Ending Nurse Bullying: Freire Style

Updated on January 26, 2013

renee.thompson.200x300By Renee Thompson

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.

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.
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 onnurse-to-nurse bullying!
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission by the author (see original post at: http://blog.rtconnections.com/2013/01/ending-nurse-bullying-freire-style.html)

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