Bipolar Disorder Can Mimic Psychopathy?


OK, OK. I know I should be writing for NaNoWriMo, but since I’m ahead of schedule I decided to read the news, and stumbled upon yet another careless remark made by a ‘professional’ that is pretty demeaning to Bipolar sufferers.

Soon to be released in the US is the award-winning movie, We Need to Talk About Kevin, in which the fictional child in the  film reveals his psychopathic colors early before going on a killing rampage at his high school.  As expected, major news outlets are beginning to pick up the story. ABC ran an article today authored by Susan Donaldson James titled “We Need to Talk About James: Is Your Child a Psychopath?”  Gripping title, don’t you think?

Enter Dr. Igor Galynker, associate chairman for the department of psychology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, the expert Susan Donaldson James consulted to supply her with even more gripping quotes regarding the miswired brains of psychopaths.  First, he regales us with his definition of what a psychopath is:

“Callousness and unemotional behavior are the hallmark of the illness,” said Galynker. “They have a feeling of grandiosity and makes them behave as if the rules do not apply. There is a certain glibness and they feel entitled. They cannot be punished — like Teflon…These people really see you as a piece of furniture and the empathy that allows us to feel others’ feelings is missing.”

Psychopathy is a complex term that is used mostly by researchers to describe antisocial behavior that is impulsive, aggressive, deceitful and with a desire to break all the rules.

Then, about half way through the article, Ms James drops this bomb:

Bipolar disorder can also mimic psychopathy.

Excuse me?

Dr Galynker’s direct quote:

“When they are on the manic side, they can be callous,” he said. “They have a Teflon factor and can be grandiose and break the rules and think they get away with it. But this would be treatable. A psychopath is permanent.”

I’m irked for two reasons.  First, because unless you read the ‘can’ in Galynker’s quote very carefully, it is very easy to misconstrue that every Bipolar person behaves like a psychopath when manic.  The ability to fully grasp one little three-letter word while skimming this article is all that stands between the truth and lumping all BPs in with psychopaths.  Second, what the good Dr fails to mention, or Ms James omitted (we’ll never know which) is that there are more heinous symptoms of psychopathy that Bipolar people do not exhibit.   It is simply not fair to even attempt to draw a comparison between these two mental illnesses.

Irresponsible, Dr. Galynker, you should have chosen your words more carefully.


Shame on you, Ms James.  You need to fully quote your resources.

I’d like to cry foul.

I’m not arguing that psychopathy cannot be comorbid with Bipolar Disorder.  It certainly can (there’s that three-letter word again).   But psychopathy with Bipolar Disorder, from what I could find anyway, isn’t all that common.

Let’s keep in mind the above definitions of a psychopath and further dissect this idea that Bipolar mania resembles psychopathy.  When Bipolar people are manic, they are not anti-social as are psychopaths, they are overly social.  When I’m manic I can been callous – that I will admit freely.  But stepping over that line where I have blatantly bullied another person, been cruel to an animal or lost my empathy?  Sorry, Dr Galynker.  Not this bipolar babe.  When I am manic I’m so high, I am barely able to slow down long enough to eat, let alone devise an elaborate, highly premeditated act that will give me a leg up using lies and deceit for my personal gain.  As for the so-called Teflon-factor…well, let’s put it this way.  Psychopaths are all about intentionally ignoring the rules because they truly believe they are superior beings and above the law.  That is a constant in their personality.  Now, maybe I am off base with this one because I can realistically only draw from my own experience, but people who are manic just don’t understand the concept of manipulation to the point of Teflon-ing like psychopaths do.  If people who are manic believe they are above the law, it is usually not for a nefarious purpose.  It is because they are delusional…have lost touch with reality…which is a completely different thing than psychopathy.  I invite everyone to do the research in the DSM.  Psychopaths are very much aware of the heinous acts they are perpetrating for personal gain.  Truly manic people can barely remember the episode once it’s over.

And, that is the lynchpin to my argument.  There is no underlying, long standing, consistent thread of cruelty in what a Bipolar person does over episodes of mania.  But, a psychopath is dedicated to the life-long, sole purpose of stepping on others and living a twisted existence solely for their own gain.

