Is Nursing Suffering from Oppressed Group Syndrome? Staff Writers | Updated/Verified: May 12, 2024

When we think of oppression, we may think of politics, war, and the world. Something we may not think of is the consequences of oppression. A person or group can only be oppressed for so long, dehumanized for so long, before resulting behaviors cause internal conflict. Frustration must have an outlet, or it implodes. Oppression isn't simply taking away someone's rights and freedom. It also undermines people's ability to thrive, succeed, and be healthy, happy, and safe. 

Characteristics of Oppression

Exploitation – do we not feel taken advantage of as nurses? Being asked, expected, to work over-time while on over-time, constantly make do with less, care for others before ourselves, forfeit time off and rest due to short-staffing, and sacrifice our lives (relationships, parental duties, presence, and participation) for the good of our organization…I mean, our patients.

There is also the flip side of nurses exploiting nurses. A prime example is the individual who constantly calls off, especially at the last minute, and leaves their team to absorb the hours and work. The team is exhausted. Supervisors delegate, so much so that it's tough to figure out what they are responsible for. Some nurses have their nursing students act as support staff rather than teach and mentor them during their clinical rotations. 

Marginalization – I've worked for organizations where nurses were the minority of the care team. The minority within the organization. Nobody understood the value a couple of experienced, motivated, and committed RNs added. Nobody bothered to try and learn and understand either. The support staff is being marginalized. After all, they are not licensed, LPNs because they have a lesser scope of practice, or new nurses because they must prove themselves and "put in their time." Some specialties are also marginalized. Psychiatric nurses don't "provide real patient care." Prison nurses must be "bad nurses who can't find work anywhere else." Nursing professors don't "provide patient care." You catch the drift. 

Powerlessness – some places have unions. There, nurses may have a little more power. The sites that don't? Those are the places where you can either fall in line or leave. The "choice is yours."

Violence – you may think of violence as a physical act. Let me assure you, it is not just physical and, therefore, happens more often than you'd imagine. Violence in the workplace includes verbal threats. It contains verbal harassment. It includes verbal abuse. The travesty is that many of us have experienced a hostile work environment because of a manager (notice I did not say "leader"). Even more profound is that nurses experience verbal and physical violence in the workplace at the hands of peers. Not patients. Let that sink in. 

Are Nurses Suffering from Oppressed Group Syndrome? 

Behaviors resulting from prolonged oppression include fear, lack of confidence, anxiety, mental health issues, anger, frustration, hopelessness, helplessness, and low self-esteem. The result? What we have all come to know and hate: eating our young. Eating our young is just another name for oppressed group syndrome. The oppressed become the oppressor because it's the only release they have. Since people tend to resist being labeled as oppressive or oppressed firmly, they may try to fit in both groups simultaneously, i.e., they may be oppressors from one perspective and oppressed from another. 

Overcoming oppressed group syndrome starts by fighting together, not against or with one another. Strength in numbers. We must support one another. We must lift one another. Whatever it takes, we must guide one another through the hard times – as a light, a crutch, with a push and a pull. If we cannot celebrate one another's successes, who will? We must lift our young: mentor, train, and coach new nurses. We know they will be armed with wisdom and new energy if we teach them all. They are the future; they deserve better.