Bitterness is more than just a nasty taste in the mouth. Some psychologists think long-term resentment can become a psychological disorder Suggestion of a new diagnostic category: posttraumatic embitterment disorder. Hasanoğlu, A., Basel U Tip Fak., Psikiyatri AD, Basel, Turkish Journal of Psychiatry. 2008 Spring;19(1):94-100.. And studies suggest bitterness, and the feelings of anger and depression that accompany it, may be linked to health issues like cardiovascular problems and a weak immune system The psychopathology of posttraumatic embitterment disorders. Linden, M., Baumann, K., Rotter, M., Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Charité, University Medicine and the Department of Behavioral and Psychosomatic Medicine, BfA Rehabilitation Center Seehof, Teltow, Berlin, Germany. Psychopathology. 2007;40(3):159-65. Epub 2007 Feb 2..

Being Bitter

Illustration by Elaine Liu

Don’t Be a Bitter Betty — The Need-to-Know

Bitterness usually originates in a negative life change, like getting a divorce or losing a job The psychopathology of posttraumatic embitterment disorders. Linden, M., Baumann, K., Rotter, M., Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Charité, University Medicine and the Department of Behavioral and Psychosomatic Medicine, BfA Rehabilitation Center Seehof, Teltow, Berlin, Germany. Psychopathology. 2007;40(3):159-65. Epub 2007 Feb 2.. Psychologists think bitterness combines emotions like resentment and hostility (roommate left the dirty dishes out again?) and blaming other people for problems.

And while a bad mood may disappear after a cup of coffee, some research suggests prolonged bitterness can turn into an adjustment disorder called posttraumatic embitterment disorder (PTED) Posttraumatic embitterment disorder. Linden, M., Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Free University of Berlin and Department of Behavioral and Psychosomatic Medicine, BfA Rehabilitation Center Teltow/Berlin, Berlin, Germany. Psychotherapy Psychosomatics. 2003 Jul-Aug;72(4):195-202. Suggestion of a new diagnostic category: posttraumatic embitterment disorder. Hasanoğlu, A., Basel U Tip Fak., Psikiyatri AD, Basel, Turkish Journal of Psychiatry. 2008 Spring;19(1):94-100.. PTED is not yet a recognized medical disorder, but studies suggest the condition involves feelings of embitterment and injustice as well as invasive memories of significant events The psychopathology of posttraumatic embitterment disorders. Linden, M., Baumann, K., Rotter, M., Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Charité, University Medicine and the Department of Behavioral and Psychosomatic Medicine, BfA Rehabilitation Center Seehof, Teltow, Berlin, Germany, Psychopathology. 2007;40(3):159-65. Epub 2007 Feb 2.. Most people who suffer from embitterment disorders also experience anxiety, depression, and rage The psychopathology of posttraumatic embitterment disorders. Linden, M., Baumann, K., Rotter, M., Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Charité, University Medicine and the Department of Behavioral and Psychosomatic Medicine, BfA Rehabilitation Center Seehof, Teltow, Berlin, Germany. Psychopathology. 2007;40(3):159-65. Epub 2007 Feb 2. Posttraumatic embitterment disorder. Linden, M., Research Group Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Free University of Berlin and Department of Behavioral and Psychosomatic Medicine, BfA Rehabilitation Center Teltow/Berlin, Berlin, Germany. Psychotherapy Psychosomatics. 2003 Jul-Aug;72(4):195-202. Suggestion of a new diagnostic category: posttraumatic embitterment disorder. Hasanoğlu A., Basel U Tip Fak., Psikiyatri AD, Basel, Turkish Journal of Psychiatry. 2008 Spring;19(1):94-100..

But chronic bitterness goes beyond acting like a grump. Research suggests constant bitterness can actually have negative effects on our physical health. Bitterness may predict adverse changes in metabolism, immune system function, and organ function. And while forgiveness is usually the better option, scowling is sometimes beneficial for our health and happiness.

Forgive and Forget — Your Action Plan

Chronic bitterness may take its toll on the body, but in the short term, bitterness may actually boost self-esteem by allowing us to blame others for our problems. Better say someone else caused that scratch on the car— studies suggest pointing fingers at others makes us feel good temporarily because we can protect our own self-image.

But, in the long term, moving on may be a better alternative to bitterness. People can reduce stress by letting go of unattainable goals, which may actually decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Getting rid of grudges may also reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure; in some people, forgiveness may even improve cardiovascular health The impact of forgiveness on cardiovascular reactivity and recovery. Friedberg, J.P., Suchday, S., Shelov, D.V., Research and Development, Veterans Affairs NY Harbor Healthcare System, New York Campus, 423 East 23rd St. Room 13051-C, New York, NY 10010, United States, International Journal of Psychophysiology: Official Journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology, 2007 Aug;65(2):87-94. Epub 2007 Mar 14.. And it might be time to forgive the boyfriend for forgetting the anniversary, since moving on can result in healthier relationships. Other research suggests people who show forgiveness aren’t the same ones putting away a bottle of wine on a weeknight, since they tend to use alcohol and medication less often Forgiveness, physiological reactivity and health: the role of anger. Lawler-Row, K.A., Karremans, J.C., Scott, C., et.al. Department of Psychology, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, International Journal of Psychophysiology: Official Journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology, 2008 Apr;68(1):51-8. Epub 2008 Jan 17..

So take a lesson from Oprah: Let go of resentment and find positive ways to get revenge. At least if you’re going to get back by hacking into someone’s computer, try not to get caught!

The Takeaway

Long-term bitterness can have serious health consequences, like hurting the immune system. But forgiveness can reduce stress, making us feel healthier and happier!

What are your tips for getting over grudges? Tell us in the comments below!

34U34 Food Promo