Can some targets of severe workplace bullying become so angry and embittered by their experiences that they are unable to move forward in their lives?
In 2003, Dr. Michael Linden, a Berlin psychiatrist, proposed recognition of a new condition, Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED), asserting that a traumatic event could trigger “embitterment and feelings of injustice” that impair one’s “performance in daily activities and roles.” These reactions can be so strong and enduring that they render someone helpless to address the situation.
PTED is not listed in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and this absence limits its application as a formal diagnosis. Linden believes the evidence merits its addition to the next version, now under deliberation.
While some disagree with creating a separate psychiatric diagnosis, others cite PTED as an important breakthrough in our understanding of trauma. For example, I recently cited Cheryl Dellasega’s invocation of PTED in her new book When Nurses Hurt Nurses (2011).
PTED and workplace bullying
I do not have sufficient expertise to pass judgment on the DSM debate, but the concept of PTED rings true based on my knowledge of the experiences of some bullying targets, especially those who have experienced job loss and career impacts. At times, the anger and embitterment run so deep that they disable individuals from taking actions in their self-interest.
This is not a negative judgment on someone’s character, and I wish to distinguish it from the maddening “it’s time to get over it” line that so many targets of abuse hear from well-meaning family, friends, and associates. Furthermore, I’m not talking here about the normal angry feelings that bullying targets often experience, some of which can be awfully hard to let go.
Indeed, words like “angry,” “bitter,” and “embittered” carry very negative connotations when used to describe people. They paint individuals as unpleasant and unsympathetic figures, while downplaying or ignoring the events that caused them to be this way.
By contrast, the concept of PTED helps us to understand that anger and bitterness may be natural responses to trauma and injustice, in some cases becoming disabling. Equally important, it may lead us to, as Linden suggests, “specific therapeutic interventions.”
PTED and workplace violence
On occasion, acts of severe workplace violence have been committed by those who purportedly were bullied at work. Could PTED explain why? As reported in the blog Living the Scientific Life (link here):
Dr. Linden suggested that loving, normal individuals who suddenly snap, killing either their family or coworkers and then themselves may actually be suffering from post-traumatic embitterment syndrome.
Worth our attention
Friends in the mental health field tell me that getting a new diagnosis into the DSM is a gargantuan task. Nevertheless, PTED helps to shed light on emotions and behaviors that many of us in the anti-bullying community have observed. We certainly should keep it on our radar screen, especially if it leads to counseling and coaching approaches that help targets improve the quality of their lives.
I had intended to cover PTED as a post about the law and mental health conference that I’m attending in Berlin, but unfortunately the presenter (NOT Dr. Linden, by the way) on this topic was a no-show! Nevertheless, due to its significance, I thought it was worth writing up anyway.
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