When does bitterness become a disorder?

The damage done to strangers, lovers and family members by sociopaths includes physical, emotional, psychological, social and financial harm. Over the years I have encountered many people whose lives have been damaged in this way.

The victimization alone is very sad, but people suffer not only from the actual damage but from their psychological and emotional reactions to it. It is one thing to lose a large sum of money or time that you can’t ever get back. The losses happened and are permanently in the past. It is another thing for a person’s present to be occupied by that loss.

The Aftermath is often more extensive than the victimization itself

It is my observation that for many victims this aftermath lasts a long time and includes considerable dysfunction and this dysfunction causes additional damage. Many have used the label “PTSD” for these psychological, emotional and physical reactions to victimization. Although I agree that diagnosis may fit some, I have never been entirely comfortable with it applied to this context. The reason is that PTSD technically applies to only to situations that are “life-threatening.” PTSD is an anxiety disorder as opposed to an “adjustment disorder” and some symptoms that victims have are not based in “anxiety.”

Psychologist and Professor, Dr Michael Linden, of the Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Berlin, Germany has proposed a new disorder be added to the DSM. This disorder, termed Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder or PTED describes the reactions I have seen in many people victimized by sociopaths.

I thought seriously about this blog for two weeks before posting it because suggesting there is such a thing as PTED is far from politically correct and sincerely, I would not want anyone to get the idea that I blame victims for their aftermath symptoms. On the other hand, I hope that those who have the symptoms Dr. Linden identifies will consider addressing them. I am also not in favor of the medicalization of common psychological reactions and so am not rushing to advocate PTED be declared an official diagnosis.

What is PTED?

Just as PTSD is thought to result from the threat of loss of life, PTED results from a different kind of threat. Dr. Linden states regarding PTED, “The core pathogenic mechanism is not the provocation of anxiety, but a violation of basic beliefs. This threat to deeply held beliefs, acts upon the patient as a powerful psychological shock, which triggers a prolonged feeling of embitterment and injustice.”

For victims of sociopath’s the sociopath’s behavior violates core beliefs about human nature and sense of safety. That theme is discussed over and over on this website.

Diagnostic and associated features

The essential feature of posttraumatic embitterment disorder is the development of clinically significant emotional or behavioral symptoms following a single exceptional, though normal negative life event. The person knows about the event and perceives it as the cause of illness. The event is experienced as unjust, as an insult, and as a humiliation. The person’s response to the event must involve feelings of embitterment, rage, and helplessness. The person reacts with emotional arousal when reminded of the event. The characteristic symptoms resulting from the event are repeated intrusive memories and a persistent negative change in mental well-being. Affect modulation is unimpaired and normal affect can be observed if the person is distracted”¦

Besides prolonged embitterment individuals may display negative mood, irritability, restlessness, and resignation. Individuals may blame themselves for the event, for not having prevented it, or for not being able to cope with it. Patients may show a variety of unspecific somatic complaints, such as loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, pain.

PTED is said to be a disabling condition and is very difficult to treat.

Additional comments

Although I read two of Dr. Linden’s papers (see below) I was disappointed that he failed to define what it means to be bitter. How does bitterness differ from other reactions like anxiety or grief? Bitter is not an emotion it is a taste. Is he suggesting that victims have an actual bitter taste in their mouths? In studying dictionary definitions I can offer that bitterness is unique in that there is an anger/hostility component- synonym resentful, hostile feeling.

Provided he can more precisely define bitterness, I think Dr. Linden may be communicating something useful here. That is the idea that we have to mobilize our resources to move beyond events that threaten us. Events that threatened core beliefs may be very traumatic for people. It is important for victims to examine their core beliefs in recovering from a relationship with a sociopath.

I am interested in your reactions to this proposed diagnosis.


Linden, Michael, Kai Baumann, Barbara Lieberei, and Max Rotter. 2009. “The Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder Self-Rating Scale (PTED Scale).” Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy 16, no. 2: 139-147.

Linden, Michael, Kai Baumann, Max Rotter, and Barbara Schippan. 2008. “Diagnostic criteria and the standardized diagnostic interview for posttraumatic embitterment disorder (PTED).” International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice 12, no. 2: 93-96.

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250 Comments on "When does bitterness become a disorder?"

