The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has once again provided explanation and relief for the ailing psyche. In the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Volume V) the APA has introduced a new psychiatric diagnosis sure to bring justification and absolution to everyone who feels he/she has been unfairly wronged: Post-traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED).
German Psychiatrist Michael Linden, describes PTED as “an emotion encompassing persistent feelings of being let down, insulted, or being a loser, and of being revengeful but helpless” (Quoted in Sensky, 2010). This embitterment is said to arise from “a single exceptional negative life event” (Sensky, 2010).
Please understand Linden is not speaking of veterans of war, abuse victims, or individuals who were severely injured in industrial or auto accidents. No one could debate such matters as traumatic and having impact in a person’s life.
But instead Linden is writing about the unexpected disappointments of life; situations perceived as unfair, unjust, and personally offensive. In other words, the “negative life event” would not universally be considered traumatic…but if the event is perceived as traumatic, the impact is considered the same.
Therefore reality is determined by the emotion and experience of the embittered person. In this determination comes reason and justification to continue in unresolved emotion that corrupts the heart and eventually one’s perspective of life and relationships.
The Bible warns that bitterness, wrath, malice, and unforgiveness are problematic conditions. These matters are much more than emotional states. Given enough time and meditation, they come to defile and distort one’s discernment, conduct, relationships, and conscience. More importantly, they create division from Christ and leave the sufferer with no resource for resolution.
People are disappointing. Circumstances and experiences can be hard. Regrettably many will endure injury and even trauma during their time on earth. But too often the pain of injustice is prolonged through the maintenance of toxic emotions that grow into bitter, entangled roots; restricting life and recovery while extending the duration of one’s agony.
Frequently poisonous emotions and chronic bitterness can be founded upon one’s perception of injustice. Offense can be taken over words, expressions, and the assumed intent of others. As these feelings take root, they create a reality for an individual that may not be fully accurate. The result often is a protracted state of discontentment and wrath that offers no effort toward reconciliation.
Certainly all emotion is not sinful, but all sin involves emotion. Believers must recognize and respond to emotion quickly. Otherwise the perpetuation of feelings like anger, fear, guilt, and unforgiveness grow into fixed conditions that soon come to dominate and control an individual while also affecting those around him/her.
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled… (Heb 12:15).
This “root of bitterness” is not an emotion but a chronic heart condition that spreads and defiles the person while also affecting those around him/her. Heart conditions like these separate us from Christ (Is 59:1-2) and thereby divide us from His sufficiency and grace.
Over time bitterness will undermine one’s mental and moral well-being. Paul wrote:
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled (Titus 1:15).
To the pure heart “all things are pure.” Purity in heart requires awareness and repentance of lingering emotions that defy the mandates of God. By failing to resolve these and other negative feelings, the defilement spreads to the mind and conscience.
The way one thinks is distorted and his/her sense of right and wrong is turned upside down. Soon one feels entitled to drink and dispense poison at will, bringing on the demise of his/her relationship with Christ and thereby harmony with the world. There is no scriptural justification for the continuance of negative emotion and/or the withholding of forgiveness. Paul counseled:
BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity (Eph 4:26-27).
Many read this passage and conclude anger is acceptable “as long as I do not sin.” The trouble with this idea is that most define sinful anger as behavioral, such as shouting, name calling, etc. But the Bible states that anger becomes sinful when harbored beyond the end of one day! Plainly stated the maintenance of anger within the heart is disobedient and harmful. In fact the continuation of the emotion leaves one vulnerable to Satan.
Unresolved anger matures with time, corrupting the heart, and ruining one’s peace. Continuing in the same chapter, Paul writes:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Eph 4:30-32).
Bitterness, wrath, anger, malice, and unforgiveness “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” How then can we claim entitlement to their continuance? They must be “put away.” As believers we are called to interrupt their advancement through the remembrance of the grace and forgiveness we have received.
These are emotional states, which are countered with love and mercy. Forgiveness is required whether the offending party is deserving or not. Even if repentance or apology is not offered, the mandate remains unchanged.
Why would God command this? Because it is for our good and His glory! Through this biblical process the injured heart is freed from its burden and God is illuminated. In the world one is entitled to remain angry and bitter, even if the suffering is great. One can claim the diagnosis of Embitterment Disorder with all the rights and privileges appertaining.
But the Christian is called to a higher standard of freedom. Remember our High Priest knows first hand the impact of injustice and He calls us to follow His example (1 Pet 2:21-25). When tempted to condemn others within our hearts, we are pressed to recall our condemned state before the application of grace. Paul wrote:
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom 2:4).
Sensky, T., 2010, “Chronic Embitterment and Organisational Justice”, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Vol. 79, Number 2.