Medical Gaslighting and Trust: The Value of a Healthy Relationship with Your Doctor
Last updated: August 2022
I recently ran across a phrase that I was unfamiliar with, at least in its relation to health care. Maybe I’ve had my head in the sand, and everyone else in the community already knows what it is.
I had no idea what I experienced in the past had an actual name: medical gaslighting.
Facing my own gaslighting experience...
This article will discuss medical gaslighting. However, this article will also discuss the value of trust. Fostering a mutually respectful relationship with your doctor allows for open and honest communication and keeps you on alert for potential gaslighting.
Speaking of honesty, if I'm being honest, this has been a very difficult article for me to write. In fact, this article has been sort of festering below the surface since way back in November of 2021, when I first heard the term medical gaslighting.
It is difficult to look back and admit that I allowed myself to be gaslighted and treated in such a terrible way by my own doctor. Not only did I quietly accept her treatment of me, I went back for several more appointments, desperately hoping that she would take me seriously. And for that, I am so ashamed.
What is medical gaslighting?
Without delving too much into the history of the original term itself, gaslighting has come to refer to manipulating a person in a way that makes them question their reality. Yes, this is perhaps an oversimplification of the term.
The following quote is the best I have ever seen it succinctly summed up. “Medical gaslighting, however, happens when a health care professional, i.e., a doctor, downplays or dismisses what a patient is telling them. This can manipulate the patient into thinking they are exaggerating their own symptoms or imagining them all together.”1
Questioning my true and painful psoriatic arthritis reality
I was treated very poorly by my first rheumatologist. Aside from simply being treated terribly, she actually made me question the true reality of the pain that I knew was real. It really messed with my head.
Like many of us, I was raised to be respectful to doctors. I didn’t have enough self-awareness at the time to know for a fact I wasn’t being treated correctly. I thought, “Well, maybe she is right. Maybe I do imagine how bad it really feels.” Looking back now, I can’t even believe that I actually convinced myself that she was correct.
The added pain of having my pain be dismissed
That particular rheumatologist attempted to blame my very real pain on psychological factors. Moreover, she completely dismissed all my evidence to the contrary, including images and documentation.
Of the many dismissive remarks, she included pointing out my age, weight, or stress/depression as the solitary factor for my pain. While the simple reality is that those can contribute to our pain, they certainly aren’t a reason to completely dismiss the possibility of additional health issues, such as, in my case, psoriatic arthritis.
I deserved better, and so do you.
I don’t bring this treatment up to in any way denigrate doctors, especially rheumatologists. Their job is extremely difficult for a myriad of reasons. I have since found an excellent doctor, and we have worked together to develop a positive, mutually respectful relationship.
Psoriatic arthritis and other autoimmune conditions are notoriously tricky to diagnose. But if you’ve ever been dismissed or even spoken to in a condescending manner by your doctor, then this is just another factor to consider having a very serious discussion with your doctor. You deserve better.
How is your relationship with your rheumatologist?
Trust and the role it plays in your relationship with your rheumatologist should not be taken lightly. If you don’t trust that your rheumatologist has your best interests at heart, then you may want to consider finding someone new.
I know for many people, this is much easier said than done due to the shortage of quality rheumatologists as well as insurance limitations and distance. For more information, we have a great article by another one of our great advocates over on one of our sister sites, Endometriosis.net.
Please share your experiences (good and bad) about how trust impacts your relationship with your rheumatologist.
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