Ending Nurse Bullying: “Freire Style”

*articles contain affiliate links*

Guest Blogger: Renee Thompson

nurse bullyingNurse 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!

About the Author:


Renee Thompson is a published author and speaks nationwide to healthcare organizations and academic institutions motivating her audience at keynote addresses, professional conferences, workshops, and seminars. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to her blog. Check out her book “Do No Harm” Applies To Nurses Too!

This post originally appeared on RTconnections Blog.

Have you been a victim of lateral violence (nurse bullying)? Sound off in the comments below. Don’t suffer in silence!

Download Nurse Bingo Today!

nurse gift tags

Liven up any shift with a fun game of bingo. See who can fill a row first!
Fill a whole card and lose grip with reality.

Your privacy is protected. We will never spam you.

About The Author

8 thoughts on “Ending Nurse Bullying: “Freire Style””

  1. I was hoping that “Feirer Style” was a little more like Gangnam Style with a catchy tune and some remarkable dance moves.  But if I tried to handle bullying at work Gangnam Style it would probably backfire in a big way.  Feirer Style makes a whole lot more sense!  Good advice.  Thank you!

  2. I was lucky enough to connect with Renee recently, and so appreciate what she’s doing to shine a light on this important issue and educate others about ways to combat it!

  3. BELIEVE that you are a good nurse! – – This is a tough topic and one I’m sure that’s needed. I’ve read of too many instances of this happening and though it’s not mentioned, do you find that there is a common thread with the bully being more of an experienced nurse that harasses newer nurses? Would love to get more insight into WHO is most prone to being the bully. Then we could begin to ask the WHY…

    1. I think we hear about the young nurses being bullied more often, but I do know that it also happens to older nurses when they change jobs.

      I think many young nurses are lacking the confidence that many others around them have. Believing you are a good nurse can be tough when seasoned nurses are laughing at you and calling you stupid (happened to me!).

      I also experienced more bullying from the LPNS I was a new grad RN. I was young, outspoken, and excited, and they wanted nothing more than to stomp me in my place.

    2. Agree! Student and new nurses are the most vulnerable. However, nurses can be bullied anytime they enter into a new work environment, new position or acquire a new skill/degree. Bullying is destructive, pervasive and has a negative impact on individuals, organizations, the nursing profession AND patients.

      Thanks for the comments!

  4. Renee,
    Great point about re-humanizing the oppressor. I do an exercise in some of my workshops that speaks to compassion, forgiveness, and letting go. When we are able to see the other person’s side, maybe even walk in their scrubs just a bit, we see that they too are experiencing the same things we are. We are all connected. We can all learn and grow from each other. It may be a challenge to feel the “bully’s” perspective, but it is a necessary part of healing and moving on. Thank you for this great post! And for all of the work that you do on nurse bullying. You are an inspiration!!

    1. Thanks Liz. One of the reasons that nurse bullying has continued to plague our profession is because we accept bad behavior as the norm. Doing my part to help individuals and organizations stop the cycle of bullying. AND, just launched new workshop to teach nurse educators how to prevent the next generation of bullies by addressing behavior in nursing school!

      Bullying has no place in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion.
      Warm regards

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top