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Bipolar Disorder

Management of Bipolar Affective Disorder: An Integral Perspective

Pooja Varshney


Bipolar affective disorder is essentially a condition of the disharmonised vital. Its development has roots in early childhood attachment style, parenting practices and socialisation. The frame of reward and punishment used by parent(s) in the early years has a deep impact on learning and emotional expression in adulthood. The quality of interpersonal relationships, which are seen as psychological markers of a healthy self, are greatly impacted in bipolar affective condition. The perspective of Integral Psychology lays importance on the process of individualisation and how it can be improved to re-mediate vital disharmony. Simple practices to heal the wounded child and facilitate the process of harmonious individualisation are discussed.

Bipolar and the Vital

Bipolar Affective condition is substantially a result of vital disharmony. The periodic fluctuations between highs and lows are often seen as extreme shades of the vital. One, being the grey, dull side, which makes an individual stoop low in energy in all parts of the being, the grey clouds often rain tears of helplessness. The vulnerable vital wishes to give up on itself.

On the other side of the pendulum is the inflated vital, the one which believes unrealistically high of itself and hardly misses a chance to magnify itself more. The being flies on rainbow clouds and creates multi-storey buildings of its self in thin air. One is a loop of self-dismantling passivity while the other is a cycle of self-glorifying activity.

What is true: depression or mania?

In our opinion, both depression and mania are two sides of an untransformed vital.

The falsehood of manic condition

“It must be your desire to hold nothing in esteem except the word of the Truth; and in order thus to raise your standard you must keep Agni, the soul’s flame of transformation, burning in you. It is noteworthy how, when Agni flares up, you immediately develop a loathing for the cheap praise which formerly used to gratify you so much, and understand clearly that your love of praise was a low movement of the untransformed nature (1).”

The falsehood of depressive condition

“Agni makes you see what a vast vista of possible improvement stretches in front of you, by filling you with a keen sense of your present insufficiency. The encomium lavished on you by others so disgusts you that you feel almost bitter towards those whom you would have once considered your friends; whereas all criticism comes as a welcome fuel to your humble aspiration towards the Truth. No longer do you feel depressed or slighted by the hostility of others (2).”

Both depression and mania are temporary emotional states of an unstable vital. In modern times, people often begin to identify themselves as bipolar and internalise it as if they are nothing more than the conditioned symptomatology. An important aspect to note here is that we are constantly wiring our brain with words, especially those coming out of deep emotional experiences having personal importance. The mental metaphors we feed into ourselves have an influence on our ongoing development.

Developmental precursors: the wounded child in bipolar disorder

Early childhood attachment refers to the bond between the infant and the primary caregiver (usually the mother). It influences the way an infant meets his/her primary needs like food, water and goes on to influence the cognitive and social development as the infant matures from childhood to adulthood. The manner in which the parents fulfil the needs and set expectations for a child play an important role in emotional development. When parents put high standards for a child right from the beginning of socialisation in the form of strict rules of mannerisms, heavy emphasis on being a star performer in academics and (or) co-curriculars, at the cost of putting restrictions on movement while expecting autonomy and accountability, children often end up learning emotional suppression. There is incessant absorption of anger, fear, and resentment as vital food from the confused parenting. Importantly, their self-worth is conditioned on what they receive extrinsically in the form of recognition or reward. As a pattern of learning, most fail to acknowledge, express, and to a greater extent, understand their own subjective world of feelings.

Bipolar disorder and its Impact on adult functioning

“.... the physical mind is very, very friendly with the vital; so, as soon as the vital begins to say, “I have nothing to do with that, I have been badly treated, I won’t have anything to do with it”, the mind naturally comes in to encourage it, to explain, give good reasons, and it is the same old story: “Life is not worth living, people are truly disgusting and all circumstances are against me, it is better to leave it all”, and so on (3).”

