Is Your Doctor Dismissing You? How To Spot Signs Of Medical Gaslighting + What To Do About It
As a functional medicine practitioner, far too many people have come to me after years of medical gaslighting. From passive dismissal to blatant disregard for their chronic symptoms, my patients have been fighting for their health with little to no results before coming to my clinic. And it doesn’t stop there. The amount of comments and messages I get from people who have been medically gaslit is staggering. If this sounds like something you’ve been through, just know that you are not alone. But how do you know if you’ve been medically gaslit and what can you even do to stop it? Read on as we dive into this shocking problem and how you can finally reclaim your health and get the care you deserve.
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What is medical gaslighting?
Medical gaslighting is a psychological tactic that mirrors the classic concept of gaslighting, where your reality is questioned, causing you to doubt your own experiences and symptoms. Whether or not your doctor realizes that they are doing this is debatable (I personally believe many don’t and are just going along with the standard model of care), dismissing symptoms, blame, and refusal for further evaluation, can lead to delayed diagnoses, exacerbated health conditions, emotional distress, and even a loss of trust in healthcare providers altogether.
That’s why it is so important to call out this behavior like it is to show you that you are not alone in your experience with doctors. Not only with this help you get the care you deserve, it will also demand a higher level of care from doctors and hopefully shift the entire landscape of medical care toward being more patient-focused.
The top signs of medical gaslighting
If you’ve ever had to second guess or ask yourself if you've been medically gaslit, then chances are high that you have been. After all, when was the last time you left a positive situation questioning the validity of your experience? If you have ever experienced one or more of these signs from your doctor, it’s a major red flag that it's time to start looking elsewhere for care.
1. They dismissed your symptoms
This is warning sign number one. If you’ve come in to see your doctor with a long list of symptoms, and they chalked it up to stress, anxiety, or your imagination without even listening to your pleas for proper testing and evaluation, that is your signal to make a move somewhere else.
2. They invalidated your experience
You may have felt that your experiences were not taken seriously. Even if they have dismissed your symptoms they may also trivialize the things that led up to the onset of your symptoms including emotional trauma or a traumatic physical event like an accident.
3. They blamed or shamed you
Forget just ignoring your symptoms, some healthcare practitioners may have even blamed you for your symptoms by attributing them to your lifestyle choices, mental health issues, or personal habits without considering other potential causes beyond your control. This can leave you feeling guilty or ashamed to seek further help.
4. They refused further testing or treatment
You might have encountered resistance when requesting further tests, referrals to specialists, or alternative treatment options not in line with their medicinal matching game of assigning specific symptoms to a designated medication.
5. They ignored your medical history
If your practitioner completely disregarded your previous medical history, you may have felt neglected as this likely led to incomplete assessments and misdiagnoses.
6. They lacked empathy or compassion
If your practitioner is willing to dismiss you, you probably felt alone. This lack of compassion causes many people to feel hopeless, alone, and feeling like they don’t matter and are not worth the extra effort in finding out what’s wrong with them. This can lead to a deep feeling of being unworthy of health and wellness.
7. They intimidated you
Patients might feel intimidated or powerless during medical encounters, feeling unable to express their concerns or ask for further clarification about their health issues.
Who is at risk for medical gaslighting?
While anyone can be at risk for medical gaslighting, the unfortunate reality is that it happens far too often among women and people in the BIPOC community. According to studies, (1) close to 72% of millennial women say they have experienced medical gaslighting - leaving them feeling dismissed and fighting to prove their symptoms. In fact, one study (2) found that women were twice as likely as men to have their symptoms attributed to poor mental health rather than what it actually was - heart disease. Other research shows (3) that people of color were more likely to have their stroke symptoms misdiagnosed. All of these statistics together highlight the overwhelming prevalence of medical gaslighting.
How to overcome medical gaslighting
If you are in a place to seek alternative care options like functional medicine, that is my number one recommendation. However, I do understand that not everyone has access or the resources to make the leap to full-time functional medicine care, especially if you are currently taking necessary medications. That’s why it is so important to do what you can do to empower yourself to become your own health advocate.
1. Trust your instincts
That gut feeling you get is there for a reason. Trust your intuition, seek a second opinion, and don’t be afraid to put your foot down if something doesn’t feel right. Yes, it can be scary at first, but the more you practice doing this with the small decisions, the more confident you will feel to do it for the big decisions.
2. Educate yourself
Knowledge is power. Arm yourself with as much education as you can find about your symptoms, conditions, medication side effects, additional lab work, and alternative treatment options. Since I know just how often medical gaslighting occurs, I’ve made it my mission to make functional medicine as accessible as possible to as many people around the world, whether you are a patient or not. My articles, books, and video courses are packed with free or minimal-cost content to give you the power you need to reclaim your health.
3. Document your experience
It can be overwhelming to keep up with all of your appointments and doctor recommendations. Keep a journal of your symptoms, appointments, and interactions with your doctors to reference back to in crucial discussions about your health.
What makes Functional Medicine different
Unlike conventional medicine, functional medicine takes a whole-body approach to care that looks at every angle of your health - mental, emotional, and physical. By looking at healing this way, functional medicine doctors treat the patient, not the disease, with treatments that are highly individualized based on the patient's needs. And in order to treat a patient in this way, functional medicine doctors have to listen and investigate. Dismissal, shame, blame, and x are just not an option in order to provide this type of care.
At its core, functional medicine is investigative medicine. Since it aims to treat symptoms by addressing the underlying cause of the problem instead of masking or suppressing symptoms with medication, functional medicine doctors are more likely to take an active role in your health rather than a passive one. Plus, many functional medicine clinics utilize the support of health coaches.
Like your own personal sidekick, health coaches walk alongside you to hold you accountable and suggest changes in lifestyle, nutrition, supplements, exercise, mindfulness, and more that work for you and your lifestyle. There is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to health - health coaches do the work to personalize your healing journey.
So if you are ready to say goodbye to medical gaslighting, schedule a telehealth functional medicine consultation today to learn more about how we can help you with functional medicine.
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- Mira.com “Medical Gaslighting: Study Reveals 72% of Millennial Females Feel Dismissed by Doctors” https://www.miracare.com/blog/medical-gaslighting/
- Nancy N. Maserejian, Carol L. Link, Karen L. Lutfey, Lisa D. Marceau, and John B. McKinlay “Disparities in Physicians' Interpretations of Heart Disease Symptoms by Patient Gender: Results of a Video Vignette Factorial Experiment” Journal of Women's Health 2009 18:10, 1661-1667
- Newman-Toker, David E., Moy, Ernest, Valente, Ernest, Coffey, Rosanna and Hines, Anika L.. "Missed diagnosis of stroke in the emergency department: a cross-sectional analysis of a large population-based sample" Diagnosis, vol. 1, no. 2, 2014, pp. 155-166. https://doi.org/10.1515/dx-2013-0038
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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