Most of us have heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, very few of us have heard the term Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED), even though it is a condition recognized in the US and Europe and, importantly, the symptoms of PTED are known to everyone across the UK. PTED is best described as a reaction to negative life-events. Whilst it is often attributed to an injustice or to social rejection, it may also be attributed to a traumatic life-changing experience, such as assault, rape or loss of a job, which results in chronic feelings of bitterness and anger.
Embittered people are typically good people who have worked hard at something important, such as a job, a relationship or an activity. When something unexpectedly awful happens (ie: they are disciplined, they don’t get the promotion they expected or they are told they may be made redundant for example), a profound sense of injustice overwhelms them. They are left with a crippling emotional condition which prevents them from moving on with their lives. Internally, they feel betrayed, violated and abused. Outwardly, they appear angry, aggressive, non-cooperative, hopeless haters. This category of individual finds it difficult to trust and believes the world has to change, not them.
Are you feeling helpless or distressed? Are you angry or frustrated? Has your doctor signed you off work with Work Related Stress, Anxiety or Depression recently or in the past? Is the cost of your depression, frustration and anger impacting on your home life and your general wellbeing? Do you feel unable to move on with your life as a result of something traumatic that happened to you at work?
We believe the word ‘stress’ does not adequately describe the condition of an employee signed off by a GP, for example, with Work Related Stress. Some say ‘stress’ is a positive thing which we can all use to our advantage by channelling it in a positive manner. Of course this is true – but stress can be extremely negative and lead to depression and to far more serious, life changing, health issues.
There is a new disorder being diagnosed in the USA in relation to workplace harassment and bullying: It is called Post
Traumatic Embitterment Disorder. With PTED the person suffering can no longer trust anyone around him/her and the traumain essence consumes them with a profound “bitterness” making the victim incapable of moving on from the incident. We believe quite a few people are entrapped in their trauma and have been for years.
Signs that you could be suffering with PTED are, feel helpless, angry, frustrated or unable to recover from something that happened in the past. We believe this feeling of helplessness and embitterment falls into the PTED category and below you will find an article that explains what PTED is.
Over 70% of employees calling Helplines have already been signed off work by their doctor with Work-Related Stress (WRS), or they are simply unable to work. In PTED cases though, the condition runs extremely deep and can be long-lasting, all-consuming and life-changing. It is described as ‘far more than stress or depression’. It’s a cocktail of deep-routed, complex, emotions. PTED sufferers talk of a desire to seek justice or revenge and most cannot see a future. Thoughts of self-harm and suicide are high on the agenda. We have to ask ourselves whether PTED is a contributory factor in these suicide cases.
The National Bullying Helpline finds that some callers are hostile at the outset of a call for no apparent reason. This is reflective of an embittered mind – a mind that believes no one understands or believes them. These callers suffer flash backs and tend to live in the past. A high percentage are unable to cope with simple every-day tasks. They are deeply resentful of criticism and have a fear of failure, humiliation, social rejection or permanent damage to their reputation. They don’t trust easily. If they work, they are likely to refuse to cooperate with management. An unhealthy and often perverted desire for revenge becomes all-consuming for the PTED patient.
In some cases, this category of embittered individual is often visibly and openly angry and they are labelled ‘the bully’. Without doubt, if undiagnosed, PTED destroys families and lives. It may even lead to self-harm or suicide, regardless of whether the trauma which triggered the PTED occurred at home, in the community, in the school playground or the workplace.
A German psychiatrist, Professor Michael Linden, has been carrying out research to distinguish the varying degrees of the embittered mind. He describes how PTED effects people saying; . ‘It’s one step more complex than anger. They’re angry plus helpless. PTED patients might not fit the formal criteria for PTSD and can be clinically distinguished from it, prompting the description of this new and very separate health disorder.’
Professor Linden is adamant that in chronic cases of PTED, the patient is highly likely to need psychological intervention. He talks about an approach called ‘Wisdom Therapy’ which leaves the patient with strategies to help him solve a complex problem within himself. Wisdom Therapy, a form of Coaching, also addresses lifestyles, life-planning and life interpretation.
Christine Pratt, Founder of The National Bullying Helpline says; ‘Clearly, PTED is all embracing and life-changing. Embitterment needs to be seen as a unique emotion in its own right. It is an extremely serious and debilitating mental illness. These people are trapped in the past, unable to move on with their lives. Anti-depressants and mediation is not the answer.
One caller to the National Bullying Helpline recently said he had searched high and low to find a phrase which adequately described how he felt. No one understood him. Neither his wife nor his GP understood him. He was bullied many years ago and had felt unable to function properly ever since. When he called our helpline and we referred him to our PTED research, he described it as ‘a lightbulb moment’. Clearly, much more needs to be done in the UK to acknowledge PTED as the most serious, debilitating and life-changing, mental illness that it clearly is.
Engage with the employee and encourage them to talk about what is troubling them. (To be both listened to and to feel believed goes to the very heart of the embittered mind). In-house Policies and procedures should be updated to reflect the fact that PTED is a disability. It is an illness. Follow your procedures and work with mental health experts.
Do not force Mediation. It will likely be a waste of time, money and resources. The embittered mind is incapable of empathising with others and believes it is others who need to change – not them. Do not rush into a Performance Improvement process. The PTED mind will resent a heavy-handed approach. Consider the employee who has been absent for a long period of time due to Work Related Stress. They may be suffering with PTED. Do not rush into ‘Dismissal on grounds of capability’ before seeking expert advice.
Don’t expect too much from the employee who has trust issues. Be open and honest and reassuring. Appoint a ‘workplace buddy’ if appropriate. Work with an Occupational Health expert who understands PTED. Consider Coaching. A good Coach will not tell their Client what to do. Coaching may provide the embittered mind with the tools they need to look to the future.
Talk openly about PTED to the employee in question. Reference the work of both Professor Michael Linden and The National Bullying Helpline. The employee may not have heard of PTED and this may a ‘light-bulb’ moment for them. It will also demonstrate to them that you have a reasonable understanding of what they are going through.