Don’t think you’re a victim? You may be the victimizer.

Pamela Wible Change Victims

Let’s talk about cycles of abuse. Sexual abuse. Domestic violence. Human rights violations. Why does this stuff continue? Why does a woman end up dating a violent man and then another violent man over and over again. Why does incest pass on from generation to generation? Why are some countries plagued with human rights violations decade after decade? How can we stop the abuse? Oppressors won’t apologize spontaneously. Change depends on the victims. Here’s the problem: victims who don’t realize they’re victims are at high risk of becoming victimizers—thus perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

In the history of human rights abuse, I’m fascinated by what was once normal. Slavery and segregation. Women denied the vote. Only men could be doctors. All normal. How did we normalize what’s totally unacceptable today? Common practice. If everyone’s doing it then it must be okay. The younger generation inherits the beliefs of the older generation. Until one day someone disagrees. 

People with new ideas are often ridiculed or vilified. Sometimes they’re killed. Until suddenly everyone supports the heretic-turned-hero. 

Arthur Schopenhauer, a German philosopher, once stated: All truth passes through three stages. First, it’s ridiculed. Second, it’s violently opposed. Third, it’s accepted as being self-evident.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights guides us toward right behavior. Yet human rights violations continue. In poor countries with dictators and right down the street within our very own hospitals. Institutional bullying and abuse of doctors and nurses trickles right down onto patients. Health care human rights abuse—it’s an oxymoron. Yet every day in first-world hospitals our doctors are working 28+ hour shifts and 100+ hour work weeks, many times without adequate food or bathroom breaks. Some docs are so sleep deprived they start hallucinating and having seizures at work! Common practice. Normal. But it’s not really normal. Is it? 

Why do human rights violations persist in our hospitals? Maybe it’s because victims don’t consider themselves victims. This is how we train doctors. Right? Sleep deprivation is a torture technique condemned by the United Nations, yet it’s also a medical tradition in American hospitals. I’ve been told tradition is just a bad idea held by a lot of people for a really long time. So why not change the tradition? What’s stopping us?

Stockholm syndrome maintains these cycles of abuse. It’s a condition in which victims develop empathy for their captors. Somehow, in a weird way, they support their oppressors. Call attention to their abuse and victims defend it. Docs with Stockholm syndrome fight to maintain antiquated medical traditions rampant with human rights violations. Why? To save us from future generations of lazy doctors, they warn:

Let’s not turn medicine into some coddling group hug where anyone with a brain can get through.

Physicians who complain about bullying are just spoiled brats and crybabies who are not cut out for a profession that has individual lives in the balance.

Younger docs living on trust funds just want to be treated like special snowflakes.

The newer generation of physicians is emotionally weaker and more likely to succumb to suicide.  

I just hope when I have a problem that I’m lucky enough to have one of the cold-hearted, knowledgable, and tough physicians, not a crybaby taking care of me.

Is it possible that some petunias tap danced into medicine ignorant of the fact that life is hard?

Doctors with Stockholm syndrome

In med school, I was called a flower child, I was ridiculed for crying with patients and was the brunt of many jokes for caring so deeply about my psych patients in particular. Years later after opening an ideal clinic (and helping hundreds of docs do the same), I was invited to deliver a keynote on how to create an ideal medical clinic. Check out the various comment cards after my speech:

She’s a nut. *  Thoroughly enjoyed her talk and will start a similar practice. * Too ideal. * Excellent and extremely informative. * Complete waste of time. * Charming, sweet, encouraging, and completely impractical. * Realistic insightful, and quite revealing about human nature. Excellent and so simple. * Totally unreal. 

My favorite physician feedback: “Oh my! Love and peace! No help at all with reality.” Fact: patients come to us for love, peace, hope, and healing. That is the reality. 

Truth passes through ridicule on its way to acceptance. So I accept that some doctors are on their way to embracing a more humane health care system amid their attacks on me, my patients, and those of us who are actually creating innovative medical models of the future. Remember: “Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it”

So tell the truth: Do you want a cold-hearted physician or a crybaby? If you think these are your only options, maybe you’re a victim too.

Liberate yourself from the abuse. Here’s how.


Pamela Wible, M.D., reports on human rights violations in medicine. She is author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered. View her TEDMED talk Why doctors kill themselves.

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5 comments on “Don’t think you’re a victim? You may be the victimizer.
  1. James says:

    Another human rights abuse that occurs in our hospitals is the routine circumcision of male children. These circumcisions are done for no medical need, yet they scar (literally!) male children for the rest of their life. Some babies have even died from the surgery as was the case of a baby in Canada in 2015. Men are told to “get over it” or “it’s good for you” yet they were not given a choice. Thankfully with better education the tide is turning and less men are suffering this unnecessary surgery.

  2. bodhi says:

    Well, lol, I’m a petunia that tap-danced into web design… And look what happened! I love you Pamela Wible!!! You’re my kick-ass doc, and I couldn’t be happier!
    Happy International Women’s Day! You’re the best!!! ~B

  3. Danielle says:

    I love this! Patients do come to us for love, empathy, compassion and healing. When I did this for my patients as a family medicine physician, I was seen as wasting my time. My patients loved me. I was continually pressured to work more hours due to “poor access” and see more patients despite the fact that I have my own medical problems and chronic pain due to prior cancer. I tried to go “part time” but that was still 40 hours a week plus call! I finally went out on medical leave for severe anxiety and depression and was then finally pressured to resign from my position. I feel so betrayed. So sad. I miss my patients and practicing medicine. We need to make medicine a humane place for doctors.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Danielle ~ What are you doing now? You can get back into medicine and do it YOUR way! I’ll send you an email with a recent teleseminar recording that will help you 🙂

  4. ruththella white says:

    The MD that walked in with a exam glove on to shake my hand because he didn’t want to touch me.The MDs that failed to diagnose cushings disease and pituitary tumor because all black women eat unhealthy diets and are obese. My pituitary ruptured(apoplexy).The MD said it was a migraine and sent me home although there was blood in my spinal fluid. I have adrenal insufficiency a result of not having a pituitary. The ED MDs sent home with a blood sugar of 34. Losing my disability insurance because MDs said there was nothing wrong with me. MD screaming that I wasn’t having chest pains. Another MD screaming “there’s nothing wrong with your heart”. I leave my state, but denied care. I discover old MD without my knowledge or permission tells John Hopkins I am mentally ill. I secretly leave my home state and was subsequently diagnosed with a rare congenital heart defect obstructing blood flow and causing ventricular tachycardia, small fiber neuropathy and autoimmune disorder. Accused of drug overdose while being verbally and physically abused by paramedics. ED MD believed them. I had a DVT from extending from arm, chest, and into my neck; caused by having my defibrillator implanted. Injected with insulin, left in an unconscious state although I am not diabetic and never prescribed insulin. I survived because my body can withstand very low blood sugars due to previously untreated adrenal insufficiency. I return to my home state only to be accused that there is nothing wrong with me. ED MD sends me home with an INR above 4. ER MD sends me home with a throat infection swelling dentist discovered my throat swelling shut and had me rushed to hospital. When I complain cardiologist rudely demanded to know why then orders my defibrillator to be reset so that it doesn’t register my arrhythmias. These are not the only abuses from medical professionals I have survived there are numerous incidents and I am confined to a wheelchair because of several.

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