December 14, 2022
Medical Gaslighting and How to Stand Up For Yourself
Explore eight red flags for medical gaslighting, the consequences of medical gaslighting, and how to stand up for yourself with your health provider.
If you’ve ever found that you were not being listened to by your medical care team, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this is an all too common story, with women and people of color often experiencing the brunt of medical gaslighting.
If you’ve ever experienced medical gaslighting, we want to be the first to tell you — We Believe You. It’s not all in your head. And just because someone with a medical degree won’t give you the time of day, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the highest level of care to help you start feeling better.
What is Gaslighting?
The term “gaslighting” first became popularized in a 1938 play called Gas Light, later adapted into a movie in 1944. Essentially, the husband in the story tries to manipulate his wife into questioning everything about her reality so she loses her mind, allowing him to commit her to a mental asylum so he can steal her inheritance.
Since the movie though, gaslighting has been adopted as a psychological term used to describe a specific type of manipulation where one person attempts to make another person question their own reality, perceptions, and memory.
Gaslighting is often seen in interpersonal relationships, although it can be used in almost all circumstances, especially those with a power dynamic, like boss and employee or doctor and patient.
What is medical Gaslighting?
Although gaslighting messes with our mental and emotional wellbeing no matter what, it can also affect our physical health in the form of medical gaslighting. This type of gaslighting happens specifically in medical settings, usually between a doctor and a patient (although other medical professionals can gaslight as well).
With medical gaslighting, a patient’s story and symptoms may be discredited, doubted, or dismissed by the doctor.
The doctor may downplay your symptoms, question whether they really exist, or barely listen to you before throwing out some generic health advice. Medical gaslighting is an awful experience, especially for those of us who’ve been living with pain and are essentially told that it doesn’t exist or that it’s our fault.
In many cases, health care professionals aren’t trying to dismiss you. But with the insurance-based limitations of roughly 15 minutes per consultation, they may be jaded, trying to save time, or may simply be responding from ego and think they know best. Whatever the excuse though, medical gaslighting is never okay.
Why does medical gaslighting happen?
Research has found that medical gaslighting is fairly widespread and tends to occur in specific scenarios.
Patients of color often experience medical gaslighting more than white patients do. For instance, a 2020 study found that black patients were diagnosed later than white patients for Lyme disease, skin cancer, and cystic fibrosis. Another study published in 2019 found that black patients were more likely to be incorrectly diagnosed with schizophrenia, contributing to delayed diagnosis and treatment for the true source of their symptoms.
There also seems to be a gender bias at play with medical gaslighting. A survey from 2014 of over 2,400 women with chronic pain found that roughly 84% of women felt they were treated differently because of their gender.
Beyond the unconscious bias that may lead primary care doctors to dismiss or devalue the symptoms of women and people of color, chronic pain is also one of the most common conditions that receives gaslighting. This is because there are both physical and psychological factors at play, and many of the symptoms of chronic pain are invisible from the outside.
8 Signs of Medical Gaslighting
Not sure if you’re being gaslit by your medical care team? Here are eight red flags to keep an eye out for.
They question the legitimacy of your medical history
They question your experience of your symptoms
They rush you
They cut you off or talk over you
They tell you what’s wrong without listening to you
They blow off or minimize the importance of your symptoms
They make you question whether it’s all in your head
They make you wonder if you’re being overly sensitive
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