You’re too sensitive. You’re crazy. That’s not what happened.
These are all phrases commonly used by people who gaslight. Gaslighting is a term that’s become increasingly known in the context of domestic abuse.
It’s used to describe the manipulation of someone, through pscygolcogical means, to make them question their own reality.
Derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which an abusive husband brightens and dims gas powered lights, then insists that his wife is hallucinating.
The expression has taken on a more broad definition, to describe any sort of representation of a false narrative, to cause someone to question their own perception.
But gaslighting doesn’t just happen in domestic relationships. It occurs in all sorts of contexts, including medical.
Medical gaslighting is when a medical professional makes you doubt your own instincts.
“It’s when they make you feel like their recommendations are what's best for you even if you feel uncomfortable with their plan and the potential outcomes/complications that go along with it,” says Emergency nurse and patient advocate, Kate Hoskin.
“They make you feel like you don't have a choice and I still fear of a negative outcome if you don't follow their recommendations.”
According to Kate, medical gaslighting is more prevalent in private practice, where individual specialists are a law into themselves.
“I wouldn't hesitate to claim it was a daily occurrence. Particularly in obstetric care,” she says.
So, how do you know if you’re being medically gaslit? According to Kate, a key sign is walking away from a consultation feeling confused.
“Like you went in with an idea of how things would go and came out heading in a completely different direction.
“Your thoughts, ideas or opinions are dismissed or undermined. You don't feel heard. You may have been subtly threatened with a negative outcome if you don't follow their advice.”
Kate says, if possible, patients should try to research their options before they engage with a provider.
“Go in having an idea of what you want so when it's denied, you know you're not being given all your options. Seek second opinions before making a final decision.
She also suggests seeking recommendations from other people who have had positive experiences with particular providers.”
“Employ a patient advocate like me!”
But why would a doctor gaslight their patient? According to Kate, there are a few reasons.
“I know best. End of story.
“I don't know any better, nor do I care to learn.
“This works for me (from a business and risk perspective) so why do different.
“I'm out of date and too arrogant to admit it so I'll make you feel stupid.”
It could also be that they're risk averse and unwilling to do things their patients want out of fear of negative outcomes, Kate says.
And it can have a big impact.
“A loss of autonomy/sovereignty, feeling helpless, like they have no choice but to do something they don't feel good about,” Kate says.
Sometimes, there are negative outcomes for unnecessary procedures, extended recovery times or hospital stays, or unnecessary financial burdens.
To reduce the risk, Kate suggests always getting a second opinion.
“Find a support person or community who have been through your problem before and ask for their wisdom,” Kate says.
“Know that you always have a choice to manage your health in a way that feels good for you. It's ok to say no!”