Nurse Burn Out: Is Codependency The Cause?


“I have a great plan for you to make some extra money!”


My boss, a Pediatric Physician and businessman who owned his own private practice called me into his office one day to share his plan for me. It was my first job as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and I had been working for him for six months, and finally acquired the hours needed for my furnishing license, which meant I could write prescriptions while he was in a remote location.


“Work Saturdays!” he quipped while he sat behind his desk and grinned ear to ear. I was already working 5 days a week and seeing anywhere from 40-60 patients per day with no health insurance, no benefits and no vacation time. I even took a $10/ hour pay cut for this job in order to get “experience!” And now he wanted me to work Saturdays. Of course he didn’t care that I was too exhausted to enjoy my home or my personal life.


I did accept his ‘plan’ for me and ran the clinic with 2 medical assistants for 4 hours on Saturdays. Slowly my exhaustion became worse. I was angry. I was lonely. I was burnt out!


After a year of gaining “experience” I left the practice. And soon at my new place of employment my “work horse” mentality and inability to say “No” started to creep back up again.


It was weird. I couldn’t explain this behavior, and I felt like I was in the movie “Groundhogs Day” where Bill Murray keeps repeating the same day over and over again.


During this time, I was training for my first Sprint Triathlon. Due to excessive hyperventilation while swimming in the ocean, I started seeing a hypnotherapist. Apart from my triathlon training, we also discussed my work behaviors.


“It seems like you are a codependent!” my hypnotherapist chimed in.


“Codependent?” I was confused since I only associated codependents with alcoholics or drug addicts. Which I did not consider myself neither of the two.


Codependency: excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.


Many Nurses are codependents. Some may have been raised in caustic households with poor parenting. That’s probably why they are drawn to the nursing profession; they are addicted to trying to make things better.


In my 20 years in the nursing I’ve encountered nurses in abusive relationships. Nurses who are married to addicts. Heck, I myself was and still am a magnet to hypochondriacs! I also attract friends with various psychiatric illnesses.


Hypnotherapy helped me to come to this realization.


One of the reasons why I was having so many issues in the work place, which was on constant repeat: poor boundaries! I grew up in an Italian household where no one respected my boundaries. And in the workplace I sometimes did not respect others and vice versa.


During my hypnotherapy and voracious reading I learned how to set boundaries. It’s still a work in progress but I’m getting better. What I also noticed from my coworkers was, they too had poor boundaries and respect for each other.


We had a coworker who loved to touch people every time she made a point in her conversation. She quickly became the person everyone gossiped about. Technically, that’s being a bully.


I love to study body language, so I researched this behavior. Apparently if someone touches you mid conversation when they are making a point, they are signaling to you subconsciously that they are the “alpha” compared to you! This made sense in an office full of women. It seemed as though this nurse was subconsciously trying to be the ‘alpha’ and was not conscious or mindful of her behavior.


I brought this up to my gossiping fellow nurses, and I encouraged everyone to set a “no touching” boundary with this nurse. The other nurses refused to set a boundary but continued to talk behind this nurses back. I on the other hand went “rogue” and as politely as possible asked her to stop touching me when we had a conversation and when she tried to make a point. Of course she got insulted and reported me to the manager.


The “touching nurse” and I got called into a meeting to discuss the situation.


“I was setting a boundary. She was making me and the rest of the nurses uncomfortable with the constant touching. “ I said in my defense. The “touching” nurse stood her ground and stated she needed to touch people when she talked! The manager was taking her side and called me ‘sensitive!”


This was all so very strange. But I then took out my information on body language and shared it in the meeting. The ‘touching” nurse was furious! And I contended that she was crossing into my personal space and not respecting my boundary. The manager looked at me like I had two heads, until I said, if the touching continues, I’ll go to human resources!


Needless to say, the “touching” stopped. The gossiping nurses stopped talking about her. And all was good in the office again!


Boundaries are important! Be empowered to set them and occasionally say no when you feel someone is pushing you to do things that make you uncomfortable. I’m sure if more nurses set boundaries in the workplace… there would be a lot less bullying… and many more happy people!