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Institutional Betrayal and Gaslighting: Why Whistle-Blowers Are So Traumatized

Ahern, Kathy, PhD, RN

The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing: January/March 2018 - Volume 32 - Issue 1 - p 59–65
doi: 10.1097/JPN.0000000000000306
Feature Articles: Continuing Education
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Despite whistle-blower protection legislation and healthcare codes of conduct, retaliation against nurses who report misconduct is common, as are outcomes of sadness, anxiety, and a pervasive loss of sense of worth in the whistle-blower. Literature in the field of institutional betrayal and intimate partner violence describes processes of abuse strikingly similar to those experienced by whistle-blowers. The literature supports the argument that although whistle-blowers suffer reprisals, they are traumatized by the emotional manipulation many employers routinely use to discredit and punish employees who report misconduct. “Whistle-blower gaslighting” creates a situation where the whistle-blower doubts her perceptions, competence, and mental state. These outcomes are accomplished when the institution enables reprisals, explains them away, and then pronounces that the whistle-blower is irrationally overreacting to normal everyday interactions. Over time, these strategies trap the whistle-blower in a maze of enforced helplessness. Ways to avoid being a victim of whistle-blower gaslighting, and possible sources of support for victims of whistle-blower gaslighting are provided.

Visitor, University of New South Wales, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia.

Corresponding Author: Kathy Ahern, PhD, RN, Visitor, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW 2052, Australia K.Ahern@unsw.edu.au.

Disclosure: The author has disclosed that she has no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

Submitted for publication: July 4, 2017; accepted for publication: November 1, 2017.

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