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Above photo credit: The Guardian
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is when a partner, family member, friend, politician, medical professional, or boss – challenge what you know is true and makes you question your beliefs and sanity.
Where did the term come from?
It came from the 1938 play Gas Light, which was turned into a 1944 movie starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. Boyer plays her husband, and he tries to convince her that she’s lost her mind. One of the tricks he used was to dim the gas lights in their house, then tell her that she is imagining the change in lighting.
What’s the point of gaslighting someone?
Gaslighting is a way to gain control over someone else, a situation, or the gaslighter’s own discomfort. A gaslighter might shift the focus of an unpleasant conversation away from themselves by suggesting that the other person is at fault. Because this switch of focus is confusing, some people may not even realize the other person is gaslighting them.
Gaslighting is not a mental illness; it is a form of manipulation
In an effort to gain control, they may deny something they said or did. If you question their version of events, they pretend to forget or accuse you of misremembering. When you question this turn of events, they might minimize your feelings by calling you “too sensitive,” “confused,” or “crazy.” They often change the story to make it seem like you’re at fault.
Over time you wear down
When someone has been gaslighting you for a while, you might start to doubt your feelings and memories. You might wonder if you imagined the events or you may start to believe you are too sensitive. You may start apologizing for things you didn’t do, blaming yourself when things go wrong, and making excuses to family and friends about the gaslighter’s behavior. Over time, you might start to think that you’re losing your mind.
It’s not just partners who engage in this behavior
While this is a common form of domestic violence, your boss might gaslight you by denying that they offered you a raise or by making you look weak or incompetent to company management. Even someone you just met, like a salesman at a car dealership, could gaslight you by claiming that you agreed to a more expensive option than you wanted.
I once worked for a check printing company, and my boss was well known for gaslighting. He would walk up to my station and start yelling and kicking my garbage can, telling me I was behind schedule and to get the lead out. I was never behind, ever, in fact, I was always ahead, yet when I would tell him that, he would say I was a liar and if I wanted to keep my job I would work faster.
Some people will use religion to gaslight, such as my distant relative who told me when I was young that if I wouldn’t sing on stage to “make people happy” then I was a selfish little girl and God would punish me. I didn’t want to “perform”, but did because she told me I would be considered a horrible person if I didn’t. All untrue and only said to manipulate me.
Actions like the two examples I’ve given turn people into “people pleasers” because we are led to believe that we are not good enough and often wrong, even if all the facts point in another direction. It’s very easy to manipulate young adults, and they are often the recipient of such behaviors.
But my own doctor??? What?
Gaslighting happens in doctor’s offices and hospitals, too. Often it takes the form of the doctor not listening to you or not taking your concerns seriously. This is called medical gaslighting, and it can harm your health by slowing diagnosis and treatment.
I personally knew a woman who was having chronic thigh pain. She told her physician it hurt “clear to her bones”. The doctor suggested she go to physical therapy to strengthen her thigh muscles, engage in walking 30 minutes a day, and take up a healthy hobby. One night she was scooting herself up in her bed and the bone in her thigh snapped and broke through the skin. She had bone cancer and died less than six months later. She had been gaslit. No testing, just dismissal, and it led to her death. She was only 42.
While this example is indeed extreme, it showcases how important it is to have a proper and timely diagnosis. “Let’s just wait and see how it goes” can often mean a longer recovery time or no recovery at all.
What should I look for in a medical setting?
- Being interrupted or not allowed to complete what it was you wanted to say to the doctor.
- They appear distracted and aren’t listening.
- The provider minimizes or downplays your symptoms.
- They force you to use a pain scale of 1 to 10, then tell you that 10 is for “losing a limb” type of pain, making you feel as though your pain isn’t “that bad” or in need of medical attention.
- Ignoring the list you’ve brought in that ties all of your odd symptoms together.
- Refusing to order lab work or imaging in order to rule out or confirm a diagnosis.
- They are rude, condescending, or belittling.
- They blame your symptoms on mental illness without a mental health screening or diagnosis from a mental health professional.
- They don’t offer you a referral to a mental health professional to properly diagnose you or rule out mental illness.
- You leave the appointment feeling misunderstood, tearful, or embarrassed.
- Your symptoms never resolve and your doctor is fine with that.
How can I make this stop?
Healthy relationships and interactions shouldn’t have gaslighting behaviors. Try talking with a friend who might help you to see the situation more clearly. Remind yourself that the gaslighter is causing the problem, not you. Meanwhile, protect your mental health with exercise, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.
If you think you are being gaslit (rather than having poor communication or a healthy disagreement), try to talk things out with the other person. Communicate your needs and set clear boundaries. Take notes so that you have a written record if the gaslighter tries to twist the narrative. Stay close to a support network of family, good friends, and people who care about you.
Is it time to cut and run?
If all else fails, end the relationship. If this is happening with a medical provider, find another provider that you feel more comfortable with. If this is happening at work, it is sometimes best to move on to a healthier work environment.
Consider talking to a mental health professional like a psychologist, trauma therapist, or counselor.
If the situation seems unsafe or downright dangerous
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233). They can tell you how to spot the signs of abuse and offer tips to help you stay safe.
If things spiral out of control
Call 911. Domestic Violence kills. If your abuser feels they are losing control over you, then your life could be in danger. Take their threats to physically harm you very seriously.
Stay safe my friends…
As always, this blog is not a replacement for sound medical advice. I am not a doctor. Please make an appointment to see your healthcare provider and put a good plan in place that works for you and the needs of your body.
That’s all I have for you this week, dear reader. I’ll see you back here next Wednesday to share another cup of coffee. Until then, be good to yourself and each other.
Mind, Body, Spirit…Osteopathic Doctors treat the whole person, not just the ailment. Is your PCP a DO? Would you like to learn more about Osteopathic Physicians? Click HERE!