When is Bitterness a Disorder?


Psychiatrists have defined a new subgroup of what is known as ‘adjustment disorders.’ Somewhat similar to post traumatic stress disorder, post traumatic embitterment disorder is triggered by a negative life event which “is experienced as a violation of basic beliefs and values.”

The predominant emotion in PTED is embitterment. PTED patients also complain about feelings of injustice and rage. A recent German study used a PTED self-rating scale to determine the prevalence of the disorder. The scale is described as a reliable and valid measure for embitterment.

Having spent nearly two hours reading about this new diagnosis and searching for the PTED scale online, I was extremely bitter in my defeat.   I WANT TO TAKE THE TEST, GODAMMIT!

I love psychological tests. The one for OCD starts with questions about germs and counting and then casually asks if you ever have thoughts about poisoning your dinner guests. Once you start laughing, it ruins the decorum of the test, but I recommend taking it.

Bitterness seems like something that’s hard to quantify. How bitter is too bitter? How long do you get to feel bitter before it is considered pathological? Maybe such enduring bitterness is the only sane response to some events. Who gets to decide?

I know a woman whose husband had an affair 30 years ago. They are still together, but she talks about his infidelity as though it happened yesterday. That seems pathological.

Then there is artist Hugues de Montalembert who was blinded by muggers who threw paint thinner in his face.   An interview I once came across referred to the artist as “still bitter.” Now that sounds pretty accusatory, doesn’t it? Is he supposed to get to a point where he feels, Oh what the hell, shit happens!

If tragedy doesn’t beget embitterment, what kind of culture have we become? When you see funerals outside the US and western Europe, there is wailing and all kinds of openly emotional displays of grief.   It always seems more human and sane than the understated mourning that is so prevalent here.

If bitterness is pathologized, one journalist has suggested, then what about extreme racism? That seems far more delusional and crippling, to me, anyway.

Personally, I like being bitter. I like to hold a grudge, and it’s a point of honor with me. People who give up their grudges strike me as shallow. A good grudge should last a lifetime. It can be invigorating, or even comforting.   Ma Haine Dure!

Of course it is good and healthy to forgive, if the thing is forgivable.   Some things aren’t. If anyone can find me the PTED self-rating scale, I would be glad to post my results (if the scale goes high enough, that is.)

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26 Responses to When is Bitterness a Disorder?

  1. JK says:

    Sister, I agree totally with you, “a good grudge should last a lifetime.”

    I’ve had three what I initially considered lifetime grudges in my own life, I mean I was really pissed.

    I was very young when the first one landed and soon thereafter I discovered another held the same sort of grudge I did. That person asked me, “Where can I hire a Hit Man?”

    I told that person, “Chances are, if ________ pissed you off as much as you seem to be pissed off, I’d forego hiring a Hit Man ’cause ________ probably did the same thing to somebody else. I caution you to exercise patience because ________ will probably piss off somebody less patient than you. (I didn’t admit that I was holding a grudge too.)

    I noticed _______ at _______’s funeral. S______ didn’t bring a hankie, me neither.

    I got another grudge. Another person came to me and asked for advice but this time didn’t ask for a Hit Man. Simply asked what to do. Since, unknown to that person I also held a grudge against the very same person I said “Usually when these sorts do that kinda thing, they usually place themselves in similar situations.

    A few years later I noticed us both at a funeral. She wailed like some sort of really grieved widow at the loss but three days later bought some acreage, hired some carpenters, and was driving – although a used Porsche, it had new tires and a paint job. We still talk from time to time about there being a lack of CSI shit back then.

    I had one more grudge, this time I figured I had a lifetime grudge, again I was asked, “How do I hire a Hit Man?”

    I replied, “If it’s that important, just wait, be patient, yada yada, don’t you watch 20/20? You’ll get set up, ya gotta do it yourself.”

    I didn’t see that person at a funeral but I did see her on TV. When I want to talk to her I have an advantage she doesn’t have. I know her permanent address. But we only write letters.

    Sister, I’d really like the sort of heartwarming grudge you write of. A really life-time grudge (of course I don’t want whoever I have my grudge against coming to my funeral).

    Advice? I always turn to you, you realize.

  2. JK says:

    Oh Sister, given your acknowledged hotness, your want(o)-(i)ng to take this damned test has tested me mightily. I feel I’m close but yet I can find no simple test (which I take to mean “click this option, A-B-C-or D”).

    Now this doesn’t fit that bill but fuck, I am tired. Thanks be that this wasn’t some kinda sex test. Embitterment I can deal with.


  3. JK says:


    PAGE 36

    I would suggest to anyone not wishing to be embittered themselves – either know how to read some German or just skip to and stay on page 36.

    Sister Wolf? I’ve felt I owed you. I hope I’ve redeemed some of that.

  4. Sonja says:

    a good grudge should last a life time: does this qualify as good grudge material? woman separates from husband, woman’s best friend tells her on the phone: Well, I talked with your husband for a long, long time last week, and I agreed with everything he said.

