Almost every single person that I have spoken to who lives with chronic illness has their own medical gaslighting horror story to share.
We enter the world of medicine expecting to be heard, believed and offered help, but unfortunately, the usual experience for most people with chronic illness is disbelief, dismissal and medical gaslighting.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a term that is used when someone tries to manipulate you into disbelieving your own lived experience. To doubt your perception, senses or even in some situations, your own sanity.
The term was first created in 1938 English play Gas Light, but is perhaps best know from the 1944 film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. One of the techniques used by Charles Boyer’s character to try to get his wife to believe that she was losing her mind was among other things, to slowly dim the gas lights in their house then tell her when she noticed it, that she was imagining it and it was all in her head.
Medical gaslighting is a deliberate or unconscious attempt to convince you that the symptoms or pain that you are experiencing are either not real so “all in your head” or an exaggerated experience of a “normal” situation such as feeling exhausted because you are a busy mother or that pain is a natural part of the ageing process.
Medial gaslighting is traumatic, anxiety producing and creates an aversion to seeking out medical attention which means, you are much less likely to seek help, get medical testing or go to the Emergency room of a Hospital.
Medical Gaslighting can be life threatening because it delays diagnosis, sometimes for decades, which means that by the time you do finally get a diagnosis, you are facing years of physical damage that could have been avoided if the Doctor had listened in the first place.
Medical gaslighting is not always verbal. It can be things like: Refusing to listen, eye rolling, heavy sighs, head shakes or a disapproving look.
The difficulty with medical gaslighting is that once one doctor or hospital staff member adds things like “Hysterical, hypochondriac, psychosomatic, paranoid, mentally unstable, drug seeker, attention seeker, non compliant or doctor shopper” those labels go to your next doctor along with your medical record.
This means that the next Doctor may have already judged you before you step foot into their office. Doctors also have code words that they use like “frequent flyer” to refer to patients who are looking for a physician who will actually believe and help them.
It can be worse in a hospital where you become a collection of physical parts and physical symptoms instead of a person, treatments are given to you without explanation, you are spoken at and not to and any attempt you make to ask questions or be a partner in your treatment can have you labelled as a “non cooperative” patient.
Want to know all about Medical Gaslighting and how to deal with it?
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