Dr. Renee Thompson: When Bullying Crosses the Line to Violence

Dr. Renee Thompson: When Bullying Crosses the Line to Violence

Carol didn’t like Mia and everyone knew it. When they would have catfights at the nurses’ station or get into a shouting match in the locker room, everyone just ignored them. “That’s just the way they are.”

But then one day, Carol took it too far. On a Friday evening, in the middle of the hallway, Carol pointed her finger at Mia and said, “My boyfriend knows what shuttle you take. He’ll be waiting for you and is going to beat the s*** out of you!” Was she serious or just kidding around?

Seventy-three percent of all nurses report being the victim of or at least witnessing bullying behavior in the workplace. Most behaviors involve open criticism, being treated in a humiliating and degrading way, ignored, given unfair assignments or spreading rumors. However, some bullying behavior can lead to physical violence.

A nurse refuses to get out of another nurse’s “chair” so the nurse throws a cup of water in her face. A nurse doesn’t like the assignment she received from the charge nurse so she pulls her hair and yells at her. A nurse follows a coworker into the supply closet, pushes her against the wall and threatens her. While these examples seem shocking, violent behavior typically doesn’t come out of nowhere. In most situations, the perpetrator showed signs of violence. The key is to know the signs.

How do you know when bullying becomes dangerous?

1 – It starts with verbal assaults.

According to law enforcement officers, most physical attacks start with verbal assaults. Rarely does anyone get physical with their targets before they verbally assault them. So, pay attention to nurses who verbally criticize.

In Carol and Mia’s case, their arguments began as mild nit picking, but then gradually escalated to louder and louder verbal assaults.

2 – Many aggressive bullies warn their victim with a threat.

No one thinks it will happen to him or her, but when someone actually threatens you, take it seriously. Many times, victims of physical assault admit that their aggressive warned them before they engaged in violence.

Mia took Carol’s threat seriously. Security escorted Mia to her car, and sure enough, Carol’s boyfriend was found close by with a baseball bat in his hand!

3 – Aggressive bullies may show signs of mental health problems.

Bullies who resort to physical violence may not be mentally healthy. You may see evidence of dysfunction manifested in other ways: labile emotions (laughing hysterically one minute and crying the next); unpredictable and inconsistent behaviors; or illogical thinking.

Carol was suffering from a bipolar disorder and wasn’t compliant with her medical treatment.

Please note: Not all individuals with mental health disorders resort to bullying. However, it’s important that you heighten your awareness regarding mental health disease.

Please, please take all potential indications for violence seriously by reporting any threat or verbal attack to the appropriate person/department. Document every situation with a coworker that you believe may lead to physical harm. Speak up and tell others if you’re concerned. And, don’t forget to listen to your gut!

I’d love to read your comments about the topic of aggressive bullying. Has it happened to you? Please share with us on Facebook

Thanks for reading. Take care, stay connected and be safe!


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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