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@ Inquirente

“A perfect lie can be so much more damaging, because it is hidden within your being.”

wow. and i also take this to mean hidden from me. hidden there, were she caught me. there were rings for her to hook into.

my posts might be a bit garbled re numbers and gender. I was conned by a woman, pretending to be a young man and his family and friends. welcome to the internet. turns out she has been at it a LONG time. I have found reference to her on the internet and am now in the process of connecting with another of her ‘duppees’ (sorry, not going to do the ‘v’ word) who is taking her to civil court. First, I am doing a background check on the other dupee.

my sociopath is alive well active and sock puppetting all over the internet.

I am hoping that coming here, and interacting with the other dupee, etc. will peal me away from watching the trainwreck rumble on. I hate this woman. And I want to mess with her. And absolutley no one who knows me can understand what this is like.

I had an abusive bf 30 years ago – I remember what that was like, and I remember how long it took me to rise up and roar when he was stalking me. The police intervened in that situation; he had made the wrong threat at the wrong time and the arson squad got involved. they aksed me if i though he would/could do as threatened. I said yes, cause it was quite posible. I WOULD HAVE SAID IT ANYWAY, TO GET HELP TO MAKE HIM STOP, TO HAVE SOME POWER. I feel the same way now.

I would like to help this woman who is suing her, in anyway possible. And i relaized tongiht that i may be able to. The US postal service frowns on fraud. And I may be able to supply her with some mail, that may further her case. I hope so. I so want vengence. And I am trusting that this is actually a place I can say this and you will understand – and because you may know how i feel, then your response will have meaning. I feel like such a whack job when i try to tell people i know what is going on. their repsonses, are ususally, to tell me to run. This woman doens’t live anywhere near me…in another country. I am not so worried that she will come after me. She seems not quite that motivated.

She actually was lIving with the other woman i have come across who she defrauded. LIVING WITH HER! As the best friend of the man she loved who died……………..

It is hard still – dimanlting this beautiful kind noble smart and outrageously weird and funny boy who I loved. he never existed…onyl in this womans’ head. i want to know, who is that beautiufl boy is in the 50 photos i have? did she steal his life? and what will she do with the pics she has of me?

She was amazing with her voice – played 2 characters i spoke with. I believed her – and i have tlaked to ‘him’ on the phone since May. After ‘he’ died, his sister called me. (same schitck, diff vic) and she made a BIG mistake – maybe it was the 4th phone call and she signed off with, ‘i love you’. And i was like, uh noooo! I have rather been in hell since sept.

all for now. ty for being here.

Dear lostandfearful,

Cyber-paths, con men/women, frauds, ….these people hook into the emotions of others, you are sure not alone. I saw a 20/20 program one night about this man in Nigeria who was pretending to be a beautiful woman, and had gotten involved on the internet with a middle aged man who had sent “her” thousands of dollars and was mailing stolen merchancise for “her” to help her with her “business” and expected this beautiful, wealthy woman to come to American and marry him. This man was not stupid, he was HOOKED ON A FANTASY.

There are thousands of people who are hooked by these con people, and unfortunately, they are GOOD AT WHAT THEY DO and they pull people in by their heart strings, either through romance or compassion for someone suffering as the good people try to “help’ this person.

The worst part of it is that by bieng in another country most of the time they get away with the scams–get away with the money and the “dupee” as you call it (not the V word) is powerless to recover their money or their faith.

These people are psychopathic, they are heartless, they are EVIL—and I hear your pain, I hear your frustration, I hear your rage, and I don’t think there is anyone here who has been scammed for money and/or for love by a psychopath that cannot relate to what you feel.

The dating sites and other places on the internet can be “fishing pools’ for dupees. The most caring and kind individuals are the ones who are duped by these scum bags. They play the “pity me” card, or the “I’ve been so abused and I need you to help me” card, and a thousand other stories.

You are NOT alone in this. I hope you will stay here and read, and I do wish you and the other woman can get some justice, but if you do or not, it isn’t any longer about THEM but about you. Healing you. Taking care of YOU! YOU did not deserve this, and you do deserve to heal and find peace. (((Hugs)))) and God bless.

I think I am a magnet for these types of people in general….. last week I met two wierdos in one day right after I kicked the S to the curb…. one a realtor since I needed and apt and one a mechanic.. who was trying to put the moves on me , I was like what? the heck…..I just talked to the wierd ..lady I am weary of anyone who is intersested in what my childcare options are… and my personal business… “they act like they want to help you, but I am going with my first instincts this time , back off my personal info I just met you…. its really hard to be naive and a good person and not be able to trust cause of these A …holes…. Its something I need to be stronger about boundaries its ok to have them and to protect myself… when in doubt….especially the chaos and crap we go through…

Dear spirit,

Good observations! Good reactions! Stepping up to some good boundaries!!! TOWANDA!!!

