Mental Health Monday–Manic Defense

In a follow up question from last week’s post, Donna Hole, social worker, writer, and blogger asks:

I hadn’t heard of the “manic defense.” Would this defense possibly apply to someone who suffered physical/sexual abuse; or does it manifest mostly for single event trauma?

First off, I’d like to point out that manic defense is NOT equal to Bipolar Disorder (which used to be called Manic Depressive Disorder).

The term “manic defense” was coined by psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (around 1940, I understand–please correct me if I’m wrong). She picked up on Freud’s definition of mania and developed it further. She felt the manic defense (defined as elevated/euphoric mood and significantly increased activity) was a means to defend the person from the devastation of depression.

There are several causes for depression, from chemical imbalance in the brain, to overwhelming life stressors, to substance use, to medical conditions, to traumatic events, and loss. (This isn’t an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.)

Usually, depression is something that knocks the wind out of someone’s sails…like A LOT. The manic defense turns them into someone that’s uber-busy, like they’ve-gotta-do-something-every-second-of-every-day-or-they’ll-have-to-face-their-sadness.

Now, those who have suffered abuse of any kind are more vulnerable to developing mental illness. So, to answer Donna’s question, it could apply to someone who’s gone through physical/sexual abuse as well as someone who underwent a serious single traumatic event.

I encourage you, dear readers, to continue sharing your thoughts. Whether you agree or disagree, let me know–I wanna hear what you’re thinking!

Remember, this is for writing purposes only and is NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment.

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah’s psychology related post.

20 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Manic Defense

  1. Doris says:

    Defense Mechanisms: that’s a very interesting topic. I think you have explained that particular one in a very understandable manner. I assume Donna is starting her fourth novel. She is amazing!

    Have a wonderful week.

  2. Sarah says:

    I basically think about this as a coping tactic that incorporates avoidance, but I’m not psychoanalytically oriented! Very interesting and well-explained, Laura!

  3. This is very interesting to me. My mom was diagnosed years ago as a ‘Manic Depressant’ but apparently not. They’ve never mentioned ‘bi-polar’. Hmmm….she’s been on depressant meds for as long as I can remember.

  4. I think I know people who have used that defense mechanism–especially after death or some grief. Instead of dealing, they distract themselves. Great post. Thanks, I learned something.

  5. kendallgrey says:

    I know people, myself included, who’ve exhibited these kinds of behaviors. The explanation makes a lot of sense. I can see how a person/character who had gone through something traumatic might try to stay really busy to keep her mind off negative/depressing thoughts. Very cool. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Lynn Rush says:

    I’ve not heard of this. Good stuff here!!

  7. I agree with you on this.
    1) Back when I was suffering from major depression, my psychiatrist first thought I might be bipolar due to my fittingly “manic” mood swings Because these swings did not fit the bill for bipolar and only came in spurts lasting an hour to a 3 or 4 days, he told me that irritability (that don’t-touch-me-or-I-will-strangle-you feeling) can be part of depression and that the increase in energy was probably just my body’s way of trying to fight the lows, since my worst drops were usually after manic fits.

    2) If Donna was talking about having that they’ve-gotta-do-something-every-second-of-every-day-or-they’ll-have-to-face-their-sadness due to the abuse/trauma alone, that is something that can sometimes occur as a result of not letting the past go. As when someone dies and you go through the grief stages, there’s similar steps involved to be able to put abuse behind you. I’ve known people who have carried that weight all of their lives.

    Hope that helps. I’m no psychologist, but I am a Junior psych major. 😛

    ❤ Gina Blechman

    P.S. Here's a nifty link about the grief stages modified as they relate to overcoming abuse:

  8. Linda Gray says:

    Hey, where would we be without avoidance and denial (which isn’t just a river in Africa—sorry, lame, but couldn’t resist)? Cowering and shivering under our beds! (Oh, maybe that’s just me.) Seriously, though, these defense behaviors make for fascinating characterizations. Question: does someone using manic defense as a coping mechanism inevitably crash? And what does that look like? Thanks so much for another fascinating post, Laura.

  9. Lydia K says:

    I’d never heard of this term, “manic defense.” Thanks Laura and Donna for a great question and answer!

