You may have come across the term ‘gaslighting’ while scrolling on social media or discussing a harmful relationship with a loved one. Unfortunately, this tactic isn’t confined to only personal relationships or politics; it can also manifest in healthcare settings. Indeed, even medical and mental professionals may dismiss your concerns and convince you that your experiences are a figment of your imagination. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to deal with medical gaslighting to safeguard your well-being and find the best healthcare provider for you.
What Is Medical Gaslighting?
Medical gaslighting occurs when a healthcare provider dismisses or invalidates their patient’s concerns, symptoms, or experiences, leading them to believe it’s ‘all in their head’. Additionally, research shows women and people of color are most affected by this tactic. In fact, seventy-two percent of women say they’ve experienced medical gaslighting, and data from emergency departments across the United States revealed that individuals from Black, AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander), and Latino communities were at a higher risk of having their stroke symptoms incorrectly diagnosed.
How to Spot Medical Gaslighting
Medical gaslighting isn’t always the easiest to catch. Due to various reasons, including vulnerability, fear, and even a gap in knowledge, the emotional impact can cloud your ability to trust yourself and spot the manipulation. However, there are several ways to increase your awareness by observing when a healthcare provider:
- Dismisses or minimizes your symptoms, suggesting they are not significant enough, just in your head or psychosomatic
- Attributes your physical symptoms to mental health issues without thorough evaluation or consideration of other causes
- Labels you as a hypochondriac or implies you have health anxiety
- Doesn’t ask follow-up questions or refuses to discuss your symptoms
- Shows a lack of empathy and compassion towards your concerns
- Blames your experiences on other causes or directly on you
- Consistently interrupts or ignores you when you share your experiences
- Pressures you to believe their suggested treatment is the only one available
- Discourages your request for a second opinion or makes you feel guilty for inquiring
- Causes you to feel confused, scared, uncomfortable, and unable to trust yourself
How to Deal with Medical Gaslighting
1. Prepare beforehand
Knowledge is power, and when you educate yourself about your health concerns, you’ll feel more prepared to tackle any skepticism from your healthcare providers. For example, before your appointment, take a moment to write down any questions or concerns you have. Doing so will allow you to remain focused and unaffected by any disbelief that comes your way. It also raises your confidence and increases the likelihood of having your needs addressed.
2. Keep a record of everything
This tip goes in hand with the previous one. Bring a notebook to your visits to jot down your feelings and anything that concerns you. For example, ask yourself, “How do I feel speaking with my doctor? “Do they listen to my concerns with compassion?” and “Do I feel like I can be open with them?” These questions build your self-awareness and ability to trust yourself. Additionally, record your symptoms and any changes in your health and report back to them during your visits. This evidence will help you feel more prepared and will further help reduce chances of being gaslighted.
3. Self-reflect before responding
Being gaslighted is very emotionally taxing. As a result, you may have a strong desire to yell, scream, and argue with your doctor. But this reaction will only harm your chances of receiving the care you deserve. Therefore, practice grounding techniques during your appointment to allow you to self-reflect and pause before responding. For example, taking a deep breath, rubbing a crystal, or connecting to your body will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and calm your fight-or-flight response. By increasing your self-awareness and mindfulness practice during your visits, you’ll be more equipped to advocate for your needs more calmly.
4. Bring a loved one with you
If you feel like your doctor invalidates your concerns, bring a loved one you can trust to your appointments. Gaslighting often leaves individuals feeling as though they’re losing their grip on reality. So, having a second party bear witness and receiving their support will help you feel safe and less confused. They can also ask any questions or share health details you might have missed. Yet, to ensure you’re both on the same page, discuss a plan of action before the visit. Share your concerns, expectations, and hopes with your loved one so they know how to be there for you.
5. Get a second opinion
It’s always okay to ask for a second opinion, especially if you aren’t happy with your diagnosis or treatment plan. You’re entitled to decline or say, “Thank you, I need more time to reflect upon what we’ve discussed”. There’s no need to rush into agreeing with something you’re not entirely sure you want. So, take the time to research and ask another doctor. You may feel more comfortable receiving another party’s advice and perspective.
6. Follow-up afterwards
If you’re struggling with how to deal with medical gaslighting, you have every right to discuss your concerns directly with your medical provider. Most healthcare professionals have good intentions and aren’t always aware they’re dismissing your concerns. As a result of pressed time, stress, pressure, limited self-awareness, a lack of diversity training, or other issues, doctors often unintentionally gaslight. Therefore, share where you feel like they missed your concerns. Doing so will strengthen your relationship and help them understand how to be better with future patients.
7. Prioritize your self-care
Regardless of your doctor’s intentions, it is paramount to prioritize self-care after experiencing gaslighting. Being a recipient of this abuse can be emotionally and psychologically distressing. It can lead to feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and a diminished sense of self-worth. Therefore, prioritizing your self-care can help you heal emotionally and regain your confidence. Create a routine using some of these simple 30-minute self-care ideas, meditate, journal, and do anything else that feeds your soul. Additionally, find a mental health professional to support you in setting boundaries, advocating for yourself, trusting your instincts, and healing from trauma.
8. Take further action
Lastly, if you don’t feel comfortable with your current medical provider, consider switching to someone you can trust. You deserve a provider who listens to you, validates your concerns, and provides compassion. Additionally, if you feel like you experienced gaslighting, report the incident to the healthcare facility. This step will help address systemic issues and unethical behavior from continuing.
Learning how to deal with medical gaslighting isn’t always easy. It can be quite traumatic and emotionally and physically harmful. Yet, it is also a reality for many patients in this world. Therefore, discuss your concerns with the facility, prioritize your self-care, and find a mental health professional to help you cope with the aftereffects. It’s important to advocate for yourself and care for your well-being.
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