New research suggests constant bitterness can make a person ill.

In the study, Concordia University researchers examined the relationship between failure, bitterness and quality of life.

“Persistent bitterness may result in global feelings of anger and hostility that, when strong enough, could affect a person’s physical health,” said psychologist Dr. Carsten Wrosch.

In his research, Wrosch examines why some people avoid bitterness at different stages of life and why others don’t.

Over the last 15 years, Wrosch has investigated how negative emotions, such as regret or sadness, affect people. Most recently, he has focused his attention on the impact of bitterness.

Wrosch and co-author Jesse Renaud, a doctoral student, single out failure as one of the most frequent causes of bitterness. Feelings of anger and accusation are often found with bitterness.

Unlike regret, which is about self-blame and a case of “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” acrimony points the finger elsewhere — laying the blame for failure on external causes.

“When harbored for a long time,” Wrosch said, “bitterness may forecast patterns of biological dysregulation (a physiological impairment that can affect metabolism, immune response or organ function) and physical disease.”

One expert has proposed that bitterness should be recognized as a mental illness. German psychiatrist Dr. Michael Linden argues that bitterness is actually a medical disorder and should be categorized as post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED).

He estimates that between one and two per cent of the population is embittered and by giving the condition a proper name, people with PTED will receive the therapeutic attention they deserve.

While experts continue to review this perspective, Wrosch and Renaud say bitterness can be avoided.

They hold that if people who experience failure can find other ways to fulfill their goals they can avoid being bitter.

If they cannot discover alternatives, then individuals need to disengage from futile efforts (e.g., to get promoted, to save a marriage) and reengage in something that’s equally meaningful (e.g., a new job or passion).

This process is called self-regulation. Researchers state that meaningful activities to disengage and reengage can be necessary for a person to avoid bitter emotions.

“Any effective therapeutic intervention,” said Renaud, “hinges on the affected individual finding ways to self-regulate.”

In some cases, overcoming bitterness demands more than self-regulation. When bitterness arises from blaming other people, then recovery may involve others.

“In order to deal with bitter emotions there may need to be something else required to enable a person to overcome the negative emotion — that something is forgiveness,” said Wrosch.

Source: Concordia University