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Too Close for Comfort

"When even one American – who has done nothing wrong, is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth then all Americans are in peril."
 Harry Truman

The entire family and all those close to the Medical Whistleblower are affected when a Medical Whistleblower faces retaliation. Under stress it can become very difficult to maintain boundaries between work and family, and those closest to the Whistleblower may suffer the effects of stress caused by the working environment. With Whistleblower Retaliation in particular, the spouse and the children may themselves be targeted in attempts to undermine the Whistleblower.  A better understanding of stress and the effects it can have on a person can help to those closest to the Medical Whistleblower deal with the signs of stress.  Those supporting the Whistleblower need to know how to respond to the retaliation.   Necessary action can be taken sooner rather than later to protect the Whistleblower from additional psychological violence in the workplace and before lasting emotional damage results.   It is important to recognize that in most cases harassment and bullying can only be stopped by the intervention of someone from outside the situation who has the power to take sanctions against the perpetrator.  Reconciliation attempts usually do more harm than good, empowering the perpetrator and disempowering  the person being targeted.

What about indirect victims?  UN Basic Principles and Guidelines (2005)

“Persons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of international human rights law, or serious violations of international humanitarian law.  Where appropriate, and in accordance with domestic law, the term ‘victim’ also includes the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization.”

In other words, witnesses, dependants of a direct victim, friends and other relatives, non-governmental organizations (juristic persons)


People with PTSD may experience a variety of somatic and psychological complaints, including sleep disturbance, outbursts of anger, or an exaggerated startle response. (They jump at sudden noises or movements).   A characteristic of PTSD is the remembering of the trauma, and sometimes actually reliving the events in the mind.   Medical Whistleblowers have recurrent recollections of the event, distressing dreams about what happened, or some other form of   psychological rehashing of the event.   As a result, the Whistleblower avoids all situations that might be a reminder of the trauma, and tends to react with significant anxiety whenever there is a reminder of the event.  These precipitating events are called Triggers.   These violent recollections can have a serious impact  on a person's feelings, and the physiological reactions  to these feelings, become patterns of anticipation,  which in turn create more maladaptive feelings.

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds"
- Samuel Adams

This mutual interaction between anticipation and fear  promotes what has sometimes been described as “isolation and paralysis of the mind.”  Social relationships  often suffer, as the person becomes more withdrawn and detached.   There is a dehumanising aspect  of the trauma that creates a sense of not being connected to humanity and the human race and a lack of the ability to keep an empathic connection.   There is often a profound lack of trust, isolation from society,  emotional numbing and a fear of feeling– called anhedonia.   This fear of feeling or emotional distance is very hard on intimate relationships and many Medical Whistleblowers find themselves loosing their  loved ones right when they need them most.   To promote healing and to empower the Medical Whistleblower,  loving and understanding colleagues, friends, partners, and family are necessary to counteract the dehumanizing effects of the trauma.   Social networks need to be established to provide comfort and support to family members and the close personal network of the Medical Whistleblower. 

Changing Jobs

For the sake of their health, Medical Whistleblowers  may need to move as soon as possible to a new position away from the stress, but often discover that they were being hindered by fabricated allegations in their professional references.  Often in an effort to find safety and security in their lives,  Medical Whistleblowers move from one job to the next, each step with lower pay, longer hours and less benefits.   This causes significant financial stress on the family and can strain personal friendships  and religious and social ties.   The stressed person struggles even harder to prove they can cope.  But this is a recipe for disaster, as almost inevitably the person will suffer further problems with retaliation which may eventually force them to resign or retire. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7


Counseling will achieve little if the cause of the  stress is not addressed.  Counseling itself is a stressful process and as such is generally contraindicated for people who are already suffering from any significant stress.   General counselors are often trained largely in dealing with people's endogenous or intra-psychic problems (those which come from within), and may be highly skilled in doing so.   However, they may have less training or experience in dealing with employment-related concerns such as stress and/or workplace bullying, where the source of the difficulty is external.   Misplaced or misguided counseling, however well intentioned, can do serious damage to stressed and bullied people by feeding and reinforcing their own feelings of failure and self-blame, challenging their reality, and pushing them further into stress breakdown.   Employees may feel concerned that their confidentiality could be compromised, and this concern is not entirely groundless.   Hostile psychiatric evaluations used to remove the targeted Whistleblower from his/her employment are commonplace, so is a Fitness for Duty examination that removes the Whistleblower’s badge or security clearance.   Medical Peer Review practices are aimed at removing the medical license from the Medical Whistleblower not at assisting them in Telling Truth to Power.   Referring stressed people for work-based counseling helps perpetuate the myth that it is the person who is the problem, rather than the working environment.   In addition, where workplace bullying and whistleblower retaliation is involved, and/or the whistleblower’s continued employment is under question, there can be boundary problems.   Where the stress has been caused by workplace harassment and bullying, it also allows the perpetrators to switch the focus of attention away from their own abusive behavior by inferring, usually under the guise of sympathy and support, that the person they are targeting is mentally ill, and that it is their "mental illness" which is responsible for the current problems within the workplace.   The whistleblower may feel safer talking to someone who is further removed from their situation.   A better option would be to tackle the actual problems in the working environment.   A responsible employer should look to see what changes can be made in the working environment, and to reduce the expectations on the stressed person.

For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one;he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

Psalm 22:24

Victim’s Rights and Needs: Requirements for a Victim’s Rights System

  • Compensation
  • Redress
  • Testimony
  • Truth
  • Acknowledgment
  • Memory
  • Reparation
  • Justice
  • Prevention (Never Again!)


“As I've gotten older, I've had more of a tendency to look for people who live by kindness, tolerance, compassion, a gentler way of looking at things.“

~ Martin Scorsese

This being human is a guest house by Rumi

I invited in all the visitors, just as the poem advises. I invited the nastiness, the judgment, the self-loathing and self-doubting aspects of myself to the dinner table like old friends. Friends I had strayed from, friends I had abandoned carelessly without stopping to think about what they might be there to teach me. I had been worried that they would all start drinking too much, bring out my favorite old cigarettes and start acting like irresponsible teenagers. 

But I agreed to listen to what these friends had to say, not from a perspective of judging, but from one of receptivity and fearlessness.  And they were ready to talk! I had to prepare myself for the listening, for the feeling of these feelings. Profound loving presence, as modeled by my mentor and friends in the program, was the only route toward liberating these persistent, shadowy friends.

I learned that they would rather be light beings, free of heavy curtains, out of hiding. They would prefer to be heard, just like any person would, acknowledged for their struggles and also for their gifts. Darkness came out.  I extended my hand with compassionate regard, and flipped on the light switch.