I know I am tired from sitting at my keyboard all day. But when I read this article it really torqued me.  Bottom line: It’s hard enough to fight the stigma of Bipolar Disorder without being called a psychopath as well.  So please, all of you professionals who can’t think before they speak and/or journalists who don’t accurately cite their resources – don’t casually lump me in with the psychopaths.

I see the paralells that they’re talking about, but I think the word mimic is too strong. If it was said that they share similar behaviors between bipolar mania and psychopathy, then I would probably tend to agree. The main difference that has to be highlighted is the intent. People with bipolar mania do not intentionally harm others without provocation. This is, even if the provocation is a result of psychosis.

It would actually be more realistic if a person were to invert that sentence; Psychopathy can mimic bipolar disorder. Psychopathy can mimic a lot of things. That’s a symptom.

Education, education, education. . .

I will cop to having done some very callous and even violent things while manic. I’d want to read through the source material (Dr. Galynker’s) to get a better take on this one, because while I agree with you on principle, I wouldn’t want to crucify him based on quotes taken out of context.

As for Ms. James, ignorance abounds and always will. Don’t let the bastards (or this bitch) drag you down. You’re bigger than she is.

If I may throw my two shekels in here, I’d like to say that 1) your post is brilliantly written, and 2) we bipolar minds are terribly at risk of being lumped in with any sort of acting-out criminal who happens to catch the attention of the press. The antidote for this poisonous state of affairs is what Ruby said, above.

And my NaNoWriMo is putting a tremendous dent in my blogging, too. But we’ve only got ten more days!!!!

I was hoping there was a connection. I want bipolar to be as fascinating and misunderstood as it can be. Being manic is so beyond anyone’s imagination to begin with. Let’s edit those Celebrity BiPolar lists. We are a private and exclusive club – to which we did not seek membership. We can honestly say that we were “Born This Way” Dear God please let us be trendy, and the coolest crazy..

Completely agreed. BP is not an exclusive club. It’s a serious disorder. Charlie Sheen has taught us a lot this year about what happens when you indulge your BP and refuse treatment. And everyone gobbled it up. (Guilty pleasure for me. I gobbled up what an infectious ass he was being!)

Why can’t we have a Jenny McCarthy for BP?

He says “can be” and when those words come into play anyone “can be”. He was most likely intending symptoms are more easily prevalent in manic bipolar. I would have to agree, but I’m not a psychopath. It is nice to have BP people that are famous it makes the depressive aspects a lot less depressing.. As with any stigma it will always appear to be an accessory! From experience, it’s one hat I would love to be without but wouldn’t feel like myself without it. I stumbled upon this website because I’m trying to find a connection between long term psychopathy and mental disorder to further understand my guilt free mother.

Hi – thanks for stopping by my blog. It’s hard when you suspect a family member may be psychopathic. I can relate to your situation – my Mom always suspected my Grandmother was a guilt-free psychopath. If you find any good information would you be willing to post a few links here? Good luck. I hope you’ll stop in to Manic Muses again. Vivien

I am troubled that you are disgusted with this persons supposition in comparing one mental illness with another, and your demonization of psychopathy. That all psychopaths are purposefully dangerous, evil and malevolent demonstrates an ignorance. Very unware and unenlightened for a mentally ill person to “lump” (a term you used) an entire portion of the population.

But all in all, very bipolar and human of you to write a novel over a single, vague sentence you disagreed with for prideful reasons.

Bipolar male with psychopathic tendencies

Hello, Lucemferre – thanks for commenting. I wrote this post in reaction to the generalizations being made drawing very thin parallels between Bipolar Disorder and Psychopathy. Certainly the two illnesses can be and at times are comorbid. However, why I took exception to the article is because Bipolar is the excuse du jour for bad behavior AND the portrayal of psychopathy in the film being discussed is on the extreme end. Being a Bipolar sufferer (BP I no less), it is offensive that a Dr would draw a comparison between such a severe case of psychopathy and what he inferred to be all Bipolar sufferers. It simply isn’t true. As sufferers of mental illness, we both know there is a full spectrum of severity along which Bipolar and Psychopathy run. We also know comorbidity for these two illnesses may be rare but it is factual. It is hard enough to fight the stigma surrounding any mental illness without having so-called professionals reinforce it with careless blanket statements.

If you’ve seen We Need to Talk About Kevin and are up for some conversation, I’d love to know if you were offended by either the film or the press treatment of psychopathy the film instigated.