When a child with such above parenting grows up as an adult, everything is good as long as it is in accordance with their wants. But hell breaks loose in the form of sudden outbursts of anger and vindictiveness when people don’t subscribe to their standards and often, they tend to victimise themselves saying that people fail to understand them and don’t value them enough. This often reflects in their tumultuous interpersonal relationships. They fail to maintain bonds which are deep and long lasting, as there are behaviourally quite inflexible and demanding adults. They get attached to people easily and as quickly feel ‘done’ with people, which make their personal life fragile and brittle.

Pace of individualisation and vital dis-harmony

“The vital is a good worker, but most often it seeks its own satisfaction. If that is refused, totally or even partially, the vital gets vexed, sulks and goes on strike. Its energy disappears more or less completely and in its place leaves disgust for people and things, discouragement or revolt, depression and dissatisfaction (4).”

Individualisation is the process of developing from the surface ego to one’s true individuality. It is like a flower which blooms from a bud till it realises that it has to dry up and become a seed someday. The surface personality mostly revolves around the surface ego and when the ego becomes individualised its purpose is resolved and it is no longer needed. A much-developed mental being is more prone to vital disharmony as it falsely considers itself to be a genius or a master of itself. A poorly individualised vital being enjoys this attention and becomes vulnerable to all sorts of suggestions from outside. The capacity to make choices and own one’s decisions whether right or wrong without victimising oneself is a psychological marker of an individualised self. People who progressively become individualised do not depend heavily on external validation. They have an inner lens to view and accept themselves. They are better able to understand their mistakes and work towards them without getting too emotional.

In the context of bipolar disorder, impulsivity and dependency on external validation are aspects of an underdeveloped individual in the spiritual sense despite having grown up physically as an adult. Without being self-directed and reflective in accepting feedback for one’s actions, an individual is prone to experiencing disharmony in his/her emotional nature. It is important to note that having strong preferences doesn’t necessarily account for emotional maturity. It could be more of a mentalised masking of emotional vulnerability. Unfortunately, our education system has not given due importance to vital education, leading to a skewed overall development which is bent more towards development of some parts of the mental being.

Integral ways to bridge vital progress

A harmony between light and shadow
“It is that everyone possesses in a large measure, and the exceptional individual in an increasing degree of precision, two opposite tendencies of character, in almost equal proportions, which are like the light and the shadow of the same thing. Thus, someone who has the capacity of being exceptionally generous will suddenly find an obstinate avarice rising up in his nature, the courageous man will be a coward in some part of his being and the good man will suddenly have wicked impulses (5)”

The above saying by the Mother portrays the lived dichotomies of present times. We all have parts which are lit up in the light, along with those who find pleasure and comfort in darkness. There is a tendency for some individuals to even find pleasure in pain. They identify with it and it becomes an emotional appendage in their times of crisis. They cut off from people and appear to be cold and distant from others’ emotions. Thus, one needs to first distance oneself from over-identification with the vital being. One is neither a depressed person or maniac, but owns some parts (shadows) which need transformation. The focus should be more on using the light to navigate the difficult vital by acknowledging its existence and choosing to act from an undivided will to transform.

Smile: an antidote to vital disharmony
“You simply chase away depression with a smile (6).”

Though it seems to be a simple gesture, a smile in itself could act like an inner break at the time of an accelerated vital impulse. A few seconds of a smile brings neuro-physiological outcomes in the brain. Smiling activates the release of dopamine and serotonin and makes the emotional body light and at ease. The facial muscles involved in smiling create a feedback loop in the brain of a balanced vital energy.

Beating anger with humility: the marker of realistic progress
“.... anger is a deformation of the vital power, an obscure and wholly unregenerated vital, a vital that is still subject to all the ordinary actions and reactions. When this vital power is used by an ignorant and egoistic individual will and this will meets with opposition from other individual wills around it, this power, under the pressure of opposition, changes into anger and tries to obtain by violence what cannot be achieved solely by the pressure of the force itself (7).”

The sensitive ego needs everything as per its demand and gets pricked even with instances of slight disagreement with others. The arrogance of its existence makes it more vulnerable for anger and minimises possibilities of individualisation. Anger, when expressed for feeding the ego of its false ownership, is more disastrous than failures. In the spur of the moment, it takes away opportunities for a free dialogue, hurts the other, deepens misunderstandings and in the long run takes away the rasa from interpersonal relationships. An angry vital is among the predisposing factors in the occurrence of bipolar condition.

