5 Sneaky Signs Your Doctor Is Gaslighting You

It never hurts to get a second opinion if you feel like your doctor isn't taking your symptoms seriously.

Gaslighting, the term used when someone in power manipulates another person to doubt their own judgment, can manifest in medical settings.

“Medical gaslighting involves patients’ symptoms and lived experiences being dismissed by medical providers and explained away with incorrect diagnoses,” said Alyssa Burgart, a physician, bioethicist and clinical director at Stanford School of Medicine. “This can mean questions, tests and diagnoses that fit a biased pattern, rather than addressing the patient’s actual symptoms.”

Patients who are gaslit in clinical settings often experience delays with their medical treatment, missed diagnoses, and overall worsened health outcomes. This disproportionately affects women and people of color, who may experience greater distrust as a result.

Medical gaslighting can be so subtle that you may not even notice it happening as you are seeking care. Here, we spoke to experts about the subtle signs of medical gaslighting and what to do if you suspect it’s happening to you:

Your provider is not listening to you or often interrupts you.

If your provider doesn’t listen to your medical concerns and constantly interrupts you when you’re describing your symptoms, that’s likely a red flag. Providers should be an engaged listener and validate your feelings.

According to Burgart, all care providers ― including physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurses ― can do this to patients.

You feel like your medical concerns are being dismissed or ignored.

“Medical gaslighting is when people in an institution or people in a position of medical power are denying the patient’s reality,” said Julie Cantor, a physician, lawyer and entrepreneur. This may feel like your questions are often being dismissed or ignored, resulting in you not receiving answers you wanted.

For instance, your provider may be questioning if you actually feel a certain way and downplaying any pain you may experience.

You are often blamed for your medical symptoms.

Sometimes, a provider may indicate that your symptoms are the result of your negligence or actions. They may be passive aggressive, disrespectful or condescending toward you.

Even if your symptoms or condition have nothing to do with action or inaction, the provider may be gaslighting you into believing that you caused your current state. Regardless of how your condition came to be, it’s a red flag for them to delay care and blame you.

You are told that you are worrying too much or just have anxiety about your symptoms.

Your provider may blame your symptoms on mental illness, but you may not be referred to a specialist or be screened for a mental health condition.

“If you’re quickly diagnosed with anxiety, stress or another mental health condition, this may be gaslighting,” Burgart said. This can happen frequently, especially with women, even if your symptoms don’t align with the traditional issues associated with anxiety.

Your provider will not provide a referral or order key lab work for diagnosis purposes.

A provider who’s a generalist and doesn’t know much about your symptoms or condition should at least point you in the direction of a specialist who can provide you with specific care, Cantor said.

Failing to provide a referral to a specialized provider, or not ordering lab work or key imaging can be a form of gaslighting, she explained.

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It never hurts to get a second opinion if you feel like your doctor isn’t taking your symptoms seriously.

If you feel like you’re experiencing medical gaslighting, take action immediately.

Receiving medical care should never be a taxing, stressful process. Spot the signs of medical gaslighting and ask any questions you may have. It may be helpful to take notes during your appointment and compare them to the note that your provider took at the time of your visit.

Try to advocate for yourself with your existing provider first, as it may result in you feeling more heard, seen and validated.

“If you suspect your concerns are being dismissed, ask your clinician to repeat back to you what they understand about your symptoms,” Burgart said.

However, if you’re still not being taken seriously, it may be time to get a second opinion and switch your care, she added.

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