Gaslighting Affects Your Health, Literally

Over the past few years, indicators of toxic relationships have been in the spotlight. Signs of manipulation and abuse are commonly warned on social media and by experts. One of these common signs is gaslighting. However, when people think of gaslighting, they might limit the possibilities to between two partners. In reality, gaslighting also happens in the medical field. 

Medical gaslighting is when a medical professional, such as a physician, wrongly dismisses a symptom or concern of a patient. Typically, concerns are blamed on other factors. However, it is hard to make the call whether or not it is truly medical gaslighting. For one, complaints such as headaches can be symptoms of serious diseases, but for the most part, they commonly happen to everyone. Although medical gaslighting has only been brought under the spotlight recently through TikTok, it has been affecting lives for decades. However, some say medical gaslighting is common.

More specifically, this practice is most commonly seen with marginalized populations, such as women. According to Northwell Health, “Whether it’s heart disease labeled as anxiety, an autoimmune disorder attributed to depression, or ovarian cysts chalked up to ‘normal period pain,’ many women’s health issues are likely to be misdiagnosed or dismissed by doctors as something less critical.” In addition, as women are known to sometimes have severe menstrual cramps, “women who went to the emergency room (ER) with severe stomach pain had to wait for almost 33% longer than men with the same symptoms.” 

There are many causes of this bias. For one, it has been scientifically researched and proven that women are more prone to chronic pain (for example migraines). This causes doctors to often conclude that their symptoms are due to mental factors such as stress. Although this can be true, and patients can get better with some therapy, it can also be life-threatening if they actuallyhave an underlying illness. For example, one patient was concerned about her chest pain, which is common amongst women. Her doctor dismissed it, but a second look had another doctor confirming that it was actually a symptom of a heart disease.

Another reason that could explain why women are more prone to gaslighting is their typical behavior. Medical doctor Bella R. Grossman who has a PhD in clinical psychology states, “men have a tendency to be more vocal and more persistent with their concerns. Women may have a harder time pushing back and advocating for themselves.” Due to this propensity, women’s voices are not heard after doctors reject their concerns the first time. Tina Sacks, an associate professor at UC Berkeley also discloses that “Women in general in the healthcare space are invalidated because of persuasive misogyny.” 

So far in 2022, there has been an increasing amount of articles and social media posts that aim to highlight the common ways to spot medical gaslighting. Specifically, the practice has been commonly detected by female patients, mainly due to psychological reasons. As medical doctor Jennifer Hermina Mieres says, “We should also keep in mind that while some gaslighting is done consciously, a lot of it happens unconsciously, too.”