March 27, 2024

Feeling Bad to Feel Better?

New research from the Prechter Program shows that people living with bipolar disorder may strategically maintain negative feelings as a way of stabilizing mood. 

The Contrast Avoidance Model suggests that people who are sensitive to negative emotional shifts deliberately charge themselves with negative feelings to protect themselves from feeling worse when things go wrong. On the other hand, the model explains that heightened negative feelings can help them feel better when unexpectedly good things happen. This theory could be particularly relevant for people with bipolar disorder, a condition characterized by significant mood swings from feeling very up and excited (manic) to feeling very down (depressed).

According to this theory, when someone with bipolar disorder transitions from a depressive state to a (hypo)manic state, it is like moving from a low point to a high point. This shift can make the (hypo)manic phase feel even more exciting. Conversely, when they transition from a (hypo)manic state to a depressive state, it is like falling from a high point to a low point, which can intensify feelings of depression. Because people with bipolar disorder experience these mood swings repeatedly, they might use strategies to maintain their negative feelings to prevent their mood from worsening and to enhance their mood when they are up.

Researchers at the Prechter Program tested this theory by comparing people with bipolar disorder, people with depression, and people without these conditions. They found that people with bipolar disorder were more likely to use these strategies compared to the other two groups. This suggests that the strategy of avoiding emotional lows and enhancing emotional highs through maintaining negative feelings could be a key aspect of bipolar disorder.

Read more about this research here.