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Nurse bullying is a problem. But is it a new problem? The answer is no. Humans treating humans with disrespect has been documented since we walked on two feet instead of four. I’m sure there is a caveman drawing somewhere depicting bullying behavior. Although I’d like to believe we’ve evolved a bit since the caveman era, humans treating humans badly still exists.

It’s no different in the nursing profession. However, bullying just seems more perverse in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion. It just doesn’t make sense. How can nurses, who are equals, pick on each other? Isn’t nursing challenging enough without having our own peers making it worse? I just don’t get it. Neither did Paulo Freire, a sociologist, who spent time in various countries observing human behavior. Dr. Freire witnessed people oppressing each other – peers oppressing peers. Not administration/government oppressing the people. In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Dr. Freire’s offers us a solution to oppression by taking an in-depth look at the dynamics between the oppressor and the oppressed. I took the liberty of adapting his recommendations to nurse bullying.
Bully-proofing “Freire Style”
Freire suggests the following steps for the oppressed (victim of bullying):
1.    Reflect
Reflecting is the ability to analyze our own behavior and the behaviors of others in an objective way. If you find yourself in a bullying situation, spend time in deep thinking about the situation. Increase your awareness of your behavior and the behavior of the your oppressor. Can you identify patterns and triggers? What is your reaction when the bad behavior occurs? Pretend that you are an observer who bears witness to bullying attacks. What do you see?
2.    Praxis
This refers to skill development. The ability to stop the oppressor requires enhanced communication skills, an understanding of human behavior and the ability to then apply that learning into practice. Dealing well with nasty people isn’t intuitive. But the good news is that communicating in a way that decreases the bully’s power over you is a skill that can be learned. I know because I teach communication skills!
3.    Rehumanize yourself
It’s time for you to stop allowing other people to make you feel terrible about yourself. Stop giving power to the oppressor. Think of yourself as Norma Rae! Even if you have to stand up on a table and shout, “I’m NOT going to take this anymore!!!” BELIEVE that you deserve to be treated with respect as a human. BELIEVE that you deserve to work in a supportive and nurturing environment.  BELIEVE that you are a good nurse! My favorite quote of all time, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” by Eleanor Roosevelt. Stop giving the bullies power over you.
4.    Rehumanize your oppressor
What?? Be nice to my oppressor?… Yes. Remember, kindness begets kindness. While I’m not asking you be lovey dovey with the bully, I am asking you to treat others (even the bullies) with kindness, compassion, and respect. SOMEONE has to demonstrate that humans have evolved since the caveman era. It starts with each one of us.  Another amazing quote that speaks to rehumanize your oppressor comes from the late Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars…. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”
Remember, you deserve to work in a nurturing and supportive environment, free from the bullies. To do that, requires that we all take action.
Stop bullying – Freire Style!
Thanks so much for reading. I’d love to read your comments and for you to share your experiences.
Take care and stay connected
For more great tips, make sure you “like” me on Facebook,”follow” me on Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to my blog. Also, check out my new book on nurse-to-nurse bullying!

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Being a leader in healthcare is hard enough without worrying about your employees making it harder. Bullying, incivility, and inter-professional conflicts are


  1. Renew thanks for a great blog on bullying whether it be your teenagers in high school or even we as nurses. You used some of my favorite quotes as well in the story. The ways to start addressing the situation were spot on but I would like to inject only because "His Spirit" that lives within me says bullying, YES, BEEN AROUND FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME, BUT NOT from the human 4 legged walk to the 2 legged walk. We were created by our Holy Father in the image of His Son and "the serpent bequiled EVE and she had her husband to eat. From Eve believing the lier, the serpent, which Satan used to in a way bully her to eat and then when she saw she was not physically going to die she bullied Adam to eat, thus sin entered into the world by one man, Adam. If everyone especially open minded ladies in the nursing profession could study this and ask The Lord to show them what HIS Word is saying to us both spiritually and practically I think we would see exactly how the answers you posted to the bullying factor would all make perfect since…without cavemen or 4 footed humans. In love with your post and knowledge on so many important issues. Keep up the great work.

  2. Hello The Spoken Truth!
    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I do appreciate your opinion and feedback. Would love to see a world where we all went out of our way to be kind to one another. We are all different – yet we are all humans first.

    Warm regards

  3. Hi Renee,
    Your comments as always really got me thinking. What purpose does bullying solve?

    Might the bully think that they are really not powerless? Not afraid? Not less than another person? More worthy to be saved than another person in a life or death situation or in a situation with limited resources?

    I like what you said about re humanizing ourselves and the bully and especially "Another amazing quote that speaks to rehumanize your oppressor comes from the late Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars…. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”

    Thanks again for your wonderful work and workshops

    Susan C who has been a full time nurse since 1971

  4. Dear Renee,
    First of all you used my favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt! I used that quote as my closing statement in my Oral Communications class speech. I presented a speech on respecting yourself and how to overcome bullying. If I still have the powerpoint I will email it to you.
    Secondly you confirmed what I always beleived…kill them with kindness! Not literally though!Two wrongs do not make a right and that is so true. I have a fellow student nurse in my school that loves to bully not only me but several other people. Besides talking to faculty about the problem, I have decided to greet this person with a smile every chance I get and maybe a compliment here and there. I am not going out of my way for this person but a little "love" goes a long way!
    Thanks for your suggestions and input on a hidden problem.
    ~Carli Gaetano, Student Nurse

  5. Thanks Carli
    Yes. Love, love, love her quote! In reality, 97% of healthcare employees are respectful and appropriate. Only approx. 3% are bullies. We need to start focusing on the 97% and help them to shine!!

    Kindness begets kindness. However, if an employee continues to display disruptive behaviors, they need to go!

    Warm regards

  6. Hi Susan. Thanks for the comments. I LOVE that quote by the late Martin Luther King, Jr. and have used it many times in my workshops on bullying. You are so right. Sometimes we need to step back and be the quintessential role model for compassionate behavior.


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