Thanks again for reading,

I am 25 and I was diagnosed bipolar 1, I suffered with confusing delusions in both the manic and depressive states for a long time till I was properly medicated. I would pick fights and was just drawn to violence for years, any rough spot or place where I could just get someone to start something so I could finish it. I would dress up and wear glasses to entice someone, I always manipulated my surroundings to get them to throw the first punch or threaten me so I could not face legal consequences. I just knew what irked people, how to step on toes, subtle insults and stepping on their toes with their girl’s. I would poke all night till the alcohol took over, it was always someone bigger than me so they’d be more likely to threaten me. The truth is they never stood a chance, for these years I feared the things most didn’t like everyday life but violent altercations and the build up….. I felt calm, fearless and alive.

I believe what makes bipolar people like me a temporary psycopath is when we are in mixed states. When I have all the sorrow, anger, despair and hopeless/carelessness mixed with the anger, rage, energy, and invincibility of mania I was a dangerous, manipulative, meticulous person. I planned every step and was always one step ahead of other people. Not proud of it but I agree with the lady that said this.

(p.s. since i started lithium 27 months ago I lost these incessant urges and have not been in an altercation since)

Thanks for reading, and I’m glad to hear Lithium has been so effective for you. Mixed states aren’t pleasant, I agree, and they’re some of the worst to deal with. Hang in there – sounds like you’re doing well!

I’m bipolar and behave like a total psychopath when I’m manic… as I’ve had first hand experience and saw the destruction I’ve left in my wake I can fully agree that there is a fine line between Bi polar and Psychopathy

Hi, Mischavalentine. Thanks so much for commenting – honestly, you are the only person I’ve corresponded with so far who has BP and identifies with psychopathy when manic. If you don’t mind my asking, have you talked about this with your doctor? What was their reaction?

Our public health services are not to be compared with first world countries, therefore I can tell you what my Dr said but it’ll be a waste of time as they are horribly undereducated and don’t give a crap about their patients.
I’ve talked and talked about it with her a million times and she doesn’t seem to bothered even after I told her about my attacks, yup she is an idiot.

Ahh…I hate to hear stories like this. Patients who bring concerns to their doctors need to be heard and taken seriously! I feel for you. There probably isn’t any way to switch docs, is there?

Nope, unfortunately not. Every suburb has its designated clinic and its the only one in my area.
The only way to switch Dr’s is to go to a private doctor which will cost me a week’s salary on the dot.

Unless you’ve almost been murdered by a significant others who is bipolar and does have the same symptoms as a psychpath, please don’t whine…im very lucky to be alive.

I’m so very sorry to hear you had to go through such a terrible experience. I hope you were able to get the love and support you deserve to get though such a rough time. Bipolar and psychopathy are two discreet illnesses. When bipolar and psychopathy do present together, it can absolutely be a lethal mix. Especially with a manic or mixed episode thrown in. It is important, however, that bipolar and psychopathy are recognized as two different mental disorders. Bipolar people are very rarely psychopathic and vise versa. But I understand your reaction to the post – I really do. Again, I hope everything is now going well for you. Thanks for commenting, Kay!

I have an interesting mix of both going on. Empathy for most, in-existent normally and when I am manic I get delusional if it is triggered by some things but other times I start thinking about killing for fun with no second thoughts about whether it’s right or wrong but rather how to get away with it cleanly. I can still feel love and have emotions but only for a few, most people I see as disposable and of no value. Slowly slipping to less emotional even when bouncing between high and low, wondering when I will finally go out and actually do it. Couple kids in my college classes are starting to annoy me enough that they are putting targets on their back. Hopefully don’t get caught 🙂

actually, both mania and psychopathy have similar etiological antecedents. Both are associated with an overactive dopamine system at the subcortical level. Differences are that psychopaths show a more moderate but chronic elevations than manic persons who often show more severe deregulations thus often provoking comorbid psychosis and when too low provoking depression.

Therefore, a major difference between psychopathy and mania is that psychopaths are actually too strongly balanced emotionally leading to detachment whereas in bipolar disorder this balance is fagile leading to increased stress-sensitivity and an emotionally deregulated state. In their depressive states bipolar individuals have perfect insight into the devastating acts they may have shown when manic but cannot change themselfes whereas psychopaths may never become self-aware and continue life in a sort of moment-to-moment hypomanic state.

