It’s pretty common for survivors of abuse to have a fear of doctors. Anxiety during certain procedures, like injections, gynecology, or more invasive examinations is definitely not unheard of either.
In fact, several people asked me to write about this topic. I’ve faced and (in a lot of ways) overcome this fear—so I knew it would be an important blog to create.
Although I no longer have panic attacks at the idea of seeing a doctor, I do still experience some anxiety. Part of it is due to how much stigma I’ve faced being mentally ill and pursuing a diagnosis for a chronic physical illness. It can be hard to find nonjudgmental doctors!
But for the most part, I am easily able to set up an appointment or get testing done.
Physical health is so important, meaning it’s critical to overcome this fear of doctors. If you avoid them because of your anxiety, it could lead to something detrimental.
I procrastinated getting tested for my own condition and that likely lead to how severe it is today. If I’d solved my fear of doctors sooner, I’d be better off. I would have more medical support and been able to try certain remedies earlier.
Common reasons why survivors have a fear of doctors
It’s uncomfortable: Being examined can feel invasive, whether or not the procedure is actually invasive. There’s a lot of people touching us (a nurse taking blood pressure, a doctor feeling lymph nodes, etc.) and—for a community as touch-averse as survivors of abuse—this can be overwhelming.
It hurts: Some important medical procedures sting, like getting blood drawn. The information they provide is worth the moment of pain, but our body still reacts like we were injured. Anxiety, dissociation, and other PTSD mechanisms can kick in, even at routine procedures. Pain is also just no fun—and attending an appointment that leads to it can be stressful.
Stigma: Being a survivor of abuse is something that automatically labels us as “overly symptomatic” to many practitioners. Doctors have a tendency (at least in my experience) to overlook our complaints and brush them off as psychological. This dismissiveness can sound a lot like emotional abuse and gaslighting—sometimes enough to retraumatize us.
Triggers: Certain medical procedures can be directly triggering. The hardest ones for me are being put under anesthesia or having a colonoscopy. Maybe for you it’s a gynecology appointment or a certain type of testing. Whatever it is, triggers are frightening and, when a situation brings them up, we naturally fear it. In this case, that means having a fear of doctors.
So how do you start resolving your fear of doctors, at least enough to go see one when you need to?
Read the sections below about the biggest sources of fear you have. This will help you overcome it.
Overcoming your fear of uncomfortable or painful procedures
I’ve talked about reclaiming your comfort with being touched before, but it’s a little more nuanced at a doctor’s office. We can’t just set a boundary and say “don’t touch us there.” It might be critical for them to do something invasive in order to detect a medical condition.
One of the best things to do is mentally consent to each procedure and touch. Ask the doctor if they can share what they are going to do before they do it, then tell yourself internally, “You have my permission to do this.” This gives you a sense of control over the touch you experience.
I’d also encourage you to add on a, “Yes, I’m consenting to my doctor’s touch. Seeing a doctor is an act of self love. I can handle this fear and discomfort for the sake of my body’s wellbeing,” before you start the appointment.
When it comes to painful tests, that last statement is even more important. Remember it’s an act of self love to see a doctor.
Overcoming your stigma at a doctor’s office
Stigma (unfortunately) is still alive and well in the medical community. Handling it takes a certain amount of nuance and assertiveness that can be tough for us survivors of abuse.
Overcoming this fear is more about learning how to navigate stigma when it happens to you, rather than just surviving the anxiety. Empowering yourself in the face of stigma will greatly reduce your fear of doctors.
As someone with myalgic encephalomyelitis and dissociative identity disorder (two stigmatized conditions) I’ve learned a lot of tricks along the way to diagnosis. I’m hoping these help you out!
When a doctor blames physical symptoms on past trauma or your mind, ask them to note that directly in your chart.
If you request them to run a test or refer you to a specialist and they refuse, have them state that in your chart. A doctor will usually agree to run a test after you say, “Okay, then I would like it noted in my chart that you have chosen not to send me for this test after I requested it.”
I know it takes courage to say this, but it’s really liberating and empowering too. And its worth it for your health.
And remember, it’s always up to you if you reveal to a doctor that you are a survivor of abuse or not.
Overcoming medical triggers
Triggers are something inherent with PTSD—and they are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve found it very beneficial to directly tell my doctors directly that I’m a survivor and explain any relevant triggers.
This has caused most of my doctors to become clear about what they’re doing and why. They’re also more receptive to my feedback—like if I need to stop a procedure for a second.
Handling triggers as a whole is about distress tolerance and grounding.
Distress tolerance is where you build a greater ability to handle stressful situations—including PTSD symptoms.
Grounding is a great way to recenter yourself after a triggered episode. Here’s a whole list of self care ideas, many of which are grounding!
After any medical appointment, focus on soothing self care activities. This post-appointment comfort can help you significantly reduce your fear of doctors. Don’t feel ashamed if that means taking the whole day off!
After most of my appointments (except with my very nice primary care doctor) I need this to recover mentally afterwards.
Additionally, if it’s triggering to be alone with a doctor, bring a friend or ask to have a second person, like a nurse, present during the appointment.
Why to start overcoming your fear of doctors today
I truly understand how daunting seeing a doctor can be. There are a lot of triggers and fears associated with medical procedures. I understand your desire to pace around a waiting room, staring at blank walls and feeling unbearably anxious as you wait for your name to be called.
But it’s worth pushing through your fear of doctors for the sake of your health.
The aim of this blog is not to end your fear—but to encourage you to see a doctor regardless. The techniques here are empowering or relaxing, making the fear less impactful, but it likely won’t erase it. That’s okay.
Just remember that taking care of your body is a huge act of self love. Seeing a doctor could save your life.
So, why do you have a fear of doctors? Is there a specific situation you want to share? A trigger you want to talk about? Go ahead and comment below with any and all thoughts you have about this. <3