Mercurial Personalities

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers, seniors, and those soon to retire find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in life after retirement. Her public lectures on this subject are titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement.” Her memoir, available at, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class. Click here for her website:

Now, on to my blog:

Thermo 1

I’m getting ready to explode.

Some people swing rapidly from one emotional extreme to the other, just like the liquid metal, mercury, used in thermometers which shifts dramatically with the temperature. In the human form, it’s not the temperature that sets them off, and you will never know what does. They can be fun, loving, upbeat one day or even one moment and without warning, switch to the polar opposite—angry, rejecting, a real downer.

Those that experience such swings to a pathological degree might be diagnosed as bi-polar or what used to be called manic-depressive. Their emotional lives are a constant roller coaster. There are psychiatric medications that help with their mood swings. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t. I’ve often thought how difficult life must be for the bearer of such a personality.

But, what about the rest of us who must interact with someone like that? It might be a spouse or significant other, a relative, a co-worker, a teacher, or the cashier at the market. We are sucked in by how charming and exciting they can be in their up times and bitterly disappointed and hurt when we are attacked or shunned in their down times. We ruminate, wondering what we might have done to offend them, not realizing that the problem lies within them, not due to anything we did. We were simply the nearest human available to dump on. If it is someone we’re close to and see regularly, we ride right along on their roller coaster albeit not of our choosing.

I have had such an experience with someone significant in my life. I grew to always be on the defensive when dealing with him, never knowing when I’d get it right over the head. Even when we seemed to be having a happy time, I was anxious, wondering when it would turn. Our interactions became more and more stressful, and I came to dread them. I once asked if he were bi-polar. He said his psychiatrist told him he wasn’t. Well, if that’s the case, in my opinion he’s as close to being bi-polar that one can get without being bi-polar.

In looking back at my history of friends, I realize I’ve had several of a capricious nature to one degree or another. They can be fascinating, stimulating people, and that’s the hook for me. However, I’ve learned that being victimized by interaction with a mercurial character is miserable, causing me nothing but tension and angst.

I frequently write in my blog that we must protect ourselves from victimization. Yes, we must take the strain out of being on the receiving end of a personality that switches with lightning speed, always catching us off-guard, always creating anxiety.

If the person is so significant in our lives that we choose not to cut them loose such as a parent or a child, what can we do? We can refuse to engage when they get into attack mode. We can leave the room. We can exit the location and take a walk or a drive. If this type of thing has happened to you when you’re out together socially, always take your own car so you can make a quick get-away if necessary or be prepared to hail a taxi or ride sharing service. Protect yourself. Mr./Ms. Mercurial won’t.


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4 responses to “Mercurial Personalities

  1. Sheila Sauber

    Hi Lee Gale, this blog made me think of other people besides my brother that had personalities that put me on the defensive as soon as I heard their voice on the phone. As for your sister, maybe she wasn’t diagnosed bipolar because she suffers from self loathing or other emotional downers (depression) that come from being obese. I’m glad she had the surgery. Hopefully you’ll notice a personality change if she gets to a good weight. Sheila

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Thanks, Lee Gale, for bringing up important topic: what 12-steppers refer to as ‘detach with love.’ Have found it a good way to deal with difficult people who don’t necessarily contend with bipolar issues.

  3. Roger Trammell

    Thanks, LGG. i deal with my bi-polar tendencies by writing or doing some other creative work.That usually helps to keep my mood more positive. “Idle hands are the devil’ workshop”. I don’t go into attack mode during my down times; I tend to be quiet and pensive. I think that’s preferable to those who have to be around me.

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