January 21, 2008

Embitterment Disorder: Cool, A Brand New Disease!

[By Crabby]
(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.


  1. "Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder." As my dad would say....hornswaggle.

    Life can be tough. I don't see why people are more and more medicated and less and less happy now than they were 30 years ago. Well, *OK* I do, but giving things names and looking to others to blame won't help. If we stopped telling everyone life is supposed to be all goodness and happiness and that maybe it will be hard sometimes and bad things will happen to you and you'll just have to deal with them (and not have a perfect TV life), maybe this wouldn't get so wierd.
    I mean, I'm not saying you shouldn't address your feelings. If anything, that's not done enough in today's society. But bad things happen and sometimes they make you bitter. Some people need help moving on...they don't need someone telling them it's someone elses fault.
    But then I'm not a overly bitter peron, so I might not be the one to ask...:) And this is a topic of ranting for me...so I'll stop now!

  2. Well geosomin, it may be ranting, but it seems like a very sensible rant to me!

  3. Crabby, if they ever find a cure for Post-Taumatic Embitterment Disorder, you'll tell us, right?

    The Bag Lady has strange ideas about some things, and this is one of them. She thinks that more people nowadays have a sense of entitlement; that they feel they 'deserve' a terrific life, without having to work at it. When it doesn't fall into their lap, they become bitter.
    Get off your butts, do some hard physical labour or do something nice for someone else and forget about yourself for awhile. Sheesh.

    Oh, and Geosomin - the Bag Lady loves that word. Hornswaggle. Haven't heard that for years!

  4. I loved your description of bitterness.
    THe sad thing is that all of the really bitter people out there don't get that they're just making themselves miserable. It's kind of pathetic actually, and ironic that they hold a lot more power over themselves than they realize.

    I'll try not to get bitter over it though...

  5. Oh for the love of Fuzzy Bunny. Another useless disorder coined so we can all feel good, without actually feeling good, about ourselves. It's not my problem, I have a disorder!
    Geosomin is right. We've got to punt all this nonsense about life being perfect and accept that fact that lousy things happen sometimes because they're supposed to and it's normal so get over it already.
    I have limited patience with bitter people. They have a right to exist and I have a right to tell them to go infect someone else. I'm not having any of it.
    As their de-bitterment, well, I don't hold out much hope, frankly. Bitter is how they define themselves. It no doubt makes them feel all special and put upon. It might be too traumatic were this taken away.

  6. I'm pissed that I wasn't asked to participate in this study.


  7. Bag Lady, your ideas don't seem the least bit strange to me!

    And Katieo, it IS sad that they don't realize they have the power to make themselves feel better. But it sure is hard to be around, isn't it?

    Leah, good point about how attached some people are to this view of life--they're not all that eager to give it up even though they're miserable.

    Too funny, Marie!

  8. "None of us will have personalities anymore, just clinical diagnoses."

    That is so, so true. I am not saying that there are no true psychological disorders, that would be ridiculous. There are lots that are actually debilitating and I'm glad there are services for people like that.

    But this study is a perfect example of a silly study.

    Of course you are going to be bitter when something really bad happens to you! Is that NOT a natural reaction?

    Would it be MORE 'normal' to be fun and perky after? "Whatever!! I'll go bake cookies now after that awful, life changing, torturous event! Yay!"

    I could have ran that study and I know nothing about pyschology!!! hah.

  9. I think a visit from the ghosts of "Christmas" past. present, and future, should do the trick!
    Bah Humbug-not :-)
    Dr. J

  10. The embitterment disorder of today might be the emo of just last week. I think I'll just go cut myself! ;)

  11. your description of bitter hit the nail on the head...MEMEMEMEMEMEMEME. People who are bitter are usually pretty selfish people too. Think about it? How many really bitter people do you know that go out and join the Peace Corps or do things like giving back to their communities? The bitter people I know (who aren't many, thank God), are way too wrapped up in themselves to do anything for anyone else.

  12. The bitter people I've encountered have actually seemed to have LESS trauma in their past than the ones who aren't any more bitter than the rest of us.

    I agree with the previous posters who mention a sense of entitlement. Bitter people have skewed notions of how the world works. They think they're owed something and when they don't get it, they get pissed. When they do get it, they're still pissed that they didn't get it earlier, with more fanfare or with less work. There's just no pleasing them.

    How about someone study Entitlement Syndrome? Sounds like it would be a more worthwhile study. And then we could slip Anti-Entitlement pills into the coffee of the worst offenders, thus making the world a happier place for us all. :-)

  13. I don't know. It's frustrating for people like me who have really overcome horrendous events, to see things like this put into syndromes.

