Distorted Self-Image with Bipolar Disorder

Living with bipolar disorder comes with a unique set of challenges. Even with the proper mental health treatment, managing bipolar
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Living with bipolar disorder comes with a unique set of challenges. Even with the proper mental health treatment, managing bipolar disorder behavior takes active, ongoing effort. Distorted self-image tends to be a common problem that affects people with the condition. How does bipolar disorder impact self-image, and what can you do to improve it?

What is Self-Image?

Self-image refers to the way a person perceives and feels about themselves. It includes the ideas, conceptions, and opinions that a person carries about themselves, both externally and internally. A person with a healthy self-image recognizes and accepts their positive and negative attributes and understands this makes them a whole person. Someone with a distorted self-image may view themselves as far greater or far worse than they actually are, and it affects how they navigate their lives and interact with others.

Bipolar Disorder Behavior

Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood shifts between mania and depression. These manic and depressive periods, or “episodes,” result in significant changes to mood, energy, and activity levels. During manic episodes, people feel energized, elated, and may behave unpredictably. During depressive episodes, people feel sad, lethargic, and hopeless.

Bipolar disorder behavior depends on whether someone is in a manic or a depressive episode. Depressive episodes often consist of isolating from others, staying at home, and struggling to get out of bed. Manic episodes are typically more erratic and often involve risky behaviors, such as working long hours, excessive spending, or alcohol and drug use.

How Distorted Self-Image Manifests

Distorted self-image is a common experience for individuals with bipolar disorder, and is often related to the current episode a person is in. For example, depressive episodes can cause people to think that no one cares about them, that they are worthless, or that there is no hope for their future. These distorted thoughts and low mood typically result in low self-image.1

On the other hand, mania can cause a distorted self-image to the opposite extreme. Mania often leads to feelings of grandiosity, inflated self-worth, and extreme self-confidence. This causes some of the more erratic bipolar disorder behaviors that occur during manic episodes.

Research shows that people with bipolar disorder also experience heightened ambitions for goals as well as an increased need for recognition from others. Individuals with these traits experience distortion in their sense of self that ebbs and flows alongside their episodes.2 Setting drastic goals during manic episodes and then being unable to meet them during depressive episodes will understandably result in low self-worth.

Then there’s the experience of distorted self-image caused by the diagnosis itself. Plenty of stigma and misunderstanding still surround bipolar disorder. People with the condition may internalize those inaccurate judgments and assumptions, which also affects self-image.2

Working on Self-Image in Mental Health Treatment

If you or a loved one struggle with distorted self-image or bipolar disorder behaviors, mental health treatment can help. Programs like those at Clearview Treatment Centers are designed to provide support and healing for those living with a mental health disorder. To learn more about the programs available at Clearview, call us at 866-339-3544 or submit an online contact form to speak with an admissions specialist.



  1. Journal of Affective Disorders. (2015). Self-images in the present and future: Role of affect and the bipolar phenotype.
  2. Journal of Personality. (2019). Identity in bipolar disorder: Self-worth and achievement.


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