  10. Vicki Tremper says:

    I hadn’t heard of that before but it makes complete sense to me. Thanks, as always! I look forward to my mental enlightenment every Monday.

  11. It sounds like a very flawed defense, because the person is likely to be worse at the brink of exhaustion, when the deferred pain falls heavily on the weary soul. Is this how the character engaging in manic defense would act out? Immersing herself in some frantic project, burning out finally, and then having to face the sadness weakened by fatigue?

  12. This makes so much sense–it sounds so like someone I know.

    Such an interesting post, as always!

  13. J E Fritz says:

    I’ve never heard of Manic Defense before. At least, not the term. But I understand what you’re talking about, the pushing yourself to be busy so you don’t have time to be depressed. I’ve even used this in my writing without knowing the name!

    Thank you for the information.

  14. roguemutt says:

    Wow, that was really fascinating.

  15. Donna Hole says:

    Laura; thank you so much for that indepth answer. So much I can use there for my character’s – characteristics. A few modifications in behavior and backstory will round her out. I can’t wait to get started on fleshing out her situation. Thank you, thank you.

    Doris; wow, yes I am working on a new story. A novella or short though. So cool that you caught that 🙂

    Gina, thanks. I will be able to use those insights.

    Linda; yep, exactly.

    Thanks everyone for your responses. Laura, you’re awesome.


  16. Ciara Knight says:

    I’ve never heard of “manic defense.” I always learn so much from your Medical Monday posts. My heart goes out to any and all that suffer from mental illness.

  17. Manic defense – thanks for sharing this! I go through periodic depression (not major enough for meds yet) but I can totally see how manic defense could arise from an attempt to keep depression at bay.

  18. walk2write says:

    I’m glad I found your blog. I scooted over here via Twitter. The medical perspective on just about any subject fascinates me. Maybe it has something to do with that teensy bit of white-coat hypertension I still experience.

    In your practice do you ever try CAM treatments such as massage?

  19. Kari Marie says:

    I had never heard of this before, but I can see how it would work. If you are too busy doing stuff and falling into bed at night, how could you possibly feel anything. It’s like shutting down without checking out. Interesting.

  20. luckymoo says:

    HI Lucid Dreamer,

    Can you please tell me if this sounds like a manic defense. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder by one Psych doctor and the psychologist I saw for a few brief visits disagrees and thinks I have BPD.
    This is what happened to me. At first I felt really down and cried a lot and went home from work on a Friday. I went to the doctor unwell. I told her I had been feeling this way for a few weeks and was on sertraline 100mg. This sadness and depressed state increased over the weekend. Then when I was in the doctors surgery the models eyes in one of the advertisements for eye cream made me cry. I checked this against other pages in the magazine and it was just this one particular page. The front cover ‘E’ on the Vogue magazine looked very odd and disturbed me. I was crying when I saw the doctor and told her of all of these things. She sent me off to my local Psych Hospital ED in the area to get assessed. I was referred on to a Prevention and Recovery Centre for a stay. The wait would be 4 days to book in. This odd distressed state lasted a couple of days and then changed dramatically. I felt like life was perfect. I felt a profound sense of love and oneness with the universe, and that it finally made sense to me that, love was all there was to it. It was the meaning of life. I wanted everyone to know. I sped in my car to try to catch up to a guy on his motorbike just to shriek this is the life all whilst chatting away to myself in my car (there was no one in there but me, normally I would not do this for fear of looking silly). I had a COMPLETE lack of self consciousness, my art work was inspired, I played guitar in the unit and a little song I wrote without any inhibitions in front of everyone. Normally I would be too anxious or shy to do such a thing. I did not harbour a bad feeling in my body toward myself (not usual for me) or anyone else. I had an immense sense of gratitude and love toward all my visitors that came and saw me in the Psych rehab facility. I felt very sexy and sensuous. I slept around 4 hours average per night. I had racing thoughts and lots of ideas, I felt like I ‘was’ love.
    This elated feeling lasted for a period intensely of 8 hours initially and then daily up and down over 2 weeks with times of being leaden and times of being elated.
    I am getting treated for bipolar disorder meds wise by my psychiatrist. The psychologist was unavailable long term as he was moving.
    I know you cannot give medical advice, I just want to know what you think.

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