(OK, So It's Not In a Text Book Yet, But Let's Pretend.)I don't know why, but I'm always amused whenever the psychological researchers try to introduce a potential new mental disorders (like, say, cyberchondria or blogitis). Perhaps it's that process of taking behavior that seems "part of regular life," (however f*cked up regular life may be), and medicalizing it. Does this mean there will be a pill for it soon? (And will it be a bitter pill to swallow?)
Which is not to say these phenomena aren't real and painful--but pretty soon we're all just going to have to declare ourselves psychological basket cases of one sort or another. None of us will have personalities anymore, just clinical diagnoses.
So this latest study talks about a new potential diagnosis: post-traumatic embitterment disorder. (Quick translation: being all bitter because something bad happened to you.) Being too cheap to subscribe to actual scholarly journals, I can only work off the embitterment abstract, but to me the whole study seemed, well, kind of dumb.
(A brief digression: I love the idea of psychological research, because, well, people are bizarre and fascinating and I want to know why, don't you? But the actual studies themselves--I've read a ton of them and they're pretty much all lame. They're always proposing some obscure model or explaining something obvious in confusing made-up language. I studied psychology for many years--but I can't say I learned much of anything useful, in terms of helping or understanding people, from any of these studies. Microbiology? That's a science. Psychology? I'm not sure it is, yet.)
Anyway, back to Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder. It's defined as "prolonged embitterment, severe additional psychopathological symptoms and great impairment in most areas of life in reaction to a severe negative but not life threatening life event."
Did the abstract include the interesting part, that is, how do you define "embittermnent?" Nope. Are you clinically bitter? No way to know from this. There's apparently a scale, the Bern Embitterment Scale, which sounds very useful to administer to potential spouses, co-workers, friends, or whatever, but I couldn't find any info on it. What do you ask to get people to admit it? "Hell yeah, I'm a bitter pain-in-the-ass to be around, thanks for asking."
So basically what they did for this "study" was they gathered up a bunch of people they already decided fit this description, and compared them to 50 other mentally ill people who didn't. The bitter people were more depressed, suffered more adjustment problems, but were less anxious than the others. Okay, whatever.
But bitterness is an interesting psychological concept. I'm going to ditch the scientists for a moment and struggle with my own conception of what it is and why it's so hard to be around.
Because to me, it's more than mere crankiness (thank goodness). You can bitch and complain about all kinds of things and still be a basically happy well-adjusted person. To me it feels like there's not just depression and negativity about bitterness--it also seems tinged with hostility and entitlement too. Not just "why did this bad thing happen," but "why did this bad thing happen to ME and not YOU? Bad things always happening to ME and they shouldn't. And I'm not going to do anything different to avoid bad things, either, because none of them are MY fault."
But maybe that's just my idea of what bitterness sounds like. You all may have better suggestions as to what we're actually talking about when we say someone is bitter.
Another question: why are the researchers focusing on post-traumatic bitterness, the kind you would get as a result of having an Awful Thing happen? In my experience, bitterness is more interesting (and I think more prevalent) as a personality issue, not as a response to stress.
We all know people suffering from Bitter Personality Disorder, whether they call it that yet or not. They're bitter when something bad happens and bitter when something good happens. It's a world view that often seems independent of actual life events. We've all know people who've been through horrendous trauma and aren't bitter--but other people who stay bitter for weeks over a parking ticket that they totally deserved.
Anyway, I think a better question about those suffering from Embitterment Disorder: how do we get them de-bitterized? That would be useful information.