    I think it belittles the real pain and problems in the world.

  14. PTED - would that be for those the got picked last in gym class?

    This is just another way to try to pigeon hole people. The gov't gives us numbers, for years women were Mrs (insert husbands first name) Smith, or Johnny's mom. Now everyone is known only by their first name "Hi, I'm Chrissy, would you like fries with that?" Or this is my life partner, brother, boss whatever. People are introduced by relationship first, name second not the other way round.

    Soon we will be introducing ourselves: "Hi, I have PTED, PTSD, OCD & my number is 1234567, but call me Teena!"

    WTF, we could all get together and apply for a gov't grant to study acronyms and their impact on language and social skills.

  15. Ok, I wasn't going to comment today, because, well this whole entitlement thing frustrates me beyond words, and as I was staring blankly at my screen, the ad on the bottom caught my eye. Now you regular comment readers KNOW how obsessed I am with the content generated ads on this site and so, in case any of you missed it...here is what was at the bottom of the page when I read the blog today. I SWEAR I did not make this up!!!
    Disability Income
    Can't work due to bipolar disorder? Qualify for disability income!

  16. Hi Crabby,

    This is too weird. I find that most bitter people are bitter because of WHAT SOMEONE ELSE DID TO THEM. So it's all SOMEONE ELSE'S FAULT.


    The initials that fit what is going on with every one of us is LIFE.



  17. I agree, Sarah, this is not to minimize all the very real psychological diseases... but you're right, this one seems to be pretty silly.

    Great idea, Dr. J, and then they can rename the disease Scrooge-itis.

    Hilary, I didn't make the emo-connection but maybe you're on to something! Maybe emo music should come with a whole new warning label.

    Mamacita--good point! You sure don't see a lot of bitter peace corp volunteers. Helping others may be the best cure for bitterness, but it's harder to market that than a pill.

    BunnyGirl--I like Entitlement Syndrome! I think the closest category now for that is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but ES cuts right to the heart of it.

    I agree Marijke--lets hope this one doesn't make it as an official DSM diagnosis.

    Reb, too funny: "Hi, I have PTED, PTSD, OCD & my number is 1234567, but call me Teena!" The sad thing, give it another decade or so and it will probably be true.

    Holly, I'm like you, the context ads always crack me up--that's a great one! (I hope underwear man comes back eventually though.)

    Terrie--I like it: Don't blame me for being grouchy, I'm suffering from an acute case of Life Disorder.

  18. You know, having read about PTBD, as we who have it refer to it, I have to tell you that while it's tough to be this bitter all the time, my loony bun is FINE!
    ~Benny Lava

  19. Arrgh it's in my head again, the Benny Lava song! Glad you're loony bun is fine, Benny Lava, and I hope all of the nuns are still gay. But now you've given me a bad case of BLOD--Benny Lava Obsessive Disorder.

    (For those of you who have no idea WTF we're talking about, you must go back to the last random friday post and click on the link that talks about made-up English song translations. The video really is hilarious).

  20. LOL what a crazy idea - the embitterment scale. As a psychologist I see lots of unusual studies and that's right up there. Personally I'm more interested in discovering what makes people hopeful and resilient.

    Having said that it would be a fantastic tool for eliminating men/women from the dating pool for those hunting for a partner.

    I'm not sure if you read the same extract that I did. This one had some diagnostic criteria, so now you can analyse each other to your heart's content.

    The scary part is the researchers say this is a frequent disorder which makes it sound as though we must all be surrounded by some very negative people.

    The 'posttraumatic embitterment disorder' (PTED) is introduced as a new concept for a subgroup of adjustment disorders.

    Core criteria of PTED are:
    (1) a single exceptional negative life event precipitates the onset of the illness;
    (2) the present negative state developed in the direct context of this event;
    (3) the emotional response is embitterment and feelings of injustice;
    (4) repeated intrusive memories of the event;
    (5) emotional modulation is unimpaired, patients can even smile when engaged in thoughts of revenge, and (
    6) no obvious other mental disorder that can explain the reaction.

    Additional symptoms are feelings of helplessness, self-blame, rejection of help, suicidal ideation, dysphoria, aggression, down-heartedness, seemingly melancholic depression, unspecific somatic complaints, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, pain, phobic symptoms in respect to the place or to persons related to the event, reduced drive.

    Duration is longer than 3 months. Performance in daily activities and roles is impaired.

    CONCLUSIONS: PTED is a frequent disorder. The diagnosis of PTED can lead to specific therapeutic interventions. PTED can be discriminated from PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, and other adjustment disorders.

