Dr. Renee Thompson: Earning Your Right to Leave a Bullying Situation

Dr. Renee Thompson: Earning Your Right to Leave a Bullying Situation

This post is part of a series of posts on nurse bullying and conflict in the workplace written by Dr. Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN. Dr. Thompson is one of the top professional development and anti-bullying thought leaders in nursing.

Debi left her husband after 15 years of marriage. Her sons were teenagers at the time and for several years, Debi blamed herself for every bad decision her sons made and every bad relationship they had, thinking that if she hadn’t left, their lives would have been better. Debi was consumed with guilt and questioned whether she should have just stuck it out. Then Debi read an advice column in a magazine and realized she had earned the right to leave.

Debi had done everything she could to keep the marriage healthy: counseling, compromising, sacrificing, pleading for her husband to change, and, even for a while, accepting being unhappy just to keep the family together. Finally, Debi realized that staying in that environment was eventually going to destroy her and so she chose to leave. Once Debi realized she had done everything she could, she stopped blaming herself, let go of the guilt, and started looking forward to a brighter future.

The advice Debi found can apply to nursing too. Many nurses say that if you leave, you “let the bullies win.” I say, “Let them win.” Sometimes it’s just not worth it. However, to prevent the guilt and tendency to beat yourself up if you decide to leave, it’s important that you objectively evaluate your attempts to stop a bullying situation.

So many nurses suffer in silence and stay in toxic environments because they either don’t want to let the bullies win or they don’t want to feel like a failure if they quit. Trust me. If you decide to leave a toxic environment, you are essentially choosing to take action and doing something positive for yourself and your family. When you leave a toxic environment, you are choosing YOU!

Three action steps to stop bullying before you decide to leave

  • Tell someone: Did you know that forty percent of all targets never tell anyone? By staying silent, you are absorbing that person’s toxic behavior and reducing any chance you have to stop it. 
  • Document: Documentation is a powerful weapon you can use against bullying. Start a documentation trail and be sure to include dates, times, location, and witnesses; describe the incident as objectively as possible. If you can include verbatim comments, include them! And always link behavior to a patient safety concern.
  • Confront: Confronting can be scary but sometimes it can stop the bullying. Just simple techniques such as “naming” the behavior or using scripting can help. Confronting can also be filing a formal complaint with Human Resources.

The point is, if you’ve taken action and the behavior continues, you might consider leaving. There is nothing more important than your physical, psychological, and emotional health.

Don’t stay in an abusive environment thinking it will get better. You deserve to work in an environment that is supportive, nurturing, and professional.

Thanks for reading. Take care and stay connected. 


Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning nurse blogger, and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate workplace bullying. To find out more about Renee, please visit her website. American Sentinel University friends and family can get 25% off Renee’s great anti-bullying products – simply enter in the code: AMSENT16.

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