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

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Abstract

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.

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