Are Medical Providers Gaslighting You?
Gerund or present participle: gaslighting
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to plant seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, insight, and rationality. Gaslighting causes the targeted individual or group to constantly second guess themselves, and to second guess what is actually real. This happens far too often to patients with both chronic illness and mental illness, and it is not okay. Medical gaslighting happens when we as patients allow medical providers to dismiss or undermine our symptoms. Real symptoms that we are actually experiencing are ignored, dismissed, or are linked conveniently to another diagnosis you may already have. You may be put in a situation where you are made to feel as though your symptoms are not valid, your feelings are not valid, and you may question how you actually feel.
I can personally remember the first time it happened to me- though as a child I did not know what gaslighting was. It was prior to my celiac diagnosis. I was always sick, at the doctors more than at school. The doctor pulled my mother aside and said “You know how little girls are” as though I was making it up. Shortly after came my celiac diagnosis. This is just my first memory of a medical provider trying to pass off an actual medical issue. There have been countless times that doctors have asked about my mental state, asked if I was on my period, if I was going through anything with my partner, or if I thought about seeing a therapist.
If you are reading this, if you have heard these things. You are not being dramatic. You are not overreacting. You are not blowing it out of proportion. Your feelings are justified, you deserve to he heard, and yes, you matter. As a patient you have the right to advocate for yourself, and it is imperitive that you are able to do so. No one knows your body better than you do, trust your gut, the likelihood is, you are not wrong.
Sadly, doctors gaslighting women who are in real pain isn’t the exception, rather it’s become the norm. There seems to be, scratch that, there is a stigma that women have no threshold for pain, that as women we attention seek, so if a man says he is in pain and seeks treatment it must be real and he is taken more seriously. This is not acceptable. There are so many women, myself included, with chronic illness who jump from doctor to doctor before being taken seriously. Many never find the right provider, and so many give up before getting a diagnosis. There is a lack of caring, empathy, bedside manners, not to mention the sexism and misinformation that women with invisible illnesses must face from medical professionals. We are allowing them not to only put our physical health at risk, but our mental health as well, and it needs to stop.
There is not surprise that we are giving up on getting answers, when you are passed on from doctor to doctor and your symptoms are passed off, you are told “if it’s that bad you should go to the ER” (after already having several unsuccessful ER trips), being told it’s anxiety or maybe depression, that your exaggerating, would you not also be frustrated, exhausted, and feel defeated and wonder how the next doctor could possibly be any different?
I recently read that four out of five doctors misdiagnose autoimmune diseases in the female population. Generally it takes four to five years to get a diagnosis with an autoimmune disease. If you do the math, four to five doctors, five years, one gets it right. Unfortunately misdiagnosed and undiagnosed patients doesn’t just fall into the autoimmune disease category but also into the category of those with fatal illnesses. Upwards of 20% of the time doctors get it wrong in life threatening situations, so here I am, telling you, it’s okay to get a second, third, and even fourth opinion. Do not openly trust a doctor because of their title or degree, you may be putting your life in danger if you do.
Signs You’ve Been a Victim of Gaslighting
1. You’ve stopped trusting in your own judgments because you’re made to feel as though you’re “too sensitive” or misguided
2. You feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood
3. You find it hard to trust your own judgment
4. You feel like a weaker version of yourself, though you were more confident in the past
5. You feel guilty for not “feeling well” or being “the old you”
6. You’re afraid of speaking up or expressing how you feel so you stay silent
7. You feel as though you’re going “crazy” and like there’s something “fundamentally wrong” with you
8. You always second-guess your ability to remember details of situations leaving you psychologically powerless
9. You frequently feel confused, disoriented
10. You never feel “good enough” and try to live up to unrealistic expectations and depends even if they may harm you in some way
11. You feel like you are “losing it”
12. You feel like you are constantly overreacting