What is Medical Gaslighting?
And What Can You Do About It?
Is it possible for your doctor to gaslight you? Yes, the people you trust with your life and health can gaslight, and it can have consequences. Gaslighting can even impact a person’s ability to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. Here’s what you need to know about this phenomenon, how it happens, and what you can do about it.
What Does Medical Gaslighting Mean?
Medical gaslighting is a form of gaslighting that occurs in a healthcare setting. The term gaslighting comes from the film called Gaslight released in 1944. In the movie, a husband tricks his wife into thinking she’s mentally ill so he can take her money.
Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation that involves convincing a perpetrator that their version of reality is false. Gaslighting typically occurs between romantic partners, but can also occur in other relationships, including friendships and family. It also occurs in the medical field between healthcare provider and patient.
Regardless of the setting in which it occurs, gaslighting seeks to sow seeds of doubt in an individual, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, the gaslighter tries to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief. Medical gaslighting may be used against patients suffering from chronic pain, mental illness, or other health conditions.
Gaslighting occurs when someone with power over a person makes subtle suggestions that they are imagining their symptoms or illness and that their symptoms are not real. For example, doctors and other healthcare professionals can employ gaslighting to make you think your symptoms are “all in your mind” or aren’t significant.
Why Medical Gaslighting Happens
There are many reasons why medical gaslighting occurs. The doctor may have a different perspective on why a person is experiencing symptoms. They could be trying to help, but their attempts to help don’t match with the experience of the person having the symptoms. The doctor brushes them off as being “all in the mind.”
Sometimes gaslighting doctors will try to present their opinion as fact to convince someone that what they’re saying is factual. If someone perceives the doctor as in a position of power, they may accept this and question their own beliefs.
It’s understandable that patients would want a second opinion when they feel like a healthcare provider isn’t properly addressing their concerns. In many cases, that’s a good idea. For perplexing symptoms, you may need several opinions before you find an answer. However, doctors are even more likely to gaslight if they know you’ve already seen several healthcare providers and that they all underplayed the symptoms. It’s further reinforcement that there isn’t an organic basis for the person’s complaints.
Examples of Gaslighting in the Medical Field
Gaslighting in the medical field can take other forms too:
• Invalidating concerns about your health by telling you there’s nothing wrong with you.
• Explaining away new symptoms as something unrelated or normal for someone who is ill.
• Discrediting concerns about side effects from medications by saying they’re all in your head.
• Discounting physical symptoms caused by stress, anxiety, or other mental health problems.
• Making patients feel guilty for not complying with a particular treatment plan or for doing something that makes them feel better even though it may not be in line with what the doctor tells them is “correct”.
• Refusing to answer questions or explain their reasoning behind certain actions. If you are uncomfortable about taking an action and ask why it’s necessary, it is essential that your physician gives you an answer and explains their reasoning so you can understand the decision being made together.
How to Recognize Medical Gaslighting
Medical gaslighting can be difficult to recognize because it often happens slowly and subtly. The first step is to be aware of your own personal experiences with it over time. Many people who have experienced medical gaslighting feel confused or angry when confronted with it -- this is normal!
The following are some signs of medical gaslighting:
• No one listens to your concerns.
• Your doctor or the hospital staff dismiss you or ignore you.
• Your symptoms aren’t taken seriously.
• You’re told your symptoms are all in your head.
• You feel like you’re being over-medicated or undertreated.
If you experience any of these signs, it’s important to speak up and advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion from another doctor if you don’t feel like you’re being heard.
What to Do When You’re Being Gaslit by a Doctor
There are several ways to deal with being gaslit by a doctor. Speak up and ask questions. If the doctor is giving you conflicting information or appears to be incorrect regarding the details of your case, ask them what they mean. Don’t be afraid to question their judgment and stand your ground if they’re wrong. They are humans, after all, and we all make mistakes sometimes.
Get a second opinion from another doctor or healthcare professional who won’t gaslight you (ideally someone who works at a different hospital or healthcare provider). You can find out if there are top-notch doctors in your area by searching online reviews on Google Maps or Yelp.
Gaslighting can be confusing because it often involves a lack of communication between doctor and patient. When someone seeks treatment for an ailment, they should be treated with respect and kindness. Expect nothing less.
If you suspect you’re being gaslit, trust your instincts & look for another doctor or medical professional. At the end of the day, your health is your responsibility-not theirs.