Not to pick only on nurses, I found an article in Social Work: A Journal of the National Association of Social Workers October 2005 (Volume 50, Number 4), entitled “Conflict in the Workplace: Social Workers as Victims and Perpetrators” (pp. 305-315). This article reports a survey of national sample of social workers who were asked about their experiences of workplace violence: being either a perpetrator or a victim of physical or psychological violence. 62% report being a victim of psychological violence and 11.9% perpetrators of the same. (Physical violence 14.7 victim and 4% perpetrator) What does this mean? Well, let’s look at the definitions of psychological violence. They include, among more serious offenses, “stomped away during disagreement,” “insulted or swore,” and for some reason “called fat or ugly” is a separate category (I guess that is a more severe form of insult than other kinds?).
I am wondering how 38% of social workers avoided even one incident in their entire career of someone either insulting them or stomping away during a disagreement. Were these folks involved in difficult human change work? Life is messy and complicated sometimes and emotional stuff will come up if people are moving through difficult times. If stomping away is a form of psychological violence, then parents of teenagers have got to be the sorriest victims around.
Please. Give me a break.
When we define violence in this way, we minimize and trivialize the very awful experiences of psychological torture that some folks go through on a daily basis. I am thinking of women who are involved in relationships with abusive men who literally try to drive them crazy, who have set themselves up as an authority of their identities and who routinely do violent damage to that identity. We trivialize the children who are routinely ridiculed by parents who know little of the notion of nurturance. We trivialize our young men and women’s experience in basic training where their sense of self is routinely and systematically assaulted and abused so that they will learn to not trust themselves and instead follow orders. We trivialize the experience of human beings who are incarcerated without having charges being filed against them, with no contact to the outside world, and then are tortured, whether by U.S. soldiers, or thugs of other governments.
We need to make distinctions. We need to discriminate between that which can be sloughed off and that which ought to be considered kind of bad and that which is truly awful. If a social worker has to go into someone's home and crticize parents for abusing their children and the young mother addicted to meth-amphetamines gets angry and stomps away, that social worker is not a victim of psychological violence. When Mabel who serves me coffee at the local diner calls me sweetie, she is not guilty of sexual harassment. Nor is the 90 year old man who is hospitalized after a stroke and calls his nurse sweetie. Have we forgotten how to think critically? Is common sense completely absent from current culture?