  5. Bex says:

    I’m bitter! And I’ve a memory like an elephant, so if I hold a grudge, watch out! anyway, if I was that artist, I’d be bitter too..I mean, that’s part of his ability to be creative gone.

  6. dust says:

    I’ll rather be bitter than entertained.
    This guy makes bitterness entertaining.



    It’s all interactive, so don’t forget to click on it to make it …. happen.

    It’ll calm you down and make you laugh without compromising any of your original bitterness…. enjoy

  7. katanaville says:

    where’s the OCD test?

  8. Jill says:

    I think my Grandmother has all of the bitter genes in the family. Her bitterness is a form of the “woe is me’s”…I’m sure she’ll outlive us all, stewing in her putrid black bile. Can you tell that we aren’t close?

  9. Mark says:

    Is revenge proactive bitterness? I think so.

  10. dewayne says:

    revenge is a dish best served repeatedly.
    i’m bitter about existence, period. but i try not to dwell on it. i’d be intolerable if i did. and incarcerated, probably.

    i do hold grudges, though. i hold them like small children clutch adorable, fuzzy teddy bears.

    hatred is my binky.

  11. I can hold a grudge forever if I feel its deserving. However my grudges usually entail me no longer acknowledging one’s existence even if I find them face to face with me. Completely befuddles and enrages the object of my grudge, and gives me total satisfaction! I become one cold-hearted bitch cutting them out of my life forever if something is done that merits it. OTOH, I can forgive just as easily if an attempt to make amends is sincere. I don’t consider myself bitter in the least, I consider myself pragmatic — why allow someone to anger me, and continue to deal with that crap when they aren’t worth my precious time? Toxic people need to be removed and ignored from my life, spending time with those I love and who do care is much more enjoyable!

  12. Sister Wolf says:

    JK – Wow. You are the man! You found it! Thank you so much! I failed the test, though. Shit.

    Sonja – God yes, but I hope you’re not talking about you here.

    Bex -If only I had your memory, I could step up my grudge holding.

    dust – I’ll be right over there -thanks for respecting the integrity of my bitterness.

    katanaville – Just google, or ask JK if you come up empty.

    Jill – Yes, but now I’m interested in your grandma. I had a scary one, too.

    Mark – EXACTLY.

    dewayne – Hahaha! Damn right.

    Suzanne aka – The ‘why allow people to anger me’ philosophy doesn’t work for me. Anger, c’est moi.

  13. Jill says:

    Mine was such a bitch, I threw sand in her face when I was 8…too old to know better and too young to care.

  14. hammie says:

    I’m not bitter, I am entirely justified.

    I am an excellent friend, very loyal, but I will forget events and whole conversations.

    If however someone crosses me, I will never forget and rarely if ever forgive. And I will hex them so they fail, eventually.


  15. Sister Wolf says:

    hammie – You are exactly perfect in all respects.

  16. Aja says:

    Coincidentally, I was just talking with my Mum about this today. An ex neighbor of ours showed up at our doorstep. My older sister (who was over trying on wedding dresses) came running in to tell us. She stormed up the stairs and told me father. ” John Hockermeier is outside”. My Dad’s response, “Do I really have to go talk to him? Ahh shit”. I had plans of not coming out. Then I realized John had left his bitchy horrible wife at home, so I got dressed and went outside. John and his wife use to live next door. John was always perfectly nice, but his wife was a horrible child hating cunt. I distinctly remember memories of her saying nasty things to me when I was little. She just always thought she was better than us Ironically, once they had there first child, her attitude softened and she was much nicer. Y’know cause black people make the best babysitters and all. I still hate that cunt to this day. If he ever brings her back to our neighborhood, I will refuse to come out.

  17. Sister Wolf says:

    Aja – Fuck that Mrs. Hockermeier! I hate her too.

  18. Danielle says:

    So that’s what’s wrong with me and my family…we’re bitter. But where’s this quiz, just so I can be sure???

  19. A new disorder, woo-hoo. And I like a good grudge, I think mine reminds me all the time of mistakes and improvements made in my life. Like “I hope that asshole isn’t as happily married as I am.”

  20. Neil says:

    PTSD since August 29, 2005.
    PTED since December 12, 2000.

    Living well is the best revenge.
    Failing that, the second best revenge would be, of course, plain old revenge.

  21. Sister Wolf says:

    Danielle – Scroll upward……JK found it for us.

    fashion herald – Hahahaha!

    Neil – Well said! (PTED since birth)

  22. cybill says:

    Bitterness is the wind beneath my wings

  23. Sister Wolf says:

    cybill – How beautiful! You are a poet. Please return to blogging (I just found your blog xo)

  24. a. says:

    You know, I don’t think of them as grudges. I honestly find it too exhausting to maintain contact with people who constantly frustrate and disappoint me–so cutting off contact is really the easiest thing to make my life *less* bitter. I’m sure from their perspective, it’s a grudge.

    & I agree about pathologizing racism. That makes more sense to me, anyways.

  25. kate says:

    i’ve never heard anyone say that a person who lets go of a grudge is shallow… but that’s exactly how i feel! i just never could put it into words. i can only forgive someone if i know what trauma made them so disappointing as a human in the first place.

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