode, you may feel:

  • happy or joyful
  • uncontrollably excited
  • as though you cannot get words out fast enough (accelerated speech)
  • increased sexual energy
  • irritable or agitated
  • confident
  • easily distracted
  • untouchable or like you cannot be harmed
  • as though you need less sleep than usual

Manic episodes can change your behavior as well. During one of these episodes, you may:

  • talk a lot or speak very quickly
  • become more active than you usually are
  • be very friendly
  • say or do things that are inappropriate or out of character
  • spend money excessively
  • act rudely or aggressively
  • take risks
  • misuse drugs or alcohol

After a manic episode, you may be left feeling ashamed of your behavior. You may also find you do not have a clear memory of what happened, and you may feel very tired as well.

Depressive episodes

A depressive episode is a period of low mood. These episodes can last for 2 weeks or even longer.

If you experience severe depression, you may require medication or a hospital stay.

While you are experiencing a depressive state, you may feel:

  • down or upset
  • tearful
  • tired or sluggish
  • guilty, worthless, or hopeless
  • unable to concentrate
  • as though you have low self-esteem
  • uninterested in things you typically enjoy
  • agitated or tense

Depressive episodes can change your behavior as well. During a depressive episode, you may:

  • sleep too much or have trouble sleeping
  • eat large amounts of food or not enough
  • act withdrawn
  • avoid social situations
  • avoid contact with others
  • become less active than you usually are
  • self-harm

Learn more about mental health and behavior by visiting our hub.

What are the common personality traits of someone with bipolar disorder?

Along with certain thought processes and mood fluctuations, many people with bipolar disorder display certain maladaptive personality traits.

When discussing personality traits, the big five personality model is often used. This is a model of the primary dimensions of the differences in personality.

These dimensions of personality typically include:

  • extraversion
  • neuroticism
  • agreeableness
  • conscientiousness
  • openness to experience

The labels of the above personality traits may vary among researchers and professionals.

Research has shown Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a connection between bipolar disorder and certain traits of the dimensions from the big five model.

Neuroticism has been shown to be one of the main personality traits with elevated levels among people with bipolar disorder.

Neuroticism is a trait that means you experience Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source negative emotions.

The emotions experienced through neuroticism include:

Someone with elevated levels of neuroticism typically handles stress poorly. They may also interpret nonthreatening situations as threatening, and they often find minor frustrations as hopelessly overwhelming.

How is bipolar disorder treated?

There are a few different options for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Oftentimes treatment will include a combination of these options.

As everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently, you should talk to your doctor about treatment options. You can work with them to find the best plan for you.

Treatments for bipolar disorder include:

  • Medication: Mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications are the most common types prescribed for bipolar disorder.
  • Psychotherapy: This can include cognitive behavioral therapy and other types of one-on-one psychotherapy, as well as family-focused therapy.
  • Self-management strategies: This often includes education about the condition along with learning to recognize the early symptoms of an episode.
  • Lifestyle changes: Things like exercise and meditation can complement the treatments you might already be receiving, but they should not replace them.

Learn more about the types of bipolar disorder here.

How can you help a loved one with bipolar disorder?

Watching someone close to you experience the highs and lows of bipolar disorder can be distressing to some people. However, there are ways you can help and support your loved one.

Ways you can support someone with bipolar disorder include:

  • being open about their condition
  • having a plan in place for manic episodes
  • talking about the behaviors you find challenging
  • learning what their warning signs and triggers are
  • trying not to make assumptions about their moods or behaviors

It is important that you remember to take care of yourself as well, even while caring for and supporting your loved one.


Bipolar disorder is a psychological condition characterized by extreme mood fluctuations. These are called manic and depressive episodes.

Someone with bipolar disorder can experience different thought processes during these episodes that affect their behavior.

Bipolar disorder is treatable. If you or someone you are close to is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, contact your doctor.

Was this helpful?
  1. Balaram, K., et al. (2021). Circumstantiality.
  2. Bipolar disorder. (2017).
  3. Bipolar disorder. (n.d.).
  4. Bipolar disorder: Bipolar moods and symptoms. (2022).
  5. Bipolar disorder: Supporting someone with bipolar disorder. (n.d.).
  6. Psychosis. (2020).
  7. Serravalle, L., et al. (2020). A comprehensive assessment of personality traits and psychosocial functioning in parents with bipolar disorder and their intimate partners.
  8. Sparding, T., et al. (2017). Personality traits in bipolar disorder and influence on outcome.

Medical Reviewer: Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 20
View All Bipolar Disorder Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.