Is Your Doctor Gaslighting You?
by Krissy Ward
You guys know I have been advocating for chronic pain patients for about 10 years now, and one thing I have consistently noticed is that doctors have a hard time believing chronic pain patients. What people, specifically doctors need to understand is that people who are in chronic pain don't always look like we are suffering. Chronic pain patients hide our pain so well, you cannot go by how we look on the outside. We have to learn how to function with pain, we don't have the luxury to wince and scream in agony all day. A person with chronic pain can function with a pain level that would send any other person to their knees. A lot of us can't even remember what it feels like to NOT be in pain, many of us can't even fathom the thought of someone just being completely healthy. Weird, right? A lot of us have been ill and in chronic pain for a long time and have had to learn to live with pain, but that does not make your pain less real or valid.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. This expression is originally from a play turned movie called “Gaslight.” Usually gaslighting is referred to personal relationships when the abuser is narcissistic and lies, minimizes and undermines you to make you question your feelings and sanity.
Medical gaslighting is when your doctor or a medical professional dismisses or trivializes your health concerns by refusing to take you seriously or by ignoring your symptoms. They may have even told you that your symptoms are “all in your head." Having a doctor gaslight you can be damaging to not only your physical health, but your mental health as well. Gaslighting from a doctor who you believe is going to help you can make you feel like you're imagining all of your symptoms or make you feel like it is because you are depressed. What they don't realize is that a lot of chronic pain patients are depressed BECAUSE we are in chronic pain, not the other way around. Being in pain 24/7 is not normal and it is okay to not want to be in pain.
Medical gaslighting is very common in the chronic pain community which is why many of us go years undiagnosed and misdiagnosed, but it most likely to happen to women, and even more than that, women of color. Women are more likely to experience chronic pain than men are but they are less likely to receive treatment. Research from the University of Virginia showed that many white medical students believed that Black patients were in less pain than they actually said they were because of false misconceptions that Black people have thicker skin than White people and the nerve ending of Black people aren't as sensitive as White people. This leads to inadequate treatment of chronic pain patients.
I talk about self advocating all of the time and this is one of the reasons. No one knows how you feel better than you do. Know that you have a right to walk away from toxic physicians or ones you feel are not actively helping you. Medical professionals should get educated on life with chronic pain and how it affects our daily life.
Have you experienced medical gaslighting? if so, how did you feel and how was it handled?