I’ve thought a lot about the tendency we all have to blame ourselves, to think we have some weakness, some “issues” we have to get over. And depending on our personality type, we may ALWAYS be the analytical type, wondering why we are the way we are, struggling always to improve, etc., and so we apply that to this experience as well.

I’ve also thought a lot about the tendency some of us have to want revenge, to be angry and stay angry, and to say things like I’ve often said: “If he had not been a bad guy, then my traits wouldn’t have caused me a problem. So HE is the problem, not me.”

Well, finally, I have an analogy. I have been getting sick every time I travel. Three times since the spring. Each time I got sick. Not just a little sick, but miserably sick, expensively sick, and sick for weeks. I made my husband sick too when I came home, despite my best efforts to prevent that.

In each case, I’m pretty certain who “made” me sick. In one case, the woman admitted to me that she knew she should have stayed home from the conference, because she was sick, but she came anyway. She told me this matter of factly after I got sick. So she knew she was sick, and not only did she come to the conference, but she came up to me and insisted on shaking my hand and giving me her card. I was rather floored later when this stranger, who called me after the conference, so matter of factly said, oh yes, I’m sure I gave you it, but I really wanted to meet you, and it will all be worth it. HUH??

Well, after getting sick three times, I have someone I could BLAME for each time. I could stop there. But for my own sake, even though it was not my “fault” that I got sick, I’m going to the doctor to find out how to best boost my immune system before my next trip, and I’m going to pay very close attention to the kinds of safety steps I should practice in public and in meeting people, as well as what vitamins I should take, how much sleep I should get, etc. And watch myself for any bad habits from my childhood, like licking my finger to turn a page of a public magazine, etc.

And so what my analogy is stating is that here at LF we know who to BLAME…the shame belongs to the bad guy, NOT to us…..but that doesn’t mean we can’t do things to boost our immunity to these bad guys…..while realizing sometimes you are going to get sick. Anyone can be a victim. But if you get treatment right away (no contact) you will heal faster!

Dear JAH

Your immune system does take a hit from prolonged stress, so yes, TAKE PRECAUTIONS.

Get your flu shots!

Take a multivitamin every day.

Get plenty of rest,

Carry the hand sanitizer.

Use the paper towel (if no towels use a klenex from your purse) to open the bathroom door, DO NOT TOUCH THE KNOB and then sanitize your hands otu side the john.

clean the handle of any shopping cart you use

keep your hands away from your face

at big gatherings, do not shake hands (carry some books or something and then say “excuse me for not shaking hands but my arms are full”

Avoid CLOSE contact with large crowds, keep as much distance as you reasonably can. Avoid close contact esp with people obviously sick.

Keep your stress levels as low as possible.

Your analogy though is a good one!!!!

Wits, i can so relate to what you are going thru right now with your P son. I was also very scared of my daughter when she was between the ages of 17 and 19. She trashed my art studio in 1981, and that was the year she threw a heavy hot steam iron at my head{She missed, luckily.}. She used to look at me with such hatred in her eyes. Not sure if she was on drugs that year, but she was certainly drinking a lot of booze.{Her dad is an alcoholic, and he used to get her to come to his favourite pub and drive him home,-this was when he was underage and no driving licence.She isa tall girl, and quite strong. My pastor at th e time told me she had a “walk- in”, an evil spirit which came and went.I dont doubt it, as her moods used to change at a frightning speed.Before her dad hit the bottle again he wasa great dad and husband,but after he started drinking again, he used to verbally abuse me in front of my girls, and they used to copy him. I had no-one in my corner, and thought I was losing my mind, as Id never heard of “gaslighting, mirroring, projection”, etc at the time. The one time I called the police, my ex convinced them that I was the crazy one, and was beating up my daughter, and was a prostitute as well! They believed him! You are right to be scared of your son, my daughter is now 45, and tho she now thinks shes a “yuppy”, and so smart and entitled, basically Ive never trusted her since she wrecked my home and studio.When is he legally of age to be set up on his own?If he wants to go, let him go. Change the locks, or sell up and move if you possibly can. Teenagers have killed their parents, what about the Menendez brothers?You are living on a knife edge, and your nerves and immune system must be shot.Lots of luck, you will need it! and {{HUGS!!}}}, gem.XX

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