You know them. I know them. And, increasingly, psychiatrists know them. People who feel they have been wronged by someone and are so bitter they can barely function other than to ruminate about their circumstances.
This behaviour is so common – and so deeply destructive – that some psychiatrists are urging it be identified as a mental illness under the name post-trumatic embitterment disorder. The behaviour was discussed before an enthusiastic audience some time ago at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco.
The disorder is modelled after post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because it, too, is a response to a trauma that endures. People with PTSD are left fearful and anxious. Embittered people are left seething for revenge.
“They feel the world has treated them unfairly. It’s one step more complex than anger. They’re angry plus helpless,” said Dr Michael Linden, a German psychiatrist who named the behaviour.
Embittered people are typically good people who have worked hard at something important, such as a job, relationship or activity, he said. When something unexpectedly awful happens – they don’t get the promotion, their spouse files for divorce or they fail to make the Olympic team – a profound sense of injustice overtakes them.
Instead of dealing with the loss with the help of family and friends, they cannot let go of the feeling of being victimised. Almost immediately after the traumatic event, they become angry, pessimistic, aggressive, hopeless haters.
“Embitterment is a violation of basic belifes,” Dr Linden said. “It causes a very severe emotional reaction … We are always coping with negative life events. It’s the reaction that varies.”
There are only a handful of studies on the conditon, but psychiatrists at the meeting agreed that much more research is needed on identifying and helping these people.
“These people usually don’t come to treatment because ‘the world has to change, not me,’ “Dr Linden said. “They are almost treatment resistant … Revenge is not a treatment.”
Nevertheless, he suggested that people once known as loving, normal individuals who suddenly snap and kill their family and themselves may have post-traumatic embitterment syndrome. That’s reason enough for researches to study how to treat the destructive emotion of bitterness.
- Los Angeles Times