Bipolar and Borderline Hypersensitivity

Song of the Day: I’ll Be Waiting by Adele

Two of the many overlapping symptoms of Bipolar Disorder (BD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are:

High Interpersonal Sensitivity
High Emotional Reactivity

Of the literature I have read on BD and BPD there is very little coverage of either trait, which I find rather frustrating as both symptoms have featured prominently throughout my life so far (and the lives of others I would suspect). The differences between each symptom are not particularly clear, but the way I understand them are as follows:

1. Interpersonal Sensitivity

When interacting socially with friends/colleagues etc. we are extremely aware of what is being communicated, whether through body language, tone of voice or what is said. We are able to pick up any tiny cues which might suggest a slight towards us, or feel when someone else is annoyed or happy with us.

I think for me this trait is particularly about how I FEEL around others, their energy is very distinct to me whether it is harsh and dense from anger, light and playful from laughter or that horrible feeling when you walk into a tense room where people are burying feelings of annoyance towards each other- it feels tight and strained. This is something that stays with me all the time, not just when I’m experiencing an episode. The difference between when I am feeling well and when I am not, is experienced much more, for me, through the following:

2. Emotional Reactivity

I see this as the way we react to the highly sensitive information we process through Interpersonal Sensitivity, or to everyday occurrences and events.

For example, if I feel someone is verbally attacking me or treating me unfairly the following could occur:

During Normal Mood: feelings of anger will be of a lower intensity and I am able rationalize that perhaps the person is having a bad day/has a headache etc. The feelings are manageable. This, to me, equates with low emotional reactivity.

During a Bipolar Episode: anger will stream extremely rapidly throughout my body and I will react by snapping or even behave aggressively in some cases (needless to say this has got me in trouble with work colleagues on a few occasions, and is extremely out of character for me). This suggests that I am experiencing high emotional reactivity.

For those with BPD I imagine this reactivity is a constant throughout their life. Of course during mania and hypomania, the reactivity could also swing the other way- if something particularly good happens or I experience an extremely positive social encounter, my excitement and euphoria can go through the roof! This may lead to overeating, overspending, feeling I am invincible and that I am incapable of making a bad judgement, or of negative consequences to my actions.

Even without BD or BPD there are many sensitive and emotional people out there and there are some very helpful books which can aid seeing these traits as positive rather than negative, and offer suggestions in how to protect yourself from overstimulation. My favourite is:

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron


4 thoughts on “Bipolar and Borderline Hypersensitivity

  1. Sandy Sue

    As someone with BPD, I’ve learned that much of my Interpersonal Sensitivity is in how I filter the sensory input. Those “tiny clues” you spoke of are often faulty, stories my filters make up about what I’m perceiving.

    What’s important for me is to realize that my filters are broken, that what I perceive as an attack or a slight is often inaccurate and is, in fact, just the illness talking. My strategy is to always give the other person the benefit of the doubt, walk away, and take nothing personally if at all possible. Of course, I can’t always do this, but it sure helps.

  2. rachelmiller1511 Post author

    Yes that’s a very good point and the kind of thing they help us with in CBT, but it’s so hard when you’re having a mood swing- I do try though! It’s amazing how much your mind can distort things- I can get quite paranoid sometimes and think that everyone at work is laughing at me behind my back. I’ll have a bit of a whine to my boyfriend about it and he soon helps me see things a bit more clearly.

  3. Pingback: Bipolar Disorder and Trauma « My Bipolar Life

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