Gaslighting is, apparently, alive and well in healthcare. Nurses often feel gaslit by physicians. Residents often feel gaslit by their attending physicians. Physicians often feel gaslit by their Administrators and all healthcare professsionals fear the prospect of being gaslit by a team of ruthless lawyers bent on destroying their reputation and career. Of course, at least in healthcare, gaslighting usually is done within the framework of a culture determined, for good reasons, to hold poor performers accountable for behavior that threatens the health and well-being of patients and colleagues. Might gaslighting (bullying) contribute to the alarming suicide rate among physicians?
Patients often feel gaslit by their physicians.
Clergy are not immune from being gaslit by their churches and, to be fair, parishioners often feel gaslit by their pastors. I have been gaslit in ministry and I can assure you that nothing felt more painful and unnecessarily destructive. And, yes, from time to time suicide ideation crept into my thoughts. Without the support of my wife and friends, I’m not sure I would still be around to tell my tale. IT WAS THAT PAINFUL.
Three bits of advice:
1. Expect to be gaslit. No one in seminary even mentioned how emotionally brutal parish ministry could be. Here is the advice I would give to any seminarian....and physician: Plan on it. Prepare for it. Why? Because you cannot avoid it. The emotional trauma associated with being gaslit can be mitigated IF you accept that it is going to happen and, likely, by someone you either trusted or believed had your back. Accepting this reality removes the pain and shock caused by the element of surprise. Anticipating being gaslit increases awareness, prepares you for a more resilient response and helps to pick up the pieces WHEN your ego lays shattered on the ground. Fire falling on grassless ground is extinguished of itself. When the fire of human meanness causes you to fall on the ground, be sure the ground is grassless, so as to avoid an explosion of emotion and despair.
2.Forgive the perpetrator(s). Let it go. After all, this is the profession you have chosen and this is the cultural reality and organizational healthcare system that we all (patient and physician) have to learn to deal with. Improvements can be made and, for both clergy and physician, resilience training should be a priority. And, if I were you, I would learn as much about forgiveness as I could BEFORE you have your train wreck. It might be a matter of life and death and is never iatrogenic.
3. Change the culture in healthcare by providing sufficient web-based prophylactic mental health resources as well as concierge mental health professionals focused on helping both the struggling intern/physician AND holding the abuser accountable for their actions.
Gaslight the gaslighter? As tempting as it may be, the solution is to forgive them. Once emotional and spiritual equilibrium is restored, seek to change the toxic system that fosters this soul-crushing disease.
May God bless our wonderful healers.