  21. I agree with geosomin! No one ever said it was supposed be to be a rose garden everyday; we are actually supposed to go through a range of emotions and good times and bad as a part of the human experience (right?) I think some people get it in their heads that they are SUPPOSED to be ecstatically happy at all times, and if they aren't, well then they need to go directly to the doctor to get the next great cure. I think the post-traumatic embitterment is really just a fancy name for going through regular life hardships. You're bitter for while, and then you get over yourself and move on. The people who are bitter all the time? Well, I kind of just think of them as a**holes. But, maybe that is just me being bitter :) Loved this post!

  22. I do someone who is clinically bitter. Really. I had to break off the friendship becuase i was afraid that her bitterness would spread. Is it contagious?

    I have to email this to all my other pals that dumped Miss PTED so we can all laugh at her expense.

  23. You raise an interesting point, that I would like to address.

    What I actually found most interesting about your post, wasn't the actual description of the new disorder, but your idea of psychology.

    Psychology has always been something that has fascinated me beyond belief. Yes, it is a "soft" science, leaving it much more open to interpretation than other "hard" sciences, but that doesn't make it any less important, or, more importantly, any less fascinating!

    To try to grasp the idea that the abstract concept of mind has a genuine influence on the physical body is the main theme of my own health-related site. It is something that we may never be able to fully grasp, which makes it all the more fascinating to me.

    Besides, where else would we get all these cool new disorders?

    What about: PTDD?
    Post-traumatic disorderly disorder. You were disorderly, cleaned your ways due to a traumatic experience of not being able to find your keys, and now you are suffering as a result. Where's Nature magazine?

    Much Love,

    Grow Smarter, Grow Faster, GrowStronger.com!

  24. But it sure is hard to be around, isn't it?


  25. Oy. Now we'll see a wave of self-diagnoses all over the internet, just like with Asperger's. If I hear one more of my fellow nerds claim he's got Asperger's and that's why life has not been one long orgy of sex and popularity I may go positively bananas on the guy.

    Yes, there are real psychological disorders. I've known people with clinical depression, bipolar disorder, all that stuff. But then there are the "so THIS is why I'm cranky!" disorders, the ones people like to seize upon to describe something they should really just be able to deal with themselves.

    Can we just do more psilocybin studies? Reaffirming that Magic Mushrooms can cause life-changing experiences a dozen times sounds like a far better use of resources than a study like this.

  26. The Bag Lady can't believe no-one in the comment's section said anything about this all being "a bitter pill to swallow"!! Does that date the Bag Lady to neolithic, or what....

  27. Bag Lady, I think you've enCAPSULEated the whole thing in that one comment. ;)

  28. baglady - if that was the case, the the treatment would be very easy: a spoonful of sugar. You know, to help the medicine go down.... in the most delightful waaaaaaaaaaaay....

  29. I think if you take jim's magic mushrooms with a spoonful of sugar, that'll cure any bitterness, at least for a few hours...

    Thanks guys!

  30. I can't believe I missed the blog the day of "embitterment disorder!"

    I am happily charging toward bitter-old-maidenhood. I'll be a never-married 45-year-old. I'm rather enjoying feeling entitled to my bitterness. I get to say unfair and humorous things about the unfair sex* and relate disastrous blind date stories to my friends. I'm hampered by a cat allergy from acquiring the cliche accoutrements of old-maidenhood, but now I know I can merely add this to my bitter arsenal!

    Great post!

    Credit due to author Sara Caudwell, RIP

  31. Soooo, I guess I'm just 'bitter' and need to grow up and accept it is no one's fault but mine?

    OK, here's a partial list of things that are just part of 'life' I need to 'get over', put on a happy face, and move on:

    Father raped my mother (she was 15 he was 23) resulting in my birth...thus no love for me from mom.

    Father sexually abused me throughout my childhood.

    Uncle sexually abused me.

    And that all formed me into a 'misfit' in society. Wonder why?

    But hey, from what most of you have expressed, all I need to do is accept bad things happen and move on. Well, gosh, if only there weren't constant reminders of the 'bad things' stirring the memories and feelings back to the surface... then maybe the rest of life would be easier to deal with. I suppose it would also help if at least a few who hurt me for so many years would at least show some remorse. Forgiveness, well, I guess I have done more than my share of forgiving because at least now when the flashbacks come my day doesn't come to a halt by crumbling into depression or reacting inappropriately to being 'triggered' by a memory.

    If that's being bitter then so be it. Go ahead and minimize the actions of abusive individuals and heap more pain upon their victims. Society sure seems to enjoy blaming the victim these days. So much easier to cope I guess when they don't have to bother holding abusers accountable.


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