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Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED)

A new disorder is coming to light across the UK in relation to workplace harassment and bullying. Simply, it is referred to as Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder or PTED. It is recognised in the USA but it is relatively unknown in the UK. Your GP has probably never heard of it. This week’s guest blogger Christine Pratt provides some information.

Unlike PTSD, PTED focuses on the ‘embitterment’ of the individual. The English Dictionary describes ‘embitterment’ as 1.To make a person resentful or bitter. 2. To aggravate an already hostile feeling, difficult situation etc. With PTED a person struggles to function on a daily basis. They are likely to feel angry, frustrated, distressed, stressed - all at once.

HR & Diversity Management Limited (HR&DM) run a workplace helpline. In excess of 85% of work related helpline callers have already been diagnosed with ‘Work Related Stress’ by their GP at the point they call the helpline. We identify PTED in our callers on a daily basis. Callers talk about their frustration, anger, mood swings, insecurity and feelings of utter helplessness. Some even talk about a desire for revenge. At HR&DM we believe these traits may, outwardly, make an individual who is being bullied appear to be ‘the bully’.

With PTED the person struggles to trust others. Their trauma is often long-lasting and deep-rooted. They may not have worked for two, five or even ten years because they feel so profoundly embittered with life and the employment justice system. One recent helpline caller described her PTED as ‘her demon’. She is embittered about an incident that occurred over seven years ago and she desperately seeks closure but does not know where to begin or who to trust. She refuses to take medication. Another caller claimed that an unfair dismissal over ten years ago haunts her daily and has left her feeling angry and traumatised to the extent that she took it out on her husband, so he left her.

A person suffering with PTED will not respond well to treatment and/or mediation because they believe the world has to change, not them. They feel life has treated them unfairly. They see themselves as a victim of a crime. I believe that this may explain why mediation is not always successful in workplace conflict cases.

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 (i.e.: they are dismissed, don’t get the recognition they expect or they are told they may be made redundant),a profound sense of injustice overwhelms them. At this point they cannot let go of the feeling of being victimised. They become angry, pessimistic, aggressive, hopeless haters - although the degree of reaction varies.

PTED does not fit the formal criteria for PTSD or Work Related Stress so should be clinically distinguished from it, prompting the need for this new, separate, disorder. After all, ‘stress’ does not adequately describe how these individuals feel. Furthermore, if more emphasis were placed on addressing the cause of the embitterment at the outset, the frustration, anger and feelings of helplessness might not escalate. What is certain is that PTED as a stand-alone disorder needs to be more widely understood and acknowledged in the society we live in today.

Christine Pratt FInstLM & FCMI
Director of HR & Diversity Management Limited
Tel: 07734 701221

Founder of The National Bullying Helpline and

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