Humility, on the other hand, is a movement which widens the canvas of progress. A truly humble individual offers all his actions at the feet of the Divine and opens more doors for learning and developing in the light. A constant thirst for progress, while offering the fruits of one’s actions, makes an individual become immune to the rat-race in the present-day world. Humble evaluation of one’s own self not just helps to reflect and visualise one’s actions but also protects from getting into emotional judgements. Humility, is truly beauty and compassion to the humane errors we make while on the journey of self-transformation.

A few integral practices to develop humility

Mental metaphors after you do something good
“It doesn’t matter much if I did it well today or yesterday. I just offered my best at the moment.”
“I am not the one playing the strings. I am the instrument on which the music is being created.”

Mental metaphors after you commit a mistake
“I see... I did something which lit up a new part in me which needs some work.”

“Maybe there are other creative alternatives of doing the same thing. Let me try once again.”

Body practices to cultivate humility
Observe yourself as you walk on the earth. Notice how Mother Earth automatically makes you put a foot down every time you take a step in the air. Reflect on the aspect of balance and protection which is being poured so lovingly by Mother Earth. Did you really do it on your own?

Greeting people with joined hands (in Namaste mudrā) or touching the feet of elders are some of the cultural practices which, when done with an intention of humility, can become transformational practices.

Simply observing one’s natural breath and noticing its flow in the body can help us appreciate the selfless working of different organs of the body. The heart, which never complains nor asks for acknowledgment for its beating throughout our whole lifespan, is no less than a divine worker doing its job so effortlessly.

Importance of discipline in vital trans-formation

Discipline has a direct influence on the vital being, apart from being a wholesome contributor of all-round development of the self. It protects the vital from getting dispersed in fantasies, impulses, self-indulgences. Bipolar is a condition which makes an individual act out of impulsivity because of poor hold on emotional states. With discipline one doesn’t give in directly to the whims and wishes of feelings but rather follows a set structure which ensures consistency and channelizes extreme emotional states. Without discipline, one can easily get into the flux of emotions and get carried away. For example, having a schedule of one’s natural rhythms, like waking-up time, exercising, having meals, etc. works wonders to harmonise vital insurgency.

Vital education: a need for modern parenting

Modern education is biased towards development of some parts of the mental being. Children are often seen as bearing the load of academic performance in the form of getting grades and clearing entrance exams. The push and pull of meeting financial needs and desires often makes life a sprint behind name and money. There is a prevalence of high degrees of insecurity, a fear of missing out or losing a person one loves, which adds to the development of emotional disharmony. Parents have a biological as well as environmental influence on their children. Their standards of expectation and patterns of reinforcement heavily influence and shape the personality of a growing child. It becomes all the more important on their part to reflect on the parenting practices used by them. For example, the undue importance on outcomes rather than the process can make children fear failures and idolise success. In the same way, showing anger for not following their instructions can make them more dependent and demanding adults.

Community volunteering during childhood could be one of the most transforming ways to educate an individual. Observing people who take up the most mundane and least acknowledged jobs like cleaning roads, washing clothes in homes, making bread in a bakery every day without fail. gives us another perspective on progress. When our perspective expands, our emotions too become humble. A calm gratitude fills the heart on seeing someone cleaning the dirt on the roads for us. Social learning is a strong glue to holistic development. Many things we learn within a community — seeing the beauty behind differences, power of collective problem-solving and above all the experience of love and compassion as forces ­— transmute the forces of aggression and depression.


1. The Mother. The Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 3. 2nd ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2003, p. 138.

2. Ibid.

3. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 4. 3rd ed; 2003, p. 5.

4. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 12. 2nd ed; 1999, p. 6.

5. Ibid., p. 19.

6. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 3, p. 138.

7. The Mother Collected Works, Volume 10. 2nd ed.; 1998, p. 81.

Pooja Varshney, a long-term Purnam volunteer, works as an Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology at the Indian Navy Hospital Ship, Mumbai.

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Wounded child