Frier’s Oppressed Group Theory and its Relation to Lateral violence in Nursing

The occurrence of lateral violence in the nursing profession defeats the caring and sensitive nature associated with the profession. Lateral violence (LV) a term that is synonymous to bullying refers to “act[s] of aggression perpetrated by one nurse against another” – nurse-to-nurse bullying (Sheridan-Leos, 2008, p. 399). Such acts include non verbal innuendos, demeaning activities, withholding information, infighting, sabotage, failure to respect privacy, scapegoating, and broken confidences (Sheridan-Leos, 2008). When allowed to continue unabated LV precludes collaboration and effective communication which are essential for personal and professional development (Sheridan-Leos, 2008). Ultimately this affects job satisfaction hence could be a main contributor to turnover despite there being nurse shortages in many countries (Sheridan-Leos, 2008). What however seems paradoxical is how the nursing profession has come to experience such practices. One theory that tries to explain the origin of LV in nursing is the oppressed group theory which this paper aims to delineate.

According to Freire’s (1970) model; the main trait of an oppressed group is evident from “a dominant group’s ability to control a lower, submissive group” (as cited in Matheson, & Bobay, 2007, p. 226). The dominating group thus must bear norms, values and responsibilities that are perceived to be superior to those of the group being oppressed (Matheson, & Bobay, 2007). To attain such superiority; individuals of the oppressed group tend to believe that by acting more like the oppressor they would gain the perceived lost power and control (Matheson, & Bobay, 2007). As the oppressed group attempts to comprehend and ascribe to the values of the oppressor group; they develop a sense of self-hatred and low self esteem due to the belief that only after discarding their group’s traits will they become more like the oppressors (Matheson, & Bobay, 2007). Ultimately such clamor manifests in submissive-aggressive syndrome where the oppressed group members experiences aggression towards the group believed to be superior but cannot openly express these feelings for fear of reprisal from the oppressor (Matheson, & Bobay, 2007). Accumulation of such aggression due to its non-expression in presence of the oppressor is then discharged in the form of horizontal violence (same level sabotage) or violence towards those in lower levels (Matheson, & Bobay, 2007).

This model has been used to explain the occurrence of LV in nursing. According to the model nurses are taken to be an inferior group to groups such as physicians and hospital administrators with whom they interact on a daily basis (Matheson, & Bobay, 2007). Through a perceived loss of autonomy and control of their functions; nurses are advanced to react to such “power” loss by overpowering other nurses with whom they interact or whom they supervise (Sheridan-Leos, 2008). Newly registered nurses are thus more likely to experience LV from their senior colleagues (Sheridan-Leos, 2008). If such then is true the approaches towards dealing with LV must incorporate ways to empower nurses such as availing the means to identify and confront LV confidently at work (Sheridan-Leos, 2008).


Matheson, L. K. & Bobay, K. (2007). Validation of oppressed group behaviors in nursing. Journal of Professional Nursing, 23(4), 226-234. DOI: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2007.01.007.

Sheridan-Leos, N. (2008). Understanding Lateral violence in Nursing. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 12(3), 399-403. DOI: 10.1188/08.CJON.399-403

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