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Bacolod City, Philippines Thursday, August 27, 2020
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Rock and Refuge
with Fr. Roy Cimagala

Is there a spiritual bipolar disorder?

Rock & Refuge

Many of us are familiar with the psychological illness called bipolar disorder. It is what is described as a manic depressive illness, a mood disorder with two extremes: depressed (low) and manic (high). It varies in severity, and mild cases may appear ordinary for many years.

A worse illness can be what is called a split personality where a person has two or more distinct personalities. The thoughts, actions, and behavior of each personality may be completely different. It’s like having the Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome or having a double life, an extreme case of hypocrisy.

These illnesses, I imagine, can have various causes and can have some organic sources. But we cannot discount the possibility that they too can be the effect of a sick spirituality. It’s a spirituality that only has the trappings of piety but not the real thing. It is not truly anchored on God, thus, only inconsistency can take place.

That’s when we can talk about the possibility of a spiritual illness called a spiritual bipolar disorder. That’s when a person who appears to be a spiritual and pious person is hounded by severe, frequent and kind of stable swings of the extremes of holiness and grave sinfulness.

We know, of course, that the spiritual life of a person here on earth will always involve a struggle, of some wins and losses, victories and defeats. It will always be a work in progress, with its twists and turns, highs and lows. This is a normal human condition.

But at least, a truly spiritual and pious person would have a very significant degree of consistency in being holy. He is quite clear about what holiness involves and has a working plan with matching means and resources to keep his quest for sanctity going in spite of occasional falls. He knows what to do when he falls. He recovers quite easily, with hardly any extraordinary help from others.

With those who can be described as having a spiritual bipolar disorder, the condition is such that they can easily switch from being good at one moment and then bad at the next, from behaving like an angel or saint during the day to acting like a demon and depraved and wild person at night, and this for an indefinite period of time.

The root problem here is usually the pride and insincerity of the person concerned. He does not avail of the necessary means to address his serious predicament. He usually fails to go to confession and to have spiritual direction or guidance. And if he does, he usually is not sincere. He twists things according to his preferred narrative.

Sad to say, this disorder appears to be getting quite common. It usually affects the so-called “good and pious people” who are not truly so. Because their sanctification is not authentic and sincere, they become easy prey to their weaknesses and the many temptations around.

We have to reassure everyone who may have symptoms of this condition that there is always an effective help that they can receive if they would just ask for it. Conversion and healing are always possible. There is nothing to be ashamed of nor to fear if they only open up to the right persons who can guide them.

Offhand, what can be suggested as initial help are that we should really make our prayer real prayer, a genuine encounter with God who is always around and is ever solicitous of our needs.

We should be ready to effectively counter those situations that can trigger a radical swing to the left. These situations can be when we are tired and are looking for some comfort and compensations, when we are alone and feeling lonely, when we suffer the pain of loss. Or it can also be when we misuse and abuse certain things, like drinks, food, gadgets, films, etc.*

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