So yes, both may show similar behaviors but while the manic person is more deregulated en highly sensitive to stress, the psychopath actually show increased emotional balance and resilience.

I understand what you’re saying with the opposition with the word “can” but I think that’s also what makes it true. Your bipolar (seemingly on the more minor of cases) may not induce psychopathic effects, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t in others. Growing up with someone who is bipolar, I’ve seen that in fact certain cycles of mania and depression will indeed induce psychopathy. In fact on Dr. Hare’s checklist she scores a 34- which would technically mean she’s a psychopath. She qualifies for almost all of the traits on the checklist at times… Superficial Charm
Grandiose sense of self worth
Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom
Pathological lying
Conning & Manipulative
Lack of Remorse/Guilt
Shallow Effect
Callous/ Lack of empathy
Parasitic Lifestyle
Poor self control
Promiscuous Behavior
Early Behavior Problems
Lack of realistic long term goals
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Criminal versatility.
There are only 3 traits she doesn’t qualify for. But the interesting thing is that at other times she will be a very real, sensitive, remorseful, honest person. I guess my point just is that even though you don’t experience psychopathy as a result of being bipolar it’s certainly possible that others do. Just be glad that this isn’t the case for you. I know that she suffers a lot because of the confusion.

Well I’d like to say I am a bipolar sufferer and score highly on the phycopathy scale of perhaps I have been missed diagnosed….

Ok Im confused . I met a guy fell in love and lived with him for 9 years had to let him go or I would go insane . He treated me like a queen then like someone he hated . He has the symptoms of Bi-polar did a written test in the doctors office and thedoctor diagnosed him as Bi-polar , but he also acts cold , callous and very uncaring / no emotion or empathy . He does things most human beings wouldnt think of yet takes no responsibility for anything . Not even his own credit . He refuses to live alone by himself always cheating and lieing no matter all the relationships , he blames everyone else but himself . He refuses meds . My question is : is it possible he has both mental illness , Bi-Polar and / physchopathy ????

I’m bipolar and I agree with the analysis in that being bipolar in the high manic phase presents a lot of problems. Not all manias are the same. Some mixed episodes can in fact mimic psychopathy but as the author clearly stated; it’s not a permanent or callous intent. The internal processes are much different but while in an especially high euphoria; couple it with some irrational impulses, or irritation; the bipolar sufferer can in fact be prone to violent tendencies and shy towards lack of empathy. This is mood related of course and not ‘intent to harm’ or premeditated but it can outwardly appear to be so. I don’t take offense to Mrs. Jame’s assessment as a bipolar 1 sufferer as I know, my unintended manias have inflicted harm or distress on others. She is not saying they are one and the same; she stated the truth.

I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder 7 years ago. I exhibit most of the traits of a psychopath. I took the Levenson Self Report Psychopathy Scale and scored a 4.8/5 and 5/5. I have a lengthy record all misdemeanors no felonies. It’s been noted that half of the criteria for the psychopath checklist are manic symptoms. It’s possible for a person with bipolar disorder to be also psychopathic I believe. I was born very impulsive and a risk taker. I take big risks to stay alive that’s how I operate. There are many more traits that I exhibit. There is this test that I took that is based off of Dr. Hare’s checklist and I scored a 33/40. The highest possible score is a 40. Many tests show high scores so I would say I definitely meet the requirements.

I believe bipolar disorder and psychopathic traits go hand in hand. Not all psychopathic traits are the same as a manic state but the extraversion is similar. Half of the psychopathic checklist are manic symptoms. Ive been diagnosed as conduct disorder at age 16 which is the precursor for Sociopathy.

The mother of my children has now ‘come out’ or been diagnosed and says she is bipolar. I read about psychopathy and she fits the bill. This woman has wrecked my children’s lives, and I, and she still thinks she is a victim. She says, I love being bipolar and any problems, I can say I’m mentally ill. I can’t stress enough how much damage and hurt she has caused, on a psychological front she is a total menace. She is no more than a predator looking for weaknesses and ways in to people’s heads. She has fooled so many people in the corporate system, from police, social services and more.

I have an old friend who IS bipolar and he is nothing like her. He is a nightmare to deal with, but he is not evil, cold and manipulative and praying on soft targets.


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