How To Recognize & Respond To Medical Gaslighting


One of the hardest parts about suffering from an invisible illness is how incredibly isolating, and alone it can make you feel. This is due in part to the symptoms of most autoimmune and chronic illnesses seeming insignificant to the medical world compared to the more evident issues they deal with. This truth is proven by the shocking fact that it takes an average of 4 ½ years for a person suffering from a chronic illness to be diagnosed.

Left untreated, these symptoms progress over time. The sufferer’s symptoms begin creeping up, slowly enough so that it doesn’t cause alarm to anyone around them- but just enough that their life will slowly start to fall apart, both physically and mentally.Medical gaslighting isn’t new, but the term has become popularized recently due to society’s recognition of gaslighting being a form of abuse.

Recognize The Signs

  • Minimizing or dismissing your symptoms
  • Refusing to do imaging or diagnosis test
  • Not following up when test come back clear but symptoms are still there
  • Blaming symptoms on mental health or weight issues

These are just a few examples of medical gaslighting, but anyone can fall victim if you are in the position of being sick and not being heard.

If you feel you are being gaslighted by a medical professional, then it is crucial that you continue to fight for your health to get the proper care. That being said it is also essential to have respect for the doctor you are seeing.

What Can You Do?

Take a deep breath! It is important not to raise your voice. Unfortunately, this will give the medical professional you are talking to more reason to suspect that your symptoms may be psychological or to have doubt in what you are telling them.
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I have found it best in this situation to say, “I don’t think you understand what I’m trying to communicate to you during this appointment. I’m suffering.” This is a simple way of sense if they are gaslighting you on purpose or if communication was the issue.

If They Continue to Dismiss You

If it is possible, ask to speak to a different nurse or doctor during that appointment. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself in a calm, demanding way. If this doesn’t help, then go home. Regroup.

What To Do Next

If you have health insurance, then first call your health insurance company (that little customer service number on the back of your card) and file a complaint. This will help in multiple ways, including if you need to see a different doctor in the future for the same issue, it is vital to have some kind of documentation of why the first doctor couldn’t help you. In most cases, I’ve found that insurance companies don’t like you jumping around from doctor to doctor, so it can be important to keep them in the loop.

Next, I suggest calling the practice to file a complaint. Why? Because if you are experiencing these issues with a health care professional, you are most likely not the only one. This is also an excellent time to see if you can be matched with a different doctor at the practice if that is what you wish to do. Even if the practice isn’t accepting new patients, if you can tell them your extraordinary circumstances, most of the time, switching doctors isn’t an issue.

See a New Doctor

During your next meeting, it is crucial to establish a relationship with them before jumping into your symptoms as much as you may be on the edge of your seat by the time you finally see a doctor who you feel will listen to you.

Spend the first few minutes of your appointment asking them some questions- even though doctors are often rushed and have limited time, I find that taking the time creating a relationship with your healthcare professional increases the chances they’ll listen to you going forward.

Medical gaslighting is a real thing. It is terrifying to be dismissed or told you are fine when you feel like your body and mind are falling apart. But it is important to continue to fight for your health until you get the answers you deserve.

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Freelance Writer - Chronic Illness & Mental Health Advocate